Mia Moi isn’t your average jiu-jitsu white belt. A dancer since the age of three, Moi grew up classically trained in ballet, before finding her eventual calling in contemporary dance as a professional. Along the way, she was also captain of her high school drill team, and cross-trained in several other dance styles in pre-professional programs. “I never really thought about being a professional dancer,” says Moi. “When people were like, ‘oh, are you going to continue dancing after high school?’ – because that’s the pivotal moment where you have to make a decision – I was like, ‘I don’t know. I’m going to dance regardless because I like dancing, but I don’t know if I’m going to be a professional, whatever that means.’”
Moi danced through college with a student company – which grew her interest in the art form. Soon, she was teaching at studios and regularly landing contracts with professional dance companies. “It was all pretty accidental,” she admits with a grin.
So, how did an ex-ballerina turned contemporary dancer find her way into combat sports? “I started boxing before doing jiu-jitsu,” Moi tells the Jiu-Jitsu Times. “I keep [the boxing] pretty low-key publicly, but yeah, I’ve boxed for about three years, and was almost borderline debating fighting, but I’m just sticking to sparring and whatnot for now. But doing that, and then adding on jiu-jitsu – I did it because I wanted to learn something. I’ve been in dance my whole life, and it never felt like learning, per se, because I’d known it my whole life. It was my existence. So I wanted to learn something new.”
Learning to box led Moi directly to jiu-jitsu, when she discovered Village of Wolves, the jiu-jitsu gym across the street from her boxing gym. “It was right around when jiu-jitsu was becoming more mainstream,” she recalls. “So when I Google searched jiu-jitsu gyms on Maps, I just went there and started doing it.”
The variety of physical expression that jiu-jitsu offers hooked Moi almost immediately: “It’s been really engaging. It’s like problem-solving, for me, in a way, like a continuous maze of figuring out reactions – and it fills a different part of my brain than boxing does.”
“Boxing is the same six moves, the same four directions, and just perfecting that – it’s kind of like ballet,” says Moi, grinning and shaking her head. “You have to perfect it [the same way]. And there’s just no end to that. I’ve only just now learned how to use my jab in sparring after, what, three years?”
Grappling, on the other hand, is something that comes naturally to Moi. Though still young in her jiu-jitsu career, Moi’s competition record is impressive. “I’ve been training for about a year and a half,” says Moi. Though still technically a white belt, she’s tried her hand in the intermediate divisions – typically the province of blue belts – and won her share of victories there. She loves a good challenge, and while proud of her achievements thus far, relishes the prospect of a tough opponent: “I’m definitely at a point right now where I want to get beat the f*** up by a blue belt.”
Moi credits her dance background with the relative ease with which she picks up new movement skills, and believes that dancers and fighters have plenty to learn from each other. When she first started jiu-jitsu, her teammates had assumed that her boxing background would make it easier for her to learn another combat sport. “I was like, ‘no, to be honest, it’s all the dance stuff,’” she remembers with a smile. “I really think that only if you’ve done something that requires body awareness do you actually understand it. Because the average person won’t know where their hips are. If you tell them ‘keep your hips low’ or ‘keep that space tight,’ whether it’s for jiu-jitsu or dance, they won’t know where their hips actually are when they’re moving. So I think dance really helped me in that way.” Conversely, she also believes that martial arts like jiu-jitsu can help dancers build a broader physical vocabulary with which to perform.
Contemporary dance’s floor work, in particular, according to Moi, is far more similar to jiu-jitsu than most realize. “You could literally just do jiu-jitsu mobility drills, and it could be incorporated into dance, or vice versa,” explains Moi.
Was moving from the more traditionally feminine world of dance into a male-dominated combat sport a culture shock for Moi? “Nah.” She shrugs and grins. “I never really got along with the stereotypical dancer personality, so I never really had many friends in dance – which is weird to say.” She elaborates, “Now that we’re talking about it, I think that’s kind of why I liked the combat sports community – like boxing and jiu-jitsu – not to be the ‘Pick Me’ girl, but I just get along more with people in those communities. We just have more in common.”
Given the potential for overtraining when balancing active lives as both dancer and combat athlete, does Moi ever worry about injury? “I don’t know – I’m just gonna say it’s because I’m young, but I don’t get injured much,” she discloses. “I have a problem with this compulsion to exercise. I just need to move all the time, and I’ve been really fortunate not to get injured. I’m really grateful for it, because I’ve seen injuries happen at our gym, and I’m always like, ‘oh my god, god bless them,’ because I don’t know what I would do with myself [if it were me].”
If she had to guess, Moi suspects that dancing for a living may actually help fortify her body: “I guess dance helps keep my joints and muscles pretty limber and soft, and not as prone to just breaking at the joints.”
With her experience in both boxing and jiu-jitsu, coupled with her dancer’s athleticism, does Moi have any interest in trying her hand at MMA? Her answer is a little complicated. “I think if you’d asked me a year ago, I’d have said I wasn’t really interested,” admits Moi. “Because to me, before, MMA just seemed like it didn’t fully embrace any style, and just smushed everything together – but now, MMA seems like so much fun!”
“Now, for sure, my boyfriend and I sometimes mess around with MMA for fun,” adds Moi. “I know he wants to do MMA, and that’s kind of gotten me interested.” She chuckles. “I have major imposter syndrome, so I’m like, ‘I’m just going to get beat up in every form!’ But just the thought of it, and just messing around with some MMA rounds is really fun.”
The true starting point of Moi’s interest in MMA actually arrived when she and her boyfriend visited another gym: “I think it just kind of hit me when we traveled and went to a gym in Colorado that was strictly traditional Muay Thai – and I had never trained Muay Thai before – but going in there, and seeing all the work in the clinch that looks a little like wrestling, my boyfriend was like, ‘See, this is just like MMA.’ It’s a mindset thing – seeing it, knowing what you could and couldn’t do, I think that’s when it clicked for me, that MMA could be fun. The idea of being able to do anything.” She clarifies, “I definitely have an interest in it, but I don’t want to sound stupid, and say anything [for certain] right now. But it’s definitely interesting.”
Do dance and martial arts ever cross wires in her muscle memory? From time to time, it’s almost inevitable. Moi laughs, recalling a recent dance performance: “I was doing contact improv – which is basically like you’re dance improvising with a partner, so you’re touching and stuff, and basically using their body as space and inspiration and whatnot – but it was funny because I started doing duck-unders.” She bursts into laughter again. “It was so weird! There was just this split second where I was like, ‘oh my god, what is going on?’”
One witness to both Mia the Martial Artist and Mia the Dancer is popular YouTube personality “Kize Bae.” On her channel, Kize tries out different skills and hobbies – which have included both contemporary dance and Brazilian jiu-jitsu. Moi, the instructor behind Kize’s contemporary dance episode, was in fact the one who encouraged the YouTuber to do a Brazilian jiu-jitsu episode next.
“That was really fun,” says Moi. “I was really fortunate to have been referred to [Kize] by a colleague, so I felt really grateful for that – to have gotten to know her for the [contemporary dance video]. I just love doing contemporary privates – and because of what she does, she’s just so good at learning, and applying what she learned, so everything just went really smoothly. Of course, she also has a great personality, so that was really fun.”
How did Moi talk Kize into filming the jiu-jitsu episode? “Towards the end of the [contemporary dance training], we were talking about other things – other videos for her to do,” says Moi, who immediately suggested jiu-jitsu. “I was just pitching the idea like, ‘Bro, I literally have your whole video – everything that you’d logistically need – planned out. I have a coach for you, I have a gym for you, I can have a budget for you.’” She laughs. “I kind of basically made her do the jiu-jitsu video – which I’m really glad she did, and I hope she liked it.”
The jiu-jitsu episode is among Kize’s most popular videos, generating well over 100,000 views since it premiered in January 2022. “I’m really glad that one blew up,” says Moi. With a self-deprecating chuckle, she adds, “But I was just the uke, so I wasn’t really doing much there. It was really interesting to see, though, because I had just barely done jiu-jitsu long enough [at the point] to really understand all her progress. And I was like, ‘Shoot, all the comments [on the video] are right. If she continues on with jiu-jitsu, she could be really good, really fast.’”
In many ways, Moi’s passion for jiu-jitsu is simply an extension of her lifelong love of movement. Though a dancer by profession first and foremost, Moi is a strong advocate for cross-training across multiple movement disciplines: “When someone only does one sport, like they only dance, and nothing else, or they only do jiu-jitsu, and nothing else, I’m always like, ‘Don’t you want to do something different? Rock climb, or run, or something?’” After all, that hunger for something new – and the drive to push herself out of her comfort zone – is what brought Moi to jiu-jitsu in the first place.
“My body’s moving the same, but different, so it keeps both [jiu-jitsu and dance] interesting,” says Moi. She views jiu-jitsu through the same sort of lens with which she once looked at the dance world: “In my dance career, I never had a goal of ‘I’m going to be a professional,’ but your interest just keeps on growing, and you have to do more things to fulfill that hunger. So at my first jiu-jitsu competition, I was never like, ‘I’m going to be a competitive jiu-jitsu player’ – I just wanted to go do a competition because it’s fun.” She grins. “And now that I’ve done a couple of those, now I want to do superfights and stuff, to see what it’s like when higher-level people try and beat me up.”
After all, Moi’s never been one to shy away from a physical challenge – and for that, she has both dance and martial arts to thank.
To keep up with Mia Moi’s ongoing adventures in the movement arts, follow her on Instagram.