*By Erica Furgiuele
Ayako Takahashi is one of Urbanity’s newest company dancers. She’s rejoining the company after taking time off to dance in Israel. Ayako started dancing when she was 23, and her hard work has led her to Boston and to Urbanity.
Me: How did you know you needed to dance?
AT: I grew up watching a lot of videos of dancers. I always wanted to be one, but my environment wasn’t conducive to it. I went all over Japan and looked for a studio that would take me. But no one would, because I was too old to have never taken lessons. Eventually I found Peridance in New York, and they gave me a scholarship. The audition went horribly, but I was too excited to notice. The teacher would call out “Contretemps!” and I had no idea what she meant. I thought she was saying “crouton” so I danced like a crouton. I had to put my foot on a chair because I couldn’t put my foot on the barre. The next day, the teacher told me I should just give up. I asked her to give me six months and if she didn’t see me improve, she could take me out of the program. In those six months, I didn’t have time to feel sorry for myself. I was dong tendus on the subway while reading my ballet terminology dictionary. I was incredibly focused. In the end, they didn’t let me into the performance corps, but they let me stay in the program.
Me: So you went from no formal training to working with a premiere contemporary dance company? That’s an incredible journey.
AT: When I first started dancing, I was so happy to be doing it I didn’t even know it should be hard. Now I struggle more, because I know what I’m doing wrong. A few years into my training, I started teaching adult beginner class and saw people who reminded me of how I used to be. They didn’t know any terminology–they were just busy having fun, and I realized how much I had lost that sense of joy since focusing on my technique alone. Dance is how we live, how we are. If your motivation isn’t in the right place, you will never move anyone with your art. It’s impossible to pretend. If you’re only in it for success and fame, then you look so ugly onstage.
Me: You’re licensed in Dance Movement Therapy. What is it like?
AT: When you talk about dance, people say, “Oh, I can’t dance.” But everyone dances when they communicate—body language is a form of dance. People say dance is a language with no barriers. The main thing that I love about dance is connecting people through movement. You would think that people just dance and feel better. But it’s about finding where they hold their tension and helping them release it, using my body language and movements to show them the way.
Me: How did you find Urbanity?
AT: I found Urbanity when I moved to Boston to pursue my degree in dance therapy. I still remember the audition where I met Betsi. I was so nervous. She put me in Underground to start off. Betsi and Urbanity changed my life. I used to be embarrassed of the fact that I started dancing so late before, but now I’m proud that I started dancing when I was 23, because it’s inspiring to others.
Me: How did you find your choreographic style?
AT: Betsi was the one who said to me, “I think you should choreograph.” I had no idea where to start, but she had faith in me and kept pushing me to try it. It came more naturally to me than I thought. I think it’s because I view dance through a therapeutic lens. As humans, we put on different masks when we’re with different people; the way we move is part of who we are. When choreographing, I was inspired by the dancers’ personalities and how it informed their interactions. That was my jumping-off point. A lot of people say “Oh, [that style] is so you!” but I don’t think my way of choreographing is that unique. Being a choreographer allows me to travel to other countries, and so I get to see many different styles of dance. In Iceland, I saw a piece where they poked cow tongues for 13 minutes, then cut them up and served it to the audience at the end. It was confusing but really fascinating.
Me: Why did you take time off to go to Israel?
AT: I wanted a different experience, a real challenge. I wanted to feel like I was at the bottom of the heap. And that helped me grow a lot. In Israel, the focus of the movement is different: they tell you to imagine your bones and how they’re working to support you. In the U.S., it’s much more about the articulation of muscles and your physical strength.
Me: What is the Japanese dance scene like?
AT: There are a lot of ballet companies and commercial dance. People ask me when I’m going to dance in a music video with Madonna. Buto, or contemporary Japanese dance, is actually more popular in Europe. Japanese ballet is derivative of the Russian ballet school-you have to start when you’re three or no dice. The educational system is much stricter in Japan and you’re told what to do. I want to bring what I have experienced here in the U.S. to Japan—the concept that everyone can dance, and that dance is more than just ballet. To me, dance is like writing a love letter to the world.