—— How did you get started in dancing.
My mom was taking classical ballet in Japan...so as soon as my sister and I could walk we started taking classes too. We were still in diapers! At first, it was something my parents made me do, but later it turned into something I wanted to do.
—— What changed?
Well, when I was 8 and my sister and I were tired of giving up all of our Saturdays...we wanted to play and see our friends so we quit! But when I turned 10, I saw my friends' ballet recital...I couldn't believe it. I used to dance with them and they had all gotten so much better! So I begged my mom to let me take classes again.
—— What kind of dancer did you want to be back then?
A ballerina. Definitely! Every year, mom would take us to see the Russian ballet companies when they would come to Osaka. I can remember the beautiful color programs. I kept them right next to my bed and I studied them everyday over and over...
—— Were there any dancers in particular that inspired you?
I wasn't a fan of any one female dancer but I loved Barishnikov! He made me want to be a dancer! I never got to see him in person, but the way he moved with such power and grace was unbelievable! He was so strong and masculine...very inspirational!
—— When did you realize that you actually had talent?
I was always technically pretty good, but my body wasn't a ballet dancer's body so my teacher never paid much attention to me. My sister was tall and thin...like a ballerina and so our teacher always paid more attention to her. When she quit I thought I finally had my chance, but there was another girl in our class who was good and had the right "look"...so I was ignored again. In high school we entered a ballet competition (smiling)... and I was the only one who won anything. Awhile later, the other girl quit...I guess she was disappointed and tired of arguing and being pushed by our teacher...so finally I was THE ONE who got all the attention. More than I wanted really and I started to understand the
pressure they must have felt.
—— How did you handle all the pressure?
It was a battle of wills. When I graduated high school I started teaching for my instructor. I was still studying too and paying for my classes, but the strange thing was that I never got paid for teaching her classes. She was so strong...she tried to control everything in my life. She'd get angry if she thought I was going out too much or staying out too late and got angry with my mom for letting it happen! She had been my mom's teacher too, so she treated both of us like her children. I was upset, she was upset, and my mom was upset! That's when I realized that I had to leave too!
—— So what did you do next?
I was about 19 and until then had only been studying classical ballet...so I started studying jazz dance in Osaka. Well, one of the teachers there was an American who had been teaching at a studio in downtown San Diego called "Stage 7". When it was time for him to go back he introduced me to the people at "Stage 7" and helped me get a dance scholarship in San Diego.
I didn't have much money, except for what I'd saved from my part-time job, but to my great surprise my old ballet teacher found out I was going and presented me with the money I earned while I was teaching for her! After all we had been through together...the classes and the arguments... I'll never forget that!
—— So how was San Diego?
Great! For the first year, I studied everyday, all day, and didn't have to work, but during the second year I had to take a job waiting tables. I'd work lunch and dinner and dance in between. At the same time, I was also dancing with Carl Yamamoto's "San Diego Dance Theater" and auditioning for other shows. One day the dance director of a local college saw me and wanted me to be part of his program. I thought it might be a good idea since I never went to college...so I went back to Japan to study for the TOEFL etc. Well, while I was in Osaka I was offered a pretty good job teaching...so I stayed. A year or so later "Stage 7" invited me to teach a summer symposium and I accepted...it was the best decision I could've made.
The year before I had auditioned for "Jerome Robbins' Broadway"...I didn't make it, but for some reason they had kept my file and when I was in San Diego that summer they contacted me. They wanted me to audition for the tour of the same show...that was my first real professional experience. The "Jerome Robbins' Broadway" tour lasted about a year...we did a few months in LA and a few months in Tokyo and Osaka. It was fun...really fun...going home and dancing in front of all my friends and family. When it was over, I moved to NY, but it was a lot tougher than I expected. Nobody knew me there...and I couldn't find work for over a year, so I was back waiting tables again.
—— Did you ever think about giving up?
Oh yeah! A lot of times, but every time you get rejected at auditions, for whatever reason, too short ...not the right look...it just makes you want it a little more. I knew I was close because I almost always made it late into the auditions, so casting directors started to know who I was. Finally, I got "On the Town" at the Goodspeed Opera House.
—— How did your being cast in "CATS" come about?
Well, "Cats" was just the same...I made it past the initial auditions, but I wasn't getting my hopes up. At the end I was on stage by myself with the casting director, musical director, and stage manger watching. I remember the casting director saying "We already know how you dance so why don't you sing for us?" When I finished it was perfectly quite and he said " We know you still have a week left at the Goodspeed Theater...so can you start next Monday?" At first, I didn't realize that I had made it. I wasn't sure if I was hearing things right or not...and then it hit me (smiling). I was soo happy!!
—— What was it like being in “Cats”, one the most popular musicals of our time?
Amazing! To hear that music and be on that stage...it didn't seem real to me ... it was all like a dream. I had been so close so many times...gone through so many ups and downs. At first, I got so nervous before the shows, but after a little while it was just my job. There were 22 cats in "Cats" and 18 parts had major singing roles...I was "White Cat". We played 8 shows a week with 2 shows a day on Wednesdays and Saturdays, and Thursdays off so I was busy. Still, when I wasn't working or auditioning, I was busy taking voice and dance lessons.
Across the street from The Winter Garden Theater where “Cats” was playing, there was a coffee shop called "Au Bon Pain", on Broadway and 50th. It was close to the subway and sometimes I'd go there before or after my auditions...long before I was ever in “Cats”. One day as I was having my coffee, I can remember looking up at the huge marquee which read CATS in big letters. I'd never seen the show, but I knew that the original "white cat" was Asian ...so I dreamed that someday I'd play that part ... and that was the very part that I got! It was really unbelievable. After I was in “Cats”, I still always went to that same coffee shop, but now I had a totally different perspective... now when I looked out at the sign I thought that's my show, at my theater. It was a great feeling!
—— What do dancers sit around and talk about? A couple of bankers might talk about business or interest rates, what about dancers?
Definitely not money or business (laughing)! We're all talking about dancers and who's doing what show. We never talked about the other dancers abilities as much as we gossiped about their personal lives...who's going out with who or cheating etc.
—— Do you ever look at dancers and think I could have done that!
Yeah we all do...I could've done that ! There's a joke about dancers...How many dancers does it take to change a light bulb? 10. One to change the bulb and all the others stand around and say, I could've done that!
—— After “Cats” what else did you dance in?
A month later I did "Carousel" at the Lincoln Center Theater and following that I opened in "The King and I", but only 2 months after it opened I left. I had a year contract but I felt other things, in particular my relationship, were more important than my career...
I could have kept on doing it and been in other shows but my heart was in another place now... I felt had achieved all I could as a dancer and it was time to move on.