Photo: Battery Dance Festival courtesy of DoubleTake Dance; Mikki Shoji is in the center.
Mikki Shoji is a dancer for DoubleTake Dance and has performed in JCE performances three times between 2015 and 2018. A native of Japan, she has been training and performing in the United States for several years. Today she shares some insights into her personal experiences, why she enjoys dance, and how dance culture differs between the United States and Japan.
1) What dance styles do you train in? What are your favorite aspects of each?
I started Classical Ballet first. My favorite aspect of Ballet is that it’s a total work of art combining aesthetics and rigorous technicality. I didn’t like Ballet when I started but the more I learned, the more I loved it!
The best part of Contemporary Dance is its fusion and personality. I do Contemporary a lot, and I really like it. Contemporary Dance is interesting because it is a fusion of many dance genres, combining the strong and controlled work of Ballet with Modern contract-release floor work and improvisation characteristics. It’s also so different between each artist and shows their personalities. For example, DoubleTake Dance is athletic, technical and musical in its fusion of dance genres and techniques and their personality!
Jazz Dance has a lot of different sub-styles. It’s fun to do different styles in the same genre, while the rhythm and musicality are different. Some Jazz Dance variants are more stylized like Latin Jazz, and some are really entertaining like musical theater, and are able to make people have fun.
Tap Dance is really hard because the foot work is completely different than the other dance genres. It’s dance but it’s also like playing an instrument. You have to connect to the music, make different sounds, focus on rhythms, and display the musicality plus variation in full-body expression.
2) What do you think separates jazz dance from other dance genres? What drew you to it?
It’s sometimes tricky to distinguish. Jazz Dance tends to be more upbeat, fun, and sometimes it can be really electric. Body isolations are more important, and a there is a greater use and amount of isolations in the style.
And there is a relationship with the music. The music is very important and the relationship between movement and music.
3) What sort of dance styles do you teach? Do you have a style you enjoy teaching more than others?
I teach Ballet and Contemporary. I like when I see excitement on my students’ faces, when they’ve learned something new, or when they do a great job.
I also like teaching floor work. Teaching floor work is like teaching the principle of leverage. The students need to know where the fulcrum is, then how to weight shift, then whether to fall and roll or move into a jump etc. It’s exciting to see when they understand the mechanics.
4) What is your favorite aspect of teaching dance?
Again, when I see excitement or willingness from students, that makes me happy. I know how hard it is and sometimes frustrating, but when they overcome a weak point or do a great job in class, I know that feeling too, and that is so exciting!
5) Similarly, what is your favorite aspect of performing as a dancer?
I like to be in the studio working for shows or performances, but being on stage is the best feeling ever! And what makes me happier is after performing when audience members talk to me in person and give me some comments and compliments that help me feel more self confident.
6) How did you come to join DoubleTake Dance Company?
I walked into Ashley’s class when I was an enrolled student in a dance school, then I started taking Vanessa’s classes.
Months later they had an audition for their company. I started as an ensemble member and am now both a soloist and a key member in the company. I am so grateful.
I keep taking Ashley’s classes, and they are definitely making me better, as are Vanessa’s classes. I’m not only learning how to move but also other things like musicality and cleaner technique.
7) What was it like performing at Fashion Week?
Performing at Fashion Week felt so different from performing on stage. First, the stage setting was different. They had a runway on stage, so I had to dance on and off the runway. I was a little bit scared I would fall! And press members were sitting really close taking pictures or writing notes. It was definitely a good experience and a good opportunity. I would love to do it again!
8) Are there any interesting or notable differences between the dance culture of Japan and the dance culture of the United States?
There are many dance companies from outside of Japan performing in Japan, and people love it, but we don’t have many professional dance companies, and it’s still not popular.
But in the U.S there are not only Broadway shows, but also there are lot of shows happening all the time. I feel like dance is important in people’s lives, like when they’re happy they dance, but the Japanese don’t. I think it’s getting better than years ago, but I hope the Japanese will become more interested in the dance arts.