TOWA IWASE

TOWA IWASE: ON JAPANESE DANCE CULTURE AND DANCE AUDITIONS

BY MARIE ALBERTO

HOW’S YOUR EMOTIONAL STATE AT THE MOMENT?
        I am really grateful to be able to dance in a safe space under this circumstance. I am in the final year at Rambert school of ballet and contemporary dance, so I am trying to get most out of my last training period. Being away from home and not being able to see my family for two years has been really tough, but knowing that they are always supporting me is making me stable in this country.

HOW DID YOU START DANCING?
        I started dancing from age 3. My mother and her family loved ballet before I even started my ballet training, so I told my mother that I wanted to be a ballet dancer when I was 2 years old. I was really lucky to be surrounded by people who appreciated performing arts.

HOW’S THE BALLET AND CONTEMPORARY DANCE SCENE IN JAPAN? WHAT WERE YOUR EXPECTATIONS BEFORE MOVING TO ANOTHER COUNTRY?
        Japan has several ballet companies including New National Theatre, but in contemporary dance, there is only one big company and small organisations. Contemporary dance is not so big or popular compared to ballet in Japan, therefore I used to go to a western touring company’s stage to watch contemporary dance. I have expected dance communities to be wider elsewhere and the role of a dancer to be an official job abroad.

IS THERE A LARGE DANCE COMMUNITY IN JAPAN?
        I think the dance community in Japan is not so big compared to the community in western countries if we are talking about ballet and contemporary dance. There is still a national ballet company that exists in Japan, although, their audience is not so diverse, so the community itself stays the same. I think this is all about the dance history in Japan. As people may know, we took classical ballet and contemporary dance from western countries, so these dance cultures are not ingrained in this country. Even though we have one big ballet company founded by the government, sadly it doesn’t mean that a dancer is a decent job to live your life without needing to have a side job to get a general average income.

HOW DID YOU PREPARE YOUR AUDITIONS FOR DANCE SCHOOLS SUCH AS THE RAMBERT SCHOOL AND OTHERS?
        I have auditioned for Rambert school in Japan as they were doing an audition tour all over the world. I have also entered other auditions for ballet schools around that same period of time, but I didn’t get in a single one of them. I did a workshop with Rambert school in summer before their audition in Japan. I thought it was really useful to get to know more about the school before auditioning. Moreover, I have taken the IELTS diploma to get a visa before auditioning to Rambert school, thus the process of the UK student visa application went smoothly.

HOW DID YOU FEEL WHEN YOU DECIDED TO MOVE FROM JAPAN TO LONDON?
        I thought about my family a lot, and I remember as soon as I left my family, I just cried so hard. I didn’t expect myself to be so emotional at that time at all. I was surprised and so upset that I’ve cried on the flight. I was so excited to come to the UK too. Although, thinking back about it now, I think it was fair to feel alone and have anxiety, because that was the first time coming to the place where I knew nobody.


IMPROVISATION SEEMS TO PLAY A HUGE PART IN YOUR PRACTICE. WHAT ARE YOU TRYING TO SHARE BEHIND YOUR PIECES?
        I am always focusing on how my body reacts to music, space that I am in and even clothing that I wear. Furthermore, I really enjoy exploring what my body is capable of, and challenging my body with new movement techniques.

WHAT ARE YOU MOST INSPIRED OF WHEN DANCING?
        Music is a big part of inspiration when it comes to improvisation. I choose music based on how I feel on that day or moment. If I have a specific emotion I want to transcribe to my body, I really do try to stick with it.

WHEN DO YOU FEEL THE MOST VULNERABLE WHEN YOU DANCE?AND, WHEN DO YOU FEEL MOST COMFORTED?
        I feel vulnerable when I am in the class with unmotivated dancers, but I feel the most vulnerable when I am emotionless. I don’t feel any sort of weakness when I have to put myself out from my comfort zone, but I do get really excited and anxious at the same time. I feel always comfortable dancing classical ballet as I have spent a long time practicing in ballet training.

WHAT HAS BEEN THE MOST DIFFICULT THING THAT YOU’VE EXPERIENCED AS A DANCER?
        I guess participating in ballet competitions was the hardest thing in my childhood. As I’ve grown up, keeping myself physically healthy has been the hardest thing especially during lockdown, and it is also related to not being able to dance as well. I don’t mind dancing and training really hard. I enjoy a tight schedule and being exhausted. I would also say that being a dancer is not a high paid job at the moment, therefore I constantly feel unstable or stressed with my career.

        I have had struggled with disordered eating and I am still fighting with it. I have seen a lot of peers having unhealthy relationships with food as well. These problems are all coming from perfectionism and poor dance education we might’ve had when we were young. Dancers are all perfectionists in my opinion. We compare ourselves to each other and judge peers a lot speaking realistically about dance world. Although, we are individually so different, thus our personalities are expressed in unique ways during our performances. I realised it when I started to feel comfortable in this country. I felt that people were appreciating my dance because it is me performing it. I have overcome these struggles by adopting a different thought process.

WHAT ARE THE THREE MISCONCEPTIONS THAT AUDIENCE HAVE ON DANCERS?
        Dancers obviously love dance and it is our job, but I do feel dancing is not the only interest that we have in life. Personally, I love photography, walking, singing, watching films, food and partying. I am interested in so many other things than dancing. We are often perceived as if we only like dancing.

        In regards to dance performances, our body is not always in the best conditions. Keeping our body working is our job, but at the same time, we are also human and there are so many struggles with it. It’s sadden me that I feel like our skills are only judged based on a performance.

        If I had to share something to young people who are dreaming to be a dancer, it would be that we are not always perfect in our life. Yet when we are on the stage, we wear make-up and beautiful costumes, but when we are in rehearsals, we also have sleepy faces with messy hair sometimes (laughs) wearing comfortable baggy clothes. I want them to know that we are still human, and you do not have to be perfect to be an amazing dancer.

HOW DID YOU COPE WITH THE PANDEMIC?
        It was a really tough first ever experience in my life as it was for many others too. I couldn’t go back to my family because of restrictions in the UK, therefore I missed my family the most. I also missed dancing in the space with peers. I wanted to feel people in person, but not through screens. I did my best so that I could keep progressing in some ways, and that was when I started to improvise to get more materials using my body. I tried to get inspirations from nature. I went out for a walk quite a lot since I love taking photos. Sunny days give me a positive mindset a lot of the time. Pandemic is still ongoing, and I am getting busier than before with my auditioning and school work, therefore I would like to keep exploring new areas of my relaxation activities and ways to grow more.

IF YOU WERE MEETING YOUR 10 YEARS OLD SELF, WHAT WOULD BE YOUR TOP THREE ADVICES TO HER?
        “Life is time, emotions and full of love. Please do not be afraid of confliction with some people by telling them what you truly want to do. I am not saying you are missing out a lot because you are focusing on dance, but make sure you rest and take a break a little bit from dance sometimes to realise there is so much to experience and find a new joy in this world. You are doing great no matter what situation you are in, so be proud of yourself and listen to yourself more. You will get there one day if you do not give up, so please continue what you love.” 

        This is more than three pieces of advice, although I think these are the things that you learn by keeping doing what you truly love in your life. I encourage kids and young people to invest their lives in something that is truly individual to them. I want them to be confident in themselves and keep on enjoying their lives.