A growing number of Japanese dancers are making an impact within the street dance community in America. One of them is Asako Hara, who moved to Los Angeles at the age of 18. Inspired by Rino Nakasone of Gwen Stefani’s Harajuku Girls, Hara has – in just three years – danced for such high profile artists as UK singer Cheryl Cole, Canadian teen heartthrob Justin Bieber and rap legend Snoop Dogg.
Hara’s future projects include more music videos, a part in the forthcoming dance movie “Boogie Town” and a Pussycat Doll-style all singing, all dancing venture with her very own dance troupe of four Japanese dancers, Honey Pot.
Where were you born and where did you grow up?
I was born and grew up in downtown Nagoya, near Osu Kannon close to the famous flea market. My parents and their parents were also born in the city, so my family has a long history there.
What did you dream of doing when you were a little girl?
I didn’t know for sure what I wanted to be, but I always loved watching music shows on TV and listening my mom’s CDs. I was very shy and awkward growing up but I enjoyed singing and dancing and pretending that I was a famous star. I was taking gymnastic classes but because I loved music, my mom enrolled me into a dance class when I was seven. I fell in love with dance immediately. I practiced every day and learned every dance style and I had great encouraging teachers who helped me along the way.
One of my dance teachers always used to say “I bet you are going to be a famous dancer!” and she would put me center stage when we had dance shows at the city hall. At first I was so nervous because I was a shy child but I enjoyed entertaining the audience and I enjoyed their reactions and support.
How did you get started as a dancer?
I entered the All Japan Dance Contest sponsored by McDonald’s with Slam Kids Jam -- two fellow dancers. I was 10 years old and it was my first dance competition. I remember shaking like a leaf because the other dancers were much older than me and extremely accomplished. I was panicking because it was my first time performing in front of so many judges and an audience of that size.
As this was my first competition and a lot of highly skilled dancers had entered from all over Japan, I never expected my dance troupe to win but we came third against some seriously tough competition. We had a lot of interest and after the show many people came and said “You guys are incredible dancers! It’s unbelievable that you’re still just kids. We can’t wait to see you in the future!” so we were over the moon. I decided from that moment that I wanted to be a professional dancer.
I hear you danced at the Aichi Expo in 2006 for Sadao Watanabe. What was that experience like?
It was a turning point because Sadao Watanabe is a legend, one of the best saxophonists in the world, and it was my first time dancing for such a huge star. It was also a unique experience because I had to dance onstage and combine my routine with sign language - which I’d never done before. We spent a long time learning how to sign and it was hard work but ultimately rewarding to have the opportunity to be able to create greater awareness about hearing disabilities.
What made you decide to go to LA?
It had been a dream of mine to become a dancer and I wanted to be up there with the best, so for me that meant moving to Los Angeles. In LA you can learn a wide variety of dance styles from some of the best choreographers in the world. I’d been to America a few times with my parents and had the opportunity to see the dance scene there – including a memorable show with the amazing dancer Brian Green which was so inspiring to me as a kid wanting to be a dancer. That helped to make the move easier for me.
How did your parents feel about your decision to move to LA?
My parents have always been supportive and wanted the best for me, so they encouraged me to pursue my dream. Since we’d been visiting the U.S. regularly for family vacations since I was a little, they knew that I was comfortable with the cultural differences and knew my way around. I’m their only child and they miss me, of course, but they’ve been very proud of my successes and keep up with everything that I do even though they are miles away. My career has even inspired my mother; she now takes dance classes in Nagoya.
What is street dance all about?
Street dance has its roots in hip hop culture and has evolved alongside the music since before the ’80s. Street dance was born among African-American and also the Latino communities and crews would “battle” against each other by competing as to who had the better moves. Some of the styles that came out of this time were breaking, locking and popping. Street dance has since gone on to have a wide-ranging influence around the world and continues to grow from strength to strength. It’s also been a great way to get more guys involved in dance as many young boys used to think that dance was just for girls. Street dance changed those views.
To me, the beauty of street dance is that it’s usually freestyle in nature which allows for you to bring your own individuality and creativity to what you do. I pretty much dance every kind of style including jazz, so my dance style is called “LA style and jazz funk” which is a mixture of new style and old school style dance from the ’70s.
How competitive is the dance world in the U.S.?
Very. There are so many highly skilled dancers and every day brings more from all over the world. You can never rest on your laurels; you always have to keep learning new moves and keep attending classes so that you can stay on top and be well practiced in being able to pick up new choreographed routines quickly.
When you go to auditions, especially if it’s for a TV show, major movie or a well known artist, over 500 amazing dancers will show up all hoping to be hired. Yet only a handful will be chosen.. So you have a lot of pressure and you’re in a tense situation, which can make it harder to give 100% to the people doing the casting.
I’m still nervous at auditions. As soon as the casting directors/choreographers call my name, I get butterflies in my stomach. I’d like to work on being stronger but I feel that nerves can add something to your performance – give you an edge. The life of a dancer can be stressful and it can be short-lived but I wouldn’t change it for the world.
What did you learn from dancing for artists such as Cheryl Cole, Justin Bieber and Snoop Dogg?
So much! I learned how hard these stars work and how professional they are. I don’t think that people always realize how much it takes to be a big star and the pressures they are under. Also, I noticed that each and every one of them took the time to make sure that everyone around them was OK and comfortable on set. You never expect that stars would do that.
Working on the Snoop tour was amazing and dancing for that length of time on a tour every night for thousands of people was a wonderful experience. It helped with my stamina, my freestyling and my ability to think on my feet. Being on the tour just reinforced how important it is to have a good general fitness. So I added strength training and body conditioning to my workouts and upped my running after the tour.
Tell us about the movie “Boogie Town.”
“Boogie Town” is “West Side Story” for a hip hop generation. The movie is set in the future, so we all had to wear unusual make-up and colored contact lenses. The costumes were also way out – I wear sexy motorbike gear.
It was a great experience and featured some of the most famous dancers in the U.S. industry today. I am a member of the dance crew that “battles” against the main cast dance crew in a gripping scene. Our crew was made up of 6 people – three guys and three girls. I had to dance in a robotic style echoing the futuristic theme of the movie. I can’t wait to see the final cut of the film. It’ll be weird to see myself up on the big screen.
What is the Pussycat Doll venture with Honey Pot?
I’m in a group with three other Japanese dancers. We came together because we had an audition to dance for a U.S. female group called The Bangz. Originally, we were auditioning to be backup dancers but when we showed them our routine, The Bangz management really liked us and decided to work with us as a group. That’s how Honey Pot came about. We are currently in development, so I can’t say too much but I will say that there are plans for us to do vocals as well as dance.
Do you dance every day?
Yes, especially when I have dance events in Los Angeles or music video shoots or tours or movies. I’ll usually have rehearsals for three hours or more each day to prepare. Besides that, I tend to go to my dance studio, then take several different dance classes to build up my repertoire. When I’m with my dancer friends, we play music and practice our freestyle moves and create choreography for fun. I’m very thankful that I’m living in my dream.
When you are not dancing, what do you like to do to keep fit?
I do a lot as it’s so important to maintain your endurance and keep strong, fit and flexible as a dancer. If I haven’t been working too late, I’ll usually wake up early and go for a walk in the park for an hour or go hiking in Hollywood Hills with my friends. It doesn’t feel like exercise, though, because you have the beautiful weather, a gorgeous early morning breeze, nice blue skies, a view of the HOLLYWOOD sign and downtown LA. It feels so good.
Later in the day, I go to the gym and run on the treadmill for an hour and then take a yoga class to work out my core muscle. I also do my regular stretching before I go to bed.
With regards to food, I have to watch what I eat, so junk food is off the menu and instead I have a lot of healthy, nutritious food.
What do you miss most of all about Japan?
I’ve been so busy with work that I haven’t had a chance to visit Japan in over two years. In an ideal world, I’d visit at least once a year. Although I’ve made great friends here in America, I still miss friends and family in Nagoya.
Some of the other things I miss about Japan are the TV shows, music and convenience stores. There’s a Japanese convenience store here in Los Angeles but it’s totally different. They don’t have the same foods – in fact, just thinking about it makes me miss all the tasty foods in Japan, I wish we had the exact same “konbini” here.
What are your future ambitions?
I want to continue working with artists and choreographers, appearing in music videos, movies, on major tours etc, and I’d like to move into choreographing music videos, shows and artist tours. I’d also like to teach some master classes in Japan. There are so many incredible dancers in Japan and I’d like to share my knowledge and experience with them so that they can fly the flag and show the world how much amazing dance talent we have.© Japan Today