Hip Hop Dancer at the Kennedy Center

By Chi Onyeka

When we went to the Kennedy Center on Wednesday, October 18th we received a talk from Kazu Kumagai (the tap dancer we later saw perform) and Reiko Sudo (the designer for Fantasy in Japan Blue, featured in the Kennedy Center Hall of States). After the discussions, we then had dinner and watched performances from Kazu Kumagai and Yumi Kurosawa, a koto player.

During Ms. Kurosawa’s performance, I was left in curiosity about the instrument she was playing, the koto. I wondered how she interacted with the strings to make such clean, quick, repetitive sounds. After the first two songs, Virgil Gadson was introduced as her hip-hop dancing partner. When she said that he was a hip hop dancer, I was excited to see how it would turn out, because I listen to rap so it was interesting to think of how he would incorporate his dance into her music. Watching him dance seemed really engaging to me. The way he moved around the stage, he was very intact with his balance, as he could put himself into poses that would require an immense amount of focus on one part of the body, say the forearm. I realized that he kept his tempo in sync with the tempo of the koto player, making it easier to follow him and the music as well.

I also liked trying to figure out what message he was trying to convey, or was he just going with the flow? In the end, I loved how he interacted with the koto player, kind of breaking the fourth wall in a way. The two made it seem like they weren’t working on their parts separately, as with this small little section when he changed the direction of Ms. Kurosawa’s focus to an imaginary apple tree, as if playing charades because he didn’t speak. He ended his portion of the performance by making reference to this episode and pulling what seemed to be an apple out of his jacket.

As a person who can’t dance, or at least has no rhythm, I was just star struck and surprised after he finished, because I was expecting him to do sort of stereotypical hip-hop moves, like two-steps, three-steps, I was imagining him touching his toes with one of his hands pressed firmly against the ground with a boombox beside him, but his dance was more like ballet to a beat. I could sense that he had experience in ballet, judging by how flexible he was, and how fluid his movements were, and how he could easily shift where he put his balance.

Watching the performances at the Kennedy Center gave me a sense of intercultural appreciation. I thought maybe I would just see one Japanese tap-dancer on  the stage tapping his toes as fast and rhythmic as he can and a gorgeous koto player, stringing her heart out, both by themselves. But both performances were very diverse. One of my favorite performers was  Alex Blake who played the bass during Kazu Kumagai’s tap dance. I loved how dedicated he was, almost falling out of his chair at one point (a point that admittedly made me giggle), showing his enthusiasm.

My first time at the Kennedy Center, will be something I’ll always remember, reminiscing about the enjoyment I experienced watching these performances.

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