The genius Seattleite/New Yorker Merce Cunningham may be dead, but new dance continues to spring from the mind of creative folk. The following story, courtesy Chosun Ilbo, reminds us of that tricky issue of Japanese soft power, and the positive role played by pop culture in Japan’s otherwise antagonistic relations with its neighbors.
It’s also worth thinking about North Korean perceptions of Japanese popular culture. There doesn’t seem to be much data on this question, but it probably isn’t too far away. My friend Chiho Sawada at Stanford is probably one of the scholars to watch.
Here’s the story:
Behind the powerful performance and dance skills of many manufactured K-pop bands, there is a woman: Rino Nakasone, a Japanese dancer and choreographer. She is best known for choreographing several songs of popular Korean music bands SHINee and Girls’ Generation but also recently choreographed one of songs of SM Entertainment’s new girl group f(x).
Nakasone was first recognized by Korean music fans in June 2008, when she gave SHINee dancing lessons for their debut with “Replay.” At the time, she had been a backup dancer for the Harajuku Girls and featured in stage shows and music videos for Gwen Stefani in the States, earning some attention for her brilliant performance.
Born in Okinawa, she moved to the U.S. when she was 19. “I am a huge fan of Michael Jackson and Janet Jackson,” she says. “They’re like my teachers. I never took any dance classes when I was in Japan, I just watched them and started copying what they do. And I knew I had to move to America, so I did in 1999. I had to be close to Michael Jackson and all the inspiration was in the U.S. I got to meet, learn, and work with people that I was fan of and respect, so it really has been a dream come true being here in Los Angeles.”
She says becoming a dancer or choreographer was a “natural step.” “It didn’t happen overnight. I just kept doing what I love to do, which was taking classes, going auditions, or teaching my own class. Then many opportunities came to me.”
She says it’s fun to work with Korean artists. “When I was in Seoul working with SHINee, I was very impressed how hard they worked. I love them. Not because I choreographed for them, but because they sing great songs. They were great at picking up choreography fast and were able to do anything that I taught them.”
She also created the choreography for Girls’ Generation’s popular song, “Tell Me Your Wish” in collaboration with SM Entertainment’s dance team. “They learned off the video tape that I dance in and we all went over it together later. Soo-young of the band speaks Japanese and Jessica speaks English, so I had no problem communicating with them, but I just listened to the song first and the move came up. Music tells me what to do. When I look back, it could look like tango or salsa inspired. That’s what I do. I see some dance movement that I like and I tweak it and change to make it my own.”