Zoom, November 2020
TOMO is a dancer, choreographer and teacher who battles, performs, judges and choreographs; she formed FUSE596 in 2017 and is a member of Konoha Crew UK. She is the winner of Juste Debout UK Locking 2017, semi finalist at Juste Debout UK House 2018, semi finalist in Euro Battle in both house and locking in 2017 and the winner of House Dance UK in 2014. She has performed and choreographed for: FUSE596 AT Breakin' Convention 2018, SDK 2019, World of Dance 2019, Brownstock, Love Box, Session 2 Style as well as featuring in Dua Lipa's official dance video Electricity and adverts for Levi's.
IA: Can you introduce yourself and what is it that you do?
TN: I’m Tomo, originally from Japan. I came here…ooh, 1988 to marry an English guy and I’m single now. [laughs] I teach, I battle, I make shows, I dance in a crew, choreographing myself sometimes and sometimes letting someone else do it. I judge sometimes, if someone wants me to. [laughs] That’s what I do. And I’m a mum. I have three children and the oldest is twenty-one.
IA: Can you talk about crews? They are the family that you choose, people who want to be together, they’re a kinship. You’re in some crews, you’ve formed other crews like FUSE596, Konoha and Shuku.
TN: The first crew I joined in the UK is Konoha Crew, Konoha Crew UK. The master…the guy at the top is Kashmir, he formed Konoha Crew, he does Hip Hop and house and he’s originally from Birmingham. He formed Konoha and I joined it in 2010/11. I’m still in it though we don’t really do much together, sometimes we train together. Then I formed Shuku in 2016 to perform at Japan Festival, it was a little bit of a one-off because the concept was Japanese dancers who are actually in the UK. In Shuku there was a ballet dancer, contemporary dancer, a UK jazz dancer…kind of commercial, a Hip Hop dancer and myself. But some of them only had a visa for two years so some have gone. One of them Misa is still here, but I think she’s gonna leave soon as well, in February. She’s now in FUSE596. Shuku was more like a concept, it’s bringing Japanese culture into dancing. Then I created FUSE596 in 2017 [pause] here in the UK. They’re good B-Boy crews, good popping crews and locking crews but when someone is performing somewhere, especially here…Japan is a different story…but here it tends to have a lot of different styles in one show. For example, there’s funk music which comes in fast and they start locking, and then they’re moving onto the popping, and then they’re moving onto the breaking, and then it’s almost like they have to show all of it…all of the street styles. I wanted to break that a little bit. I wanted to create something that mainly uses house music and house dance. That was my main achievement to start with. We started dancing…maybe three of us, again Japanese. [laughs] One of them is married to an English guy, so she’s gonna stay here and one of them is Misa who might be leaving soon. Misa is originally a Hip Hop dancer. She was training in Hip Hop for a long time in Japan and the other member is Hanako. She trained in ballet and also house. Both of them trained in Japan and then came over here. They had all the skills that I needed to create something quite purely house with a basic knowledge of it. We started doing that and then we started creating a show. I wanted to make that show something a little bit more…we used to dance showcases in the clubs, you know, house clubs, Empire House and 4 to the Floor. Then I wanted to take it to a big stage. So I thought, ‘OK, I’m gonna aim for Breakin’ Convention. Maybe to see what happens.’ To do that, I wanted to have more crew members, so I recruited Jack who is from Manchester, he is also in Konoha. And George…he has been my student for a long time. He’s from Essex and he also does contemporary. Kevin, who is a breaker…a B-Boy, originally from France - he’s now gone back to Paris, so I don’t see him often. So, six of us started training together, and I created a show…ten minutes of pure house, house music, everything house. We auditioned for Breakin’ Convention and passed, and that was a big breakthrough. Then it was just…the boys were…Jack went back to Manchester, George was at uni and coming back to Essex, back and forward, so we’re back to the three of us together - the girls. FUSE596 celebrates house dance culture, it’s there to appreciate house music, to appreciate house dance and to appreciate its culture. My mission for FUSE596 is to entertain people both dancers and non dancers through our dance and introduce people to amazing house music through our showcases and to show our love of house. We just carried on making. We performed in France, in the Czech Republic. We carried on for about a year, and then…then a new project happened, when we go to the club, we see so many dancers, house dancers who love house music in the club, I see them all the time. In the club, they’re dancing, and then they come to battle, or the competition and they didn’t even pass the preselection sometimes. They’re good dancers, but people didn’t see them because they didn’t pass the preselection. It’s almost like if you don’t become a famous battler or win a battle, no one’s gonna notice who they are. In Japan, we do so many showcases, if you like house dance, you do a house dance showcase. Then people will know, people will see you dancing. Either they see them at the battle, or the showcase. It’s another way to show yourself, on the stage and with people. It was like…’Maybe I will dance with them, or I’m gonna choreograph and I might give them an opportunity to go on a stage.’ Then people will see them. They’re dancing, but part of it is that you want to be seen. That’s what dancers are like. I think I shouted out…thirteen of them came, I think that was about two years ago. Then there was ‘MOVE IT’, so I thought ‘Why don’t we aim for that, to perform on that big stage? It’ll be a different experience for them…’ It’s a different technique, to show yourselves on a big stage, when there’s so many people watching and they have to…not stand out, but show their individuality. I called them all and they all said ‘Yes, I wanna do it.’ So I decided not to be in it this time, I gave them a show, did the choreography and the music editing, taught them the choreography and they performed at MOVE IT 2019. Ever since then I think they’ve grown their confidence…they’ve built up their friendship as well, so when they go to battle they support each other. It’s like a family feeling. They started passing preselection and people saw them, ‘Ah, that’s X, you know who they are, blah, blah, blah.’ I’m hoping it was a good experience for them. Then lots of opportunities came through like ‘Do you wanna perform here?’ and Bagsy, he organises events and he invited us to perform. Then I made the show a little bit more complicated than the piece we did at MOVE IT. I think they did really well and we carried on performing. Last year we thought…we were challenged with Breakin’ Convention, but now there were new members added. We passed the audition, so we were going to perform in May, but it didn’t happen cause of COVID. They are a new generation of house, new dancers on the big stage. The youngest was sixteen, seventeen. It would have been good, if it had happened. We keep on learning, keep on training, keep on playing, keep on building up our friendship, keep on discovering and exploring, keep on having fun and we appreciate and respect one another.
IA: What’s the origins of the name FUSE596?
TN: It’s really difficult to name something. ‘FUSE, it’s from ‘fusion’, there’s a dance fusion. I think that house dance has different elements in it…maybe because it’s one of the youngest styles. Rather than calling it ‘Fusion’, I decided to call it ‘FUSE’, but ‘596’ is just…I didn’t want it to sound too serious with ‘FUSE’, it’s a bit too serious, but ‘596’…if you read it in a Japanese way, it almost means ‘well done.’ [laughs] So ‘FUSE, well done.’ That’s it. When I do something with the younger generation, it’s ‘Fuse 596 . com’. [laughs]
IA: Is that to differentiate between the two crews?
TN: Not really, it’s just a bit of fun. .com. ‘Yo! Yo! .com!’ In 2018 I created house dance collective Fuse 596 . com which consists of a bunch of house music lovers based in U.K to give more opportunities to those who love house music and dance to perform on stage. We’ve performed at Breakin’ Convention, Session 2 Style, World of Dance, Werk The Floor, Dancers Delight, Lock The Block SDK and many more.
IA: Can you talk about where you first met house? What was your first experience of it?
TN: The first ever experience of house was at…I think it was maybe 92 or 93? It was not the first time I saw it. There was a dance showcase competition called ‘Dance Delight’ in Japan. It started maybe…1991…I can’t remember when. I used to go there and watch. And then three Japanese guys was doing house dance there, and it’s like…I didn’t really like it but because I spoke to them, they started showing me how to do the steps…that’s when I first…jamming I mean…learned house dance, but then I didn’t really like it because I was doing Hip Hop only. I was like ‘Yeah, Hip Hop only.’ Everything else was like…I didn’t really like locking, I didn’t really like popping, it was ‘Everything is Hip Hop,’ so it’s like ‘OK house…’ [laughs] That was 1992 or 3.
IA: Did you meet Hip Hop earlier? What was your first introduction to Hip Hop?
TN: Hip Hop…I would say that was…I think I was in Junior High School between thirteen and fifteen, so in that era…I met MTV. Being in Japan, and that time, it’s still the 80s, MTV…not everyone really knew about it, unless you’re rebellious maybe! [laughs] I was staying up late and watching late night TV, and I met MTV. Then I saw Bobby Brown. [laughs] With the jacket and he was like half naked, and I was like ‘Oh my god, what is this? Wow!’ It was a big shock to me, but…’wow, that’s cool.’ Before that I think it was…Run DMC and there was the shoes, Adidas Superstars, and I really wanted those shoes. I really liked the way they dressed, but I didn’t really know what they were at that time. I think it was Bobby Brown that got me into that steps.
IA: Let’s talk about shoes. We need to talk about the shoes, the sneakers…I can see so many of them behind you, I’ve seen the pictures on your Insta like with dozens of boxes in your attic. Talk to me about your sneaker obsession.
TN: [laughs] My sneaker obsession must have started…like I said, in Junior High…I really wanted the Adidas Superstar. But back then, those were only available in UK size seven and bigger which is twenty-seven plus in Japanese. I’m only a twenty-four, twenty-five. But that was the first shoes I bought…I put tissues in...[laughs] in the toe. Wearing them without the laces was really hard, it was so difficult [laughs] to wear them like that. So it was Adidas, Puma, they also had tracksuits…you know, B-Boys, like their tracksuit top and bottoms quite tight. Adidas jackets and that, I really liked those clothes as well. I started collecting aged eighteen or nineteen.
IA: What are some of the highlights in your collection? How many do you have? Do you catalogue them?
TN: I collect them but I’ve put them in the loft for such a long time because I was so busy for the last ten years, I was so concentrated on the dance. I kind of left my shoes up there. But thanks to this coronavirus, [laughs] I met them again. I’ve been lost because I had time to see them again. I think I have at least…three hundred pairs. I didn’t even notice that some of the pairs are so pricey now. I was really surprised. I think it was like fifteen years ago, I had to queue up overnight to get some of the rare ones.
IA: If you had to choose a single pair…if the house was burning and you could only save one pair, what would it be?
TN: [sharp intake of breath] Wow! Probably…oh, that’s gonna be really hard. I think, probably, it’s… [long pause, then laughs] One pair?
IA: One pair.
TN: [long pause] Wahh…probably the Heineken Dunk SB.
IA: Why them?
TN: Cause I always wanted them so much and I finally found my size, after a long time, and they was really expensive as well. [laughs] That would be the one. The colours and…I don’t really drink much at all, and I don’t even like Heineken, [laughs] but I like the colour. They’re white and green and a bit of red. Nice style.
IA: In your network, who are the three people who support you, who nourish you, who feed you? It’s about giving props to three people who are important to you
TN: Wahh. That’s very difficult. Three people?
IA: Only three.
TN: OK. It’s very difficult. The first one is definitely Kashmir. He’s my friend and he’s also a teacher. He’s really harsh. [laughs] At the same time he’s really sweet and caring. I was struggling to pass the preselections and mentally was really weak…but he always challenged me…whenever I asked him, he was there to train me. He was always believing in me. I like the way he trains and I like the way he dances, obviously. One person is Kashmir. And another one, probably…it’s so difficult. [laughs] Oh, it’s so difficult, but I think I would say Hiro-san, the Japanese house dancer. He’s the one that…‘Oh, I actually want to try house dance, now.’ After I had my third child, I started house dancing properly at the age of thirty-five. I watched him dance always and I liked all those people like Caleaf and Tony Sekou and Shan S, the people I used to watch on YouTube, but Hiro-san is quite small, and he’s not thin. But it’s the way he danced with his body, I think I felt like a little bit ‘Oh, this is the one that suits me.’ I saw that he was really cool. But he was in Japan, I’m here, so I was like ‘Should I go back to Japan to learn from him?’ But luckily he came to the Czech Republic to do SDK, so I went straight in there and I did every single one of his lessons, and then we spoke and I invited him here, so he came. He came there three times for me, to do workshops and stuff. He’s a very clever man. Again, he’s really, really sweet and nice and also very strict. To himself, he’s really disciplined and he doesn’t even sleep and I don’t know how he manages all that. He said ‘Oh, yeah, I wanna do it.’ He doesn’t make you go ‘Oh, I had a really bad time and da-da-da,’ he never complains. He’s like ‘Well, these things happen, and we’ll still do this,’ and I look up to him. That attitude and I like his dancing and his creativity. Everything. I always, always wanna take his lessons, he’s inspires me a lot. His style as well, his fashion. He’s cool. He knows what he likes, and I appreciate him. The last person is Misa, my teammate. The way she dances…straight away, when I saw her dance I really liked her, the way she danced. And we got on and got closer…we train together still. Her background is Hip Hop, sort of…she did Hip Hop and she’s got a jazz background. Then also she supports me, to have support is just…when I have support I don’t think fear is there. When I was almost like falling down, falling off the cliff, she’s always the one who supports. If I’m hesitating, she’s the one to push. She’s much younger than me, like twenty years younger, [laughs] but it’s that support that I’ve never ever had in my life. It’s big, big support.
IA: Can you talk about you in battle? The psychology, the feeling of it, going into the preselections. Can you talk about that and the state you are in?
TN: I never…I still don’t really like it to be fair. I used to give way to the opponent, even if I pass the preselection, I was kind of like, I was giving up already. I just wanna run away from it, you know? Sometimes you pass preselection and you sometimes don’t, it’s depending on the judges’ opinion. There’s so many people there and I get nervous still. But sometimes those nerves go well, sometimes it don’t. It’s hard but I try not to blame myself. ‘Oh, I should have done this better, blah, blah, blah.’ Well, I do, but I try not to. [laughs] I guess it’s mentally, as well as physically, you’ve got to…I think if you want to win, then I think you have to train in both ways, so even if you don’t like that dancer and they win that means they’ve got something that I don’t have. I used to be like ‘Oh, he doesn’t have the groove, why does he do Hip Hop?’ That kind of a bit opinionated, but they still win. I have to go beyond them if I want to win. Now I am more laid back. ‘Oh yeah, it’s a battle so I might as well join in.’ [laughs] I don’t really care if I go through…I just wanna show myself…it’s more challenging not to think that, ‘Oh yeah…I’m tryna show what I got and who I am. The way I like to dance, I don’t wanna force myself to do the moves that might make me to win, I like to do what I like. And if I don’t win, that’s fine. But, I need to train, I want to train and show who I am and what I love.
IA: When you were talking about Kashmir, he helped you with something on the mental side of it. Can you talk about that?
TN: Yeah…he really noticed that I tend to give up halfway through…my self-belief was not here in me. So he tried to to lift it up…he knew that he couldn’t, only I could…he told me that he almost gave up on me. [laughs] It was not happening. He knew that I could dance, but my mental state is not that great. I think I was always giving way. I don’t have dreams. Do you know what I mean? Either you go into the battle and ‘Wah,’ …they’re better than me…that mentality. He was frustrated…but I was not really training my mentality, I was always physically training, I thought the physical training would lead me up to something. But it didn’t. [laughs] Then finally I won House Dance UK…at that time I was yeah…‘I think I want to win.’ [laughs] ‘I think I want to win.’ And why was I practicing that hard, not to win? At least I was sure what I was practicing. I was questioning myself, my mentality. I think I changed a little bit, Kashmir was also there when I won House Dance UK and he was very happy for me.
IA: It’s not only house, you won the locking two vs. two at Juste Debout. Can you talk about the difference when you’re solo versus when you’re with Frankie or someone else…what it’s like to be with another person in that space?
TN: It was more fun. Two vs. two is definitely fun. The trust and the friendship is there and it is definitely more fun. If you’re battling yourself, it’s only yourself. Especially with locking, we created some combo’s together with Inga and that was actually really fun. I didn’t get nervous very much. I think with locking, I tend to have more fun with it. Maybe it’s the style. Two vs. two with Frankie was…I had to do my best, cause it’s Frankie. [laughs] He just took me there, he’s really strong in that way. And he’s really, really sweet, he just tells me, ‘You’re good and you’ve got style’ and you know, my spirit was really high because of him. Frankie’s a really nice person to talk to, he’s really nice.
IA: Looking at this year and how the world has shifted, how have things changed for you with dance? The lack of travelling and lack of competitions, how has that been for you?
TN: It was actually…quite nice to slow down. To look after myself finally…I think I was trying to do this for people, you know? Create this for this show and I need to win this for this and I want to go to this event and blah, blah, blah. Now I’ve got time to have a look at my trainers and spend more time with my children. It’s much better that I have…because that part I was always feeling guilty with not being around here too much. It’s a time that I could…‘Yeah, OK, there’s no opportunity,’ then why do you still do things that you used to do I mean dance-wise. You can do something else. There’s no job. There’s no battle. It doesn’t have to be dance-related. I still dance, still train to dance and I still listen to the music, but it doesn’t have to be house. Let’s listen to jazz or I can also have more time to practice the piano…and I never, ever liked running or jogging, I really do not like it. That was the last thing I would take up as my hobby. But now I run almost every day since this COVID first lock down - five days a week, 8-10k. [laughs] Yeah, it started from 3k and now I can run a 10k. But, something like that, it’s actually satisfying me more than creating an amazing show…to be seen with the people…I was always like, entertain the people. Now it’s like, entertain myself and being entertained by my kids. I do miss it dance-wise and seeing people and the atmosphere. But at the same time I think I’ve got a good balance.
IA: You’ve travelled a lot. Can you talk about the places, the different scenes, where you’ve taught and battled…can you talk about that constant sense of movement?
TN: Sometimes it’s just really hard…I was not where I was really…the first time I went to Belarus, it was a little bit scary. There was a lot of army people there and I had to change in Ukraine. Wahh, you know? It was the first time ever. Yeah, it was nice but it was a kind of madness, because then after Belarus the day after I had to be in Manchester, and then sometime later I was in Swindon teaching, and then the next day is flying to Gran Canaria to teach and…it’s nice to meet a lot of people, especially when the people kindly invited me to judge. Anything like UDOs and all of that kind of event, kids dancing…some of the shows inspired me a lot, to create my own stuff. I learnt so much from judging people, I am judging but I’m actually really entertained. Eating different food in different countries…you see different cultures and the way they speak and the way they treat people is different and the food is different and…it’s madness but it’s lovely. I’ve never had any really bad times travelling. I loved and appreciated every single minute of it
IA: What were you doing in Belarus? What was the event that you were doing?
TN: That was called something like European Championships. It’s a lot of duo, solo and some battles. Lots and lots of showcases, intermediate and beginners and adults and different categories. Judging all day, from 8 o’clock in the morning ‘til eight in the night, full on.
TN: But I still really liked it. It’s so good to see different countries, the dancers dance differently. It was inspiring, the fashion’s different. Different dancers have got different styles and fashion as well. You see what is really popular in each country. It’s nice.
IA: Talking of judging, when you’re in that seat, what is it that you’re looking for, what are you paying attention to?
TN: The first thing I would see is if there’s foundation. If that is house or whatever…I want to see them dance and not their moves. I want to see them dance first. Then the technique rather than the creativity, especially freestyle. I want to see someone care about that side of the dance, house dance, Hip Hop…it’s got a culture and a history to it. I appreciate people who learn their foundation well, either from YouTube or looking at the OGs. I wanna see some kind of element in it that is quite solid. As soon as a dancer is doing a lot of amazing floor work, or backflip or whatever, it’s like ‘Nice! Wahh!’ But when they start doing a farmer it’s like ‘Oh my.’ That is really almost like skipping. Even if up until then, they’re doing their thing and they’re doing amazing showing you their individualities and a freedom to move or whatever, but as soon as I see that lack of foundation move, then I may be disappointed by them. I would rather vote for the boring one. [laughs]
IA: There’s an interesting duality in Hip Hop. There’s a relationship between the foundation and preservation of the origins, versus those who want to evolve it, to change it, to take it somewhere new. Can you talk a bit about where you are in that relationship?
TN: Ah, this is so difficult. I can’t really say anything much because…I don’t know…dance is evolving all the time, developing and changing in a way…so the new generation, their Hip Hop music is different to what we used to listen. So of course the dance will be different won’t it? But I don’t know…if I…especially now, when I see Hip Hop now…a lot of it is almost like contemporary moves and it’s musicality is on point, and it can do a lot of stuff that goes weird. Even if the music is a new one, you know…maybe like a ‘eh-eh-eh.’ I want to see some running man in it. [laughs] I’d appreciate that a little bit. I was thinking…I’m just being too old school or whatever, but I know I like the Hip Hop that I like, so obviously when I see this, some of the new Hip Hop yeah it’s OK, but if I see the Hip Hop I like, then it’s ‘Wow!’ [laughs] It’s still always that, back in the day Hip Hop that I like. Marquest, Buddha Stretch Loose Joint and Link etc. All those people doing stuff, I still like. [laughs]
IA: It’s important to recognise the history, but also the desire for change as well.
TN: Yeah, it is. House dance is like…it’s more like a…you see more African…is it contemporary? Where’s the steps that I like? If I don’t see, I don’t know what to judge. You’re an amazing dancer but I don’t know…if I’m invited as a house dance judges and when it’s not seen there ‘I don’t know.’
IA: How does house dance manifest in your body? How does it affect you? When you’re dancing, can you talk about how it feels so present. Out of all the Hip Hop styles, house feels really present in the body.
TN: It’s that [makes drum beat sound], isn’t it? [laughs] It’s all… [makes drum beat sound]. [laughs] The step comes in and…it’s difficult. Steps but definitely with some kind of groove you want to, for me to feel good. For that reason, it’s best to know some Hip Hop elements, understanding some Hip Hop elements as well. Maybe my base is still Hip Hop. House is just the fast version. I feel really close to locking when I’m doing house, cause the beat is…well, it’s different, isn’t it? Locking could be [makes drum beat sound and then a series of noises]. You’ve got that in house music as well sometimes. It’s difficult to say…to my body? I don’t know.
IA: When you’re out in the club, how is that different? Dancing on stage is different to dancing in a battle. Can you talk about how you dance in social spaces?
TN: Hmmm. It’s almost like communicating with my friends through dance. I see them…it’s almost like you can tell who they are, when you’re exchanging you know, not battling. You’d be chasing, dancing together. You feel the connections, this person connects better because the way I wanna go, he goes that same way, and if I wanna go that way, he comes here. It feels like the same air or the same space, ‘Ah, this connects well.’ Some people don’t because they just dance, they show me what they are, but they don’t see me. It’s ‘OK, you’re that kind of dancer.’ It’s more free, you can do whatever in a club, there’s no wrong and sometimes funny moves come up and we copy them and then we create something…I think it’s more natural. You see him or her in the club, maybe without the mask on. Some people still put it on, but…
IA: What would be an experience that was really memorable in a club situation? What’s a good club night or a space that sticks in the memory?
TN: House Dance Forever, Summer Dance Forever. After the first time in that space and the really good house music is on, there are so many dancers from different places. All meeting and everyone just sweats and just dance to music. This is something really special. Even Empire House and 4 to the Floor, it’s a little house dance community. Some of the hustle people came and Hip Hop and jazz. Empire House and 4 to the Floor is like meeting a family again, together where they haven’t seen their cousin for a long time. That kind of feeling.
IA: Can you talk about Essex and the scene there? What’s it like to be there?
TN: There’s nothing here. [laughs] I’m going to London yeah…no I think that I should stay more here, to build up a little bit more community here. Even within Essex, some parts are different. If I teach here or my town Chelmsford, I think people are middle class or a little bit higher than middle class…they’re good dancers…but some kids…I don’t feel that they’re loving the music or…I don’t know. They’re there for…it’s almost like ‘Why are you here? Why do you want to learn dance?’ I go to Dagenham sometimes, because of corona I’ve not been there. In a Dagenham school, as soon as I go in there, the kids are already dancing and are really happy. I put JB on, James Brown, and all of them are doing it. ‘Yeah!’ With their hands. This is, oh I feel ‘Wow!’ I really enjoy this, even watching those kids jamming with the music. They change attitude with whatever music I play, different music and they dance differently. It makes sense why they are there, they want to learn the dance. Here it’s a little bit more complicated, they don’t show it. It’s difficult to approach sometimes. I don’t know how to push or…it’s always like waiting for something to happen here…I don’t know. Having said that the place now I teach here in Chelmsford, I feel that the children I teach are more focused, open and love to learn dance. It varies.
IA: You as a teacher, as someone who shares knowledge, can you talk about that? What you do, what is it that you love about that and how you learnt to teach?
TN: Both my parents are teachers. Primary school teachers. I went to uni to study how to teach kids, I’m qualified as a teacher academically. So I tried that a little bit but you never know who’s turning up, what levels and what they are looking for. Yes I teach but it’s almost like I am still an entertainer. I want them to have fun with the music I play and the steps I share, I also want them to learn how to play and how to train by themselves. I want them to have fun. I want it to be more like a party than class.
IA: You performed at Breakin’ Convention in 2018. Can you talk about that? Building the work, what it was like on stage with the audience, within the festival…
TN: It was a first time for me, so I’d say it was not the best I ever I did. But, the six of us, our friendship was really good, the way we supported each other. I’m sure that we all feel the same, that this is what I like, this is what we like, so the six of us had the same feeling towards the audience…rather than showing lots of emotions on that stage, we went with the pure dance. I mean, it doesn’t have to be depressing or it doesn’t have to be…for me it’s almost like we are a crew and an orchestra. FUSE596 is more like, someone’s got trumpets, someone’s got piano, someone’s got drums and we harmonize it together really well, rather than we do a party on stage. I wanted to use different types of house music, as much as I could. My aim was to include as many house steps, movements and grooves as I could think of in a showcase yet also let it flow with the music. It’s important that it allows our storyline out, sometimes it can be about our journey not only of the dance society but also of our own lives. It expresses the ideas of "exploring, struggling, improving, discovering, succeeding, innovating, discussing, friendship-building and partying” and leaves them for interpretation. I wanted to show what house dance was, what house dance is almost, there was some floor work, obviously some contemporary that George does - he made some parts - but it’s more of…for me it was the music because sometimes you get really emotional, but it’s in a positive, positive way. Well for example when I listen to rock…indie rock, I get depressed, but I love it. [laughs] I love Smashing Pumpkins, all of that kind of music. On the other hand house music makes you wanna dance, so, I wanted to show that to the audience watching our dance - I wanted to make them wanna dance. It’s that simple! ‘Yeah! Woah! Oh that step is really nice!’ That’s it. It’s definitely good that you can have the heavy stuff as well as the pure happy…pure house.
IA: Can you expand on your relationship to the music? Can you talk about what you love, what you’re doing when you’re cutting stuff together?
TN: The first time that I understood music was classical, classical music. When I was three or four, I remember I used to play a record. Chopin and I think I started playing the piano since I was three or four too. So I always liked music, but my parents are not, you know, stylish ones, they used to listen to Japanese pop, cause that’s on the TV all the time. So I watched telly, and then sometimes the radio would play cool music, so I started learning about different kinds of music through the radio. I also started going to the record shop and all that kind of stuff. I still play Japanese pop, I still do. I think I like any type of music…I really like indie rock, especially in England. Stone Roses, Happy Mondays, Oasis, Blur and all of that, also American rock, Nirvana the Foo Fighters etc. I really like jazz, funk, Hip Hop, but I don’t like newish ones, I like reggae. Because I used to play and listen to the piano when I was little, it’s like melody dominated my hearing, the skill was I could always listen for a melody, I always listened. Now since I started doing dance properly I started listening to more instruments like drums and bass, now my ears are trying to learn in a different way.
IA: In terms of self-care and mental health, because it’s not often mentioned in Hip Hop, what do you do to preserve your own mental health, how do you practice self-care?
TN: I was dancing until I was twenty-something and then for lots of reasons, I decided to study English…because I liked all the music scene and movies I wanted to understand it in English. I never understood rap but I really liked Hip Hop, I didn’t understand what they were talking about. With movies I had to read the subtitles and it must mean something different, so I thought, ‘Yeah before I do the dance properly, or whatever, I need to understand English.’ I went to New York and I came back and I wanted to study English more properly…then for me the cheapest way to learn Englishman at that time was New Zealand on a working holiday visa. I met my husband there and I married and came to UK. So I didn’t dance for fifteen years. At all. I was bringing up kids, children, married and was only the housewife. Housewife, housewife. Looking after the children and I lost myself, totally, during that time. I was happy with the children, but it was difficult for me. Because I was young and a little bit fooled…naïve thinking back, it must have been tough, without my family, friends, no one’s there, and three children [makes crying noises]. The third one, I hit it really badly, I had post-natal depression really bad. I was not sleeping, I lost loads of weight. And then, then I started going out a little bit, taking a how to use a computer course, cause I lost all that youth bringing up children. I never thought I would dance again. I really never would have never imagined I would. And then I started exercising, then I started feeling again…you know, I was depressed and stuff like that, I needed to get better so I decided to take up some exercise. When I started doing kickboxing and kung-fu class that lead to dance. Anyway, I started feeling better, I think body and mind are definitely connected. I never want to fall into that depression time again. So, compared to that time, now it’s like ‘Yeah, OK, I didn’t pass the preselection even if I travelled to Holland,’ compared to before the time I was depressed it’s nothing…I appreciate that I’ve got opportunities to travel. Even now, I appreciate that I talk to you now, at this time. It’s tiny little things that I appreciate. You do get stressed but it’s not that deep any more, I know how to control it. Someone said ‘Oh, you’re rubbish’ or whatever…some people do, they give me hard and harsh comments but it’s like ‘Yeah, OK.’ But that lasts like five days. People forget, you know? People don’t care. They say it, but they don’t care. That mentality…I think it is difficult to tell people not to get hurt, I would never say ‘You’re gonna be OK’ Because I don’t know. I can’t really relate to your problem, so I won’t say ‘It’s gonna be OK.’ You’re gonna have to experience it. You just have to go through it, somehow. You might go down, before you go up. You might not ever go up. But that’s yourself…OK use dance and I’m doing this with dance, that’s what helped me, blah, blah, blah…everyone’s different. Everyone’s background is different. They way they were brought up is different. Morality is different. So you know it’s difficult…where kids have got lots of different issues and stuff, I don’t really advise. I’d rather say ‘You just have to pass, or go through or just walk or you must stop.’ That’s it.
IA: Can you remember getting back into dance? What was it that you did at thirty-five? Was it a class, did you go out to the club? What was it that moved you on from kickboxing?
TN: It was kickboxing…because at that time, I was doing kickboxing here and I had to go back to Japan…not had to, I wanted to see my parents in Japan, so I took all my children there. Because of that I really wanted to do some exercise. Then I spoke to Gucchon, the popper Gucchon, he said to me ‘Well, I used to train in karate. Karate and popping are similar, come to my class.’ I went to his class and that was the start. [laughs] I took lots of lessons and I felt so good. I came back here and I thought ‘OK, I think I want to dance again.’ Even like a little hobby. Then…I didn’t. At that time I didn’t find a really good class in the UK. Hip Hop is like ‘This isn’t Hip Hop,’ so I couldn’t touch it. The one I really liked is Jimmy Williams. Jimmy was at Pineapple and he teaches locking. I bought Hiro san ‘s DVD, ‘How to do house dance’ and learning at home while the kids were watching TV. That’s the start.
IA: In Hip Hop and house, is there anything that you want to dismantle? Is there anything you want to change about it as a culture, how it operates, are there things that annoy you?
TN: [pause] Annoyed? Hmm. [laughs] Histories. I think it is really important to…or knowledge of the dance. If you call yourself a house dancer or Hip Hop, I think you need some knowledge…some people are almost like they think they invented that dance. Or freedom, you do whatever you feel…if you wanna feel free, you got to have some kind of restrictions. Otherwise there is no…OK, if you can do whatever it’s not because there’s no rules, then it’s not actually free. You aren’t really free. Using those kinds of techniques or restrictions or whatever, then in the break that is where you actually learn stuff, then something happens…that is a freedom rather than doing the random stuff you call it ‘Oh, this is the new things and the new…’ It’s OK but I don’t feel that is free. Sometimes I see that. It’s not annoying but…I want to show it in a different way. I really like it in the OGs and the way they used to dance, I really like it. I don’t want that to disappear. I am learning still and forever learning
IA: Who is your favourite dancer of the OGs? Who is it that really sings for you?
TN: Oh…it’s so many…I would never, ever be able to dance like him…and it’s a different kind of dance but Ejoe. There’s so many. Ejoe, Brian Green, Link, I love Skeet. [pause, then laughs] Yeah, all that…Rubberband back in the day and Elite Force. Just the way they dance…they all dance so different. They are so cool, everyone is so cool with it. [laughs] The first time I saw them, that excitement…but it those excitements don’t happen often now
IA: I’ve got a few more questions but is there anything that you want to talk about…it could be a memory, an event, a person that you’ve not spoken about. Anything you want to mention?
TN: [pause] In…in what?
IA: This is a space for you if you’ve not spoken about something that’s important to you in terms of dance or Hip Hop or house. It’s a space to talk about that. That was important to me.
TN: [pause] No. Not really, I think I have said what I wanted to say. I’m not really vocal. [laughs] I always think, if I don’t have this kind of opportunity, I don’t need to talk. ‘It’s OK, people don’t know me, that’s fine.’ People don’t have to know me. OK, if you know what I’m doing it’s fine but…I will show the way I like to do stuff in my dance. If they like it, or don’t like it, they’ve seen it or never seen it, that’s fine. I think it’s more like action rather than saying it.
IA: That segues into my next question which is about archive, documentation and legacy. What do you think about that? How do you document what you do? How do you ensure that it is there for future generations?
TN: Maybe I am hard to find. [laughs] If that’s the way, it’s fine. If you wanna find me…come and find me. I don’t have to put myself out there because I don’t have to…if you don’t wanna know me then you don’t have to know me. As long as I know what I’m doing, what I like, I know myself, and I live for myself…then the people around me will see. If they don’t wanna talk about it, don’t talk about it. It might disappear my history. For me, it’s fine. It’s just the way it is and I don’t wanna push myself to be this and that and that, because it’s not me. But I will show what I wanna do. [laughs] That might not be the thing, but it’s fine. It’s the same as playing the piano. Someone might hear me, and someone don’t, but I put emotion in it and this is the way I like to play.
IA: You’ve done a couple of videos with Street Player, where you’re dancing in the street. Can you talk a little bit about that?
TN: [laughs] Street Player, it’s like musicians releasing music…and whenever new music comes out it’s like an advertisement, so dancers dance to the music. I was called by them to do the Street Player. ‘OK, I’ll do it.’ Pfft. A track is six minutes. It’s long and I danced in the middle of Bond Street. I bumped into ladies. [laughs] They don’t hear the music that much, so you just basically dance to the whole song on the street. I think a lot of people did it. That was concept, interesting music.
IA: What does success and happiness look like to you?
TN: Wow. Success and happiness? Success is like, or happiness is also like, everyday when I drink my first cup of coffee, if that tastes good…if I could appreciate that cup of coffee that I make in the morning, if it’s the right temperature, the right amount of coffee, then that’s success. That’s happy. When the kids come home safe. I’m happy. It’s everyday life, it’s everywhere. It doesn’t have to be the biggest things, it’s just the build up. The kids see me everyday…maybe they are not doing good, sometimes a call from the school. It’s part of growing up. As a parent, it’s OK those experiences I have with my kids are happiness, good or bad experiences it doesn’t matter which. Happiness as well is tiny things, even today I was running and I saw at least two squirrels - that’s my success and that really makes me happy. That success is enough for me.
IA: What is your strongest memory of dance?
TN: [pause] Strongest memory of dance. [pause, then laughs] Probably…it so sounds…like ‘Oh, you’re stupid,’ when I first met Caleaf finally. Caleaf Sellers. I was in France and he was doing a Dance Fusion workshop. I always liked the way he danced and he came to Japan, but I missed it because I was in New Zealand. Ever since I did dance…for a long time he was another one…I saw Link and Stretch back in the 90s but when I met finally Caleaf, which was in 2011 I think. I was like ‘Wow! [laughs] He’s so tall but finally, I met this man!’ That is like yeah…it’s a bit boring.
IA: What happened? Was it a class? What is the juice in that memory?
TN: Yeah, it was a workshop. I think it was a one-week workshop. From ten o’clock it was Sekou, then Caleaf and then Marjory…Marjory was still there, and Tony was there. I think that that was a Juste Debout week as well. Juste Debout was on and I think so many people went to Juste Debout school for their workshop. Caleaf’s workshop only had four of us in and I was like [makes noise with mouth] ‘Four of us!’ He killed us all. And that was amazing and…yeah, I was like ‘Oh…yeah.’ [laughs]