When I was 9 years old, I was allowed to take some Summer classes with the teacher of my teacher, Mr Hideteru Kitahara (北原秀晃氏）, a top dancer of Japan in his days and a principal dancer and later artistic director of Tokyo Ballet Company. When I turned 12, I was allowed to go and join his regular classes as one of the very first child protegees he has ever taken on. Aside myself, there was one other girl who was a couple of years older, and the rest of the dancers were pre-professional high teens to professional dancers.
It was a very intimidating and scary, yet fantastically inspiring experience. I danced next to some of Japan’s top dancers, with young dancers who then went onto become truly great dancers later. I learned so much from him, especially what it is to dance. And he already treated us all as (pre)professional dancers. So we learned what to expect, and what we are expected to do, as professional dancers, which helped me enormously in my later career. I would like to share some of the experience I had in his classes little by little.
Here is one of the earlier episodes.
This was while I was still only going to his special Summer classes. I believe I was 9 or 10. Mr Kitahara was an exceptional dancer and a very very strict teacher. I used to find him terrifying. As well as the strictness, he was the teacher of my teacher. I thought she was so good and beautiful, and yet when he was coaching her, he would often get very cross with her (or so it seemed!). So I was already nervous. And I was the youngest in his classes, even in the Summer course that was meant for younger dancers.
One day in this Summer course, Mr Kitahara was getting very cross with us all for not being musical. As he was walking among us, he was telling us it was no good moving after we heard the music, we should move with the music, and that we were all dancing as though we had some cotton wads stuffed inside our ears. He suddenly stopped right in front of me, looking me in the eyes, and shouted “Take those wads of cotton out of your ears!” and stuck his hand in front of my face as if he was expecting me to give them to him. I was either 9 or 10, and although he was not a very tall man, he seemed enormously tall, and his hand looked as though it was bigger than my own face. I thought very hard. I was certain I did not have anything stuffed in my ears. But he is expecting me to produce something! So I lifted my hands to my ears, took out the wads of cotton that I could not see, and placed them in his palm. I did not mean to mock him, I did not mean to be funny. I was told to take them out, so I just did what I was told. I must have looked absolutely pathetic and petrified. As Mr Kitahara burst out laughing and could not stop for a while. I felt mortified. But he laughed for a while, got into a better mood and kept on with the class.
I do not know whether that was the reason or not, but he always looked out for me and although he was at times frustrated by my not being the genius that he was, he never gave up on me. He also recognised how I could “dance” and that I was very musical, so much so that he would stop the class of professional dancers (including my teacher and some of Japan’s leading dancers of the time) and tell them off for not performing properly, stating that even this little girl (i.e. me) was doing far better than them.
Although I did not think I was particularly musical, as I got older I started realising that maybe I was a bit more musical than many others. Maybe I actually did take the wads of cotton out of my ears that day which allowed me to hear the music very clearly.