To say that Kevin “TOKYO” Inouye is in demand as a teacher and choreographer is an understatement. Just listening to him describe his hectic schedule can induce a serious case of jet lag—he travels between three to seven cities per week. Dancers across the globe can’t get enough of his unique style—a blend of contemporary technique, body undulations and staccato hip-hop-inspired moves. But his biggest influence is martial arts. “About a third of the movements I teach in class are inspired by martial arts,” says TOKYO, who holds five black belts in disciplines from karate to judo and has trained in wrestling, Muay Thai, boxing and mixed martial arts/cage fighting.
Born in Honolulu, TOKYO didn’t begin taking dance classes until he was a senior in high school, but his background as a competitive martial artist paid off in the dance world. Early on he learned that his heart was in teaching rather than performing. Quickly gaining a following, he went on to become co-director of the Hall of Fame Dance Challenge competition for four years, and he’s currently on faculty with several conventions. His main teaching ground is Millennium Dance Complex in L.A., where he focuses on helping students dance in a way that feels organic, similar to the instinctive movements of a martial artist. “Trying to get dancers—who have been trained since they learned to walk to do unnatural things—to do natural things is very difficult,” he says. “I use a lot of analogies, so instead of dancers doing a plié, we’re just human beings bending down to pick a bag up off the floor.”
And, to help students let go, TOKYO includes improvisation in his classes whenever possible. “The problem in the dance industry is that you can spend your whole life doing what somebody else tells you to do,” he says. “Improv is the best way for an artist to get back to who they really are.” Here, TOKYO shares the music that inspires his dancers to be themselves.
Album: Mateo Music
“Mateo’s music is the best warm-up music in the world. He sets a beautiful tone and vibration for class. It’s his own genre, similar to R&B, which creates a lovable tone that calms everybody down and takes them to a peaceful zone.”
Artist: Sigur Rós
Album: Með Suð í Eyrum Við Spilum Endalaust
“I use Sigur Rós for contemporary choreography. It has a slower pace, which I like for pieces in which I’m trying to build a story. And the songs are patient with how they build, so it’s great when I choreograph longer works.”
“Jónsi is the lead singer of Sigur Rós who also has his own album. I use his music for improvisation, since it has a lot of instrumental layers. We’ll concentrate on dancing just to the guitar, for example, and not the other instruments. That way, students work on musicality. Also, whenever we work with slower, more delicate movement in class, I turn to Jónsi. His songs are rich, warm and conducive to softer dancing.”
Song: “Run Away With Me”
“Recently I’ve been working with music producer Drehz, an old high school friend. I’ll give him my ideas for choreography, and we go from there. Rather than trying to throw my choreography on top of music that’s already made, we’re able to build the emotion of the story as we go along. His music, which is now on iTunes, is mostly instrumental with a wide variety of rhythms, so it’s perfect for class combinations and improvisation.”
Artist: Ade Obayomi
“For my more aggressive jazz contemporary, I’ve been using mixes by Ade Obayomi (from So You Think You Can Dance). He remixes other artists’ music, adding in beats and rhythms. The songs are stressful. You think, ‘Oh my God, I have to hit all that?’ But it’s a good test—both choreographing to it and dancing to it challenges your musicality.”
(photo courtesy of www.ASHProductions.com)