Note: The last entry of this mini-trilogy originally written this a year ago for an art project by my friend Sandy Yin, the blogger of “A Brief List of Rules.” I try not to get too personal on this blog, but some things should be shared.
Updated to add: I just noticed that this is my 100th post on this blog and I don’t think I could have picked a better one. Thanks for reading!
I have a very interesting relationship with Akemi Kinukawa. I consider her one of my closest friends, yet we don’t speak to one another very much. In fact, I can probably estimate with some confidence that we’ve actually spent more time dancing together than we have talking.
I remember the first time I ever danced with Akemi. The song was “Wade In The Water” by Eva Cassidy at K2 Dance Studio, September 19, 2001. I know the date because it was the second Wednesday after 9/11. Like a lot of people at that time, I had to get out and do something, anything to get away from the omnipresent, mind numbing news coverage. Apparently a lot of lindy hoppers felt the same way because K2 was packed that night.
This is the point in the story where I’m supposed talk about how we just “clicked” on the dance floor, losing ourselves in our connection with each other and the music. That would make for a nice story, and one day, I hope to misremember it like that.
Even after all these years, I can actually tell you exactly what was wrong with our dance. In fact, my main concern was finding ways to avoid Akemi after that, because for some odd reason, she was pretty excited after our dance was over. It wasn’t a terrible dance in retrospect. We danced to “Wade In The Water” after all. That song was so overplayed at the time that even a rookie like me needed an ear infection to not to hit all those breaks.
I also remember our second dance at the old Zoots and Dolls. No dates or songs this time, but I do distinctly remember pinpointing what exactly was wrong with our connection. That should have been a clue to me as to the kind of inspiration that Akemi would be to me in the coming years. And while I don’t remember the third dance, I do remember a dance with her, not too much later, where I elbowed her in the lip. It was bad. She had to go to the bathroom because I drew blood. I may have caused some brain damage too, because when I told this story to her years later, she swore that she didn’t remember it.
My point is that it took awhile for me to get comfortable dancing with her, and I can’t really say when that happened. But it eventually did, if only because Akemi is a very determined woman. At the risk of sliding into Freudian territory, this is why she reminds me of my mother.
Few people understand what its like to move to a completely new country and culture, half a world away from everything you have ever known. I think that kind of inner strength is also what makes Akemi such a good dancer and such a giving friend. Any fear she has is dwarfed by her capacity for hope and that allows her to take more and more risks. She swings life like any good jazz musician does their instrument.
Looking back, I now realize how lucky I am to have met Akemi. Akemi doesn’t realize this, but she has consistently been present during some of the most stressful, depressing, and happiest moments in my life. That’s because I’m out dancing during or even because of these moods.
“Dancing while in the middle of an emotional extreme like depression, frustration, or happiness can really affect how you dance especially when you channel that emotional energy into your dancing. It’s like taking out your aggression on a punching bag. There’s something raw and emotional about physically manifesting your feelings like that. The advantage of this is that this is You at that moment which is honest if nothing else.”
I wrote that a long time ago, as part of a long personal essay that was influenced in part by a dance I had with Akemi. Without going into much detail, I’ll just say that it was one of those nights. Frustrated and upset because of something, I ended up dancing with Akemi. I told her everything, and she listened, consoled me, and cheered me up. And we didn’t say a word to each other.
This has actually happened several times since then. I’ve discovered that I communicate with Akemi better through dance than I do with most other people verbally. We dance. We make mistakes. We do something awesome. We try again. We mess up. We laugh. We move on. All within the span of two to five minutes.
Every dance isn’t the greatest dance ever. Some are pretty generic, and a few are just down right terrible. But it usually doesn’t matter. I don’t feel need to impress her. I can be myself with Akemi, no matter what kind of mood I’m in at the time. Whatever happens, she’s there, and that’s what I truly value in her as a dance partner and as a friend.
She moved to New York City last year, but I don’t miss Akemi because I can fill that void with the knowledge that the courage she has to undertake this new phase in her life dwarfs anything that I can express.