10 Questions With Dancer Keanu Uchida

Keanu Uchida is a Toronto-based dancer originally from Ottawa Ontario. Nick Lazzarini, season one winner of So You Think You Can Dance and co-founder of Shaping Sound dance company, describes Uchida as a dancer “so versatile and so smart, he can literally do anything.”

Uchida began dancing at the age of four, training in ballet, jazz, tap, hip-hop, lyrical and contemporary. As a teen, he became a dancer to watch as he racked up awards in international dance competition, going on to pursue a professional career in dance.

A young man of many talents and limitless potential, Uchida is also a scientist working toward an undergraduate degree in physics. He will make his musical theater debut in 2017 and is taking his life in dance one step at a time as he explores new career opportunities.

Uchida takes the time to answer ten questions about the lessons of his early training, what inspires him as a dancer, and what he hopes may be next.

What’s been your career highlight to date?

Last spring, I had the opportunity to play a vital role in the workshop process of the new Toronto original production “Dancer, choreographed by Stacey Tookey. I was cast as Northern Dancer, the principle of the performance and will debut in the role at Toronto’s Elgin Theatre in 2017.

What lessons from your dance studio training have proven most valuable?

The most compelling learning tool that accelerated my growth was our consistent practice of improvisation. It was a way to better understand ourselves as young dancers and a way to bring us all closer together. We became aware of the patterns that dancers fall into and worked on how to keep the playing field fresh. It vastly increased my creative skills and my appreciation for artists that properly exercised their creativity.

Part of my training also involved the young choreographer program at my studio. As older students we had the ability to set work on the younger dancers, this allowed for much generational exchange but most importantly a platform to work on our mentorship and maturity. I believe these experiences helped me find my voice as an independent artist.

What is it like to balance a professional dance career with academics?

I’ve somehow managed to keep both in my life and would consider my love for dance to be a driving factor. I’ve always wanted to continue dancing after school, cutting my dance path short has never really been considered. I moved to Toronto and attended University but moved to work in the commercial industry as well. So far, it has turned out to be a great decision.

How has your study of science and physics enhanced your dancing?

Firstly and more practically, dance is monitored by physical law. We can very directly assess many dance issues with a simple understanding of Newton’s Laws — counterbalancing problems, lack of control with rotation, and lack of height while jumping. By understanding basic static equilibrium, angular momentum and centre of gravity rules respectively we can tweak and quickly accelerate learning and awareness.

Beyond that, this question is painfully existential for me. I would probably like to write a book about it one day.

What honors have you received as a former competitive dancer?

I was awarded the Teen Male Dancer of the Year during the American Dance Awards title competition in 2011. And, in July 2014 I was named Senior Male Best Dancer at The Dance Awards. The Dance Awards serves as the international competition for JUMP, NUVO and 24/7 Dance Conventions, touring with some of the most recognized choreographers in the industry– artists like Travis Wall, Mia Michaels, Mandy Moore, Stacey Tookey, Jason Parsons, Lauren Adams, Teddy Forance, Nick Lazzarini, Misha Gabriel, Al Blackstone and Sonya Tayeh (to name a few).

Who/what inspires you most in your dance career?

The artists who inspire me most are ones that not only exude brilliance but that also have a genuine will to make change, however big or small the scale. My former dance teacher, Jessica Shaw has been part of a huge dance project in Ottawa called Dancers Give Back. She gathers studio owners and their students from across Ottawa and notable alumni to take part in a fundraiser every year, consisting of a workshop and studio showcase. The organization has raised over $50,000 for local charities over the past two years. Their slogan “Together We Dance Louder” is a testament to the positives that can be manifested from unified communities.

What gets you through tough times?

Quite frankly, dance gets me through tough times. Despite the fluctuations of my life I am consistently able to come back to dance and dance through it all. I think the most comfort comes in that I always have a safe haven of exploration. I’m able to learn from the hardships and face them with dance.

How important is it to be versatile in a dance career?

I think that you need not be necessarily good at everything and that specialization can be okay. However, I’ve learnt from my exploration (and failures) in other genres. My growth in contemporary has been positively influenced by the Toronto hip-hop scene. Working with choreographers that heavily fuse hip-hop and subsequent genres have allowed me to learn from the urban community.

I also believe that versatility can be found within a distinct genre. Many dancers are quite emotionally invested in their work, yet lack the technical ability to carry out choreography. Others have mastered execution and lack musicality. And infinite regress. In that sense, versatility becomes necessary and is valuable.

What have been your biggest challenges as a dance professional?

I believe a challenge that I still struggle with today and recently is finding my niche with dance. I’ve dabbled in commercial TV and film, soon to debut in an original Toronto musical, and have had the chance to work with renown concert artists. I’m drawn to elements of these wildly different industries, but still trying to understand where I fit into the bigger picture. Essentially I want to work in all spheres, but that is both a multilayered and complex ambition. It’s a question that will only be answered over time and experience.

Where do you see yourself in 5 years?

I’m not quite sure where I’ll be and that is something that I’m okay with. New York has always been my dream. Diverse in every sense, it transcends to the flourishing dance community. I’m drawn by both the concert and Broadway stages there. I will be done with my physics degree in five years time and want to pursue graduate studies. NYU Tisch offers a Dance Masters of Fine Arts, a two year program of study in creative and choreographic process. It could be a great occasion to work on my craft and to get a footing in the city of my dreams.