Eiko Tanaka and Japanese Salsa Dancing: A Ritmo Bello Interview

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Salsa dancing is truly an international phenomenon.  Although the majority of salsa dance songs are in Spanish, the actual dance is enjoyed all over the world by all types of people.  A friend of mine named Tarrence is lucky enough to travel all over the world and he’s shared stories of the great salsa dancing he’s found in places like China and Japan.  He introduced me to Eiko Tanaka, an accomplished salsa dancer that lives in Japan and we talked about salsa dancing’s effect on the country.  I hope you enjoy the interview!


Ritmo Bello: Eiko, thanks for agreeing to sit down for an interview. Let’s begin. Many people in the United States don’t realize that salsa dancing is really popular in Japan. What is the salsa dance scene like where you live in Japan?

Eiko Tanaka: Hello, it is my pleasure and thank you so much for having me.

With regards to the salsa scene in Japan, I don’t know the exact figure, but I have noticed that the salsa population has grown quite a bit within the past 10 years. Many people have visited the US to take salsa classes to study and partly due to the increase of salsa Congresses around the world, I think people have become aware of the spread of salsa in an international scale.

Ritmo Bello: I understand that you learned salsa dancing outside of Japan. What was your first contact with salsa dancing? How has salsa dancing affected your life?

Eiko Tanaka: My first contact with salsa was in Cuba.  I particularly liked the traditional Cuban son dance and music but I also liked the Cuban “casino” which I believe what people refer to it as  “Cuban salsa”.  I enjoy all styles of salsa and it really gives me a lot of joy.

Ritmo Bello: I know that you manage a dance company now in Japan. What are the origins of your dance company? Is there a story to how it was formed? Do you perform at any of the Salsa Congresses or festivals?

Eiko Tanaka:  My dance group is an all female show dance group. My choreography is based on ballet, contemporary, afro-cuban as well as Cuban popular dance, all of which I learned at the dance school of “Tropicana” night club in Havana, Cuba.  I also incorporate salsa movements and steps. I have performed in many festivals and Congresses including the Japan Salsa Congress and the LA (West Coast) Salsa Congress. I will be performing at the Japan Salsa Congress this year.

Ritmo Bello: For someone like myself that has never been to Japan what can you share with readers about the best way of finding out about salsa dance events happening in Japan?

Eiko Tanaka: Yes there are many salsa events every month, and as far as Tokyo is concerned there is the Salsa Hotline Night which is a salsa event that takes place every month and in June 2009 marked the 139th event.  Almost all the groups that perform in the Japan Salsa Congress and other Congresses  participate in this event to showcase their performance.  And of course in addition to that, there are many events at various salsa clubs.

Ritmo Bello: What has been your best memory from your salsa dance experiences?

Eiko Tanaka: My best memory would have to be when I danced at the stage of Tropicana show .  Established in 1939, Tropicana used to be the playground for the rich and famous before the revolution, and it became known as the most attractive, luxurious nightclub in the world.   Al Capone hung out there, Carmen Miranda, Josephine Baker and Nat King Cole performed there. Today the place is one of Cuba`s main tourist attraction. To me it is such a magical place and feel incredibly lucky to have had the experience.

Ritmo Bello: I know you actually conducted professional photography while in Cuba as well. Can you tell our Ritmo Bello readers a little bit about that time?

Eiko Tanaka: Yes. I lived in Cuba from 1998-2000.  I met this photographer called Raul Corrales who was one of the most respected photographers in Cuba. He had been the official photographer of Fidel Castro for few years and also had documented Cuba during the revolutionary era as well as taken photos of people like Che Guevara and Ernest Hemingway. He has given me many valuable advices on photography and I developed and printed all my photos in the dark room I made in the bathroom. My interest was in capturing the life of the Cuban people but I mainly took photographs of Tropicana dancers backstage. I am actually planning to publish a black and white photography this year.

Ritmo Bello: Do you have any plans of visiting San Diego, California in the near future?

Eiko Tanaka: I would love to visit San Diego one day. If I have the opportunity to participate in LA Congress I will stop by San Diego.

Ritmo Bello:  What advice can you give to people that are new to salsa dancing?

Eiko Tanaka: It’s a beautiful and fun dance form so just enjoy it! It’s important to feel the music and not get too caught up in the technique.

Ritmo Bello: Do you have contact information in case anyone from the Ritmo Bello audience wants to contact you?

Eiko Tanaka: Yes people can email me at eikotropicana@yahoo.co.jp. I also have a web site www.eikotropicana.com

Ritmo Bello: Eiko, Thank you so much for your time and I hope to travel to Japan sometime to salsa dance with you!

Eiko Tanaka: Thank you so much and I hope you will visit us one day !!

John F. Bello

Meet John ;-)

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