Chihiro Shimizu is a student at SUNY Purchase and a member of their dance team, which was invited to perform in Nanjing, China this past Fall. As part of a nationally televised International Festival, she was the only Asian American dancer in the group. Originally from Japan, she traveled by herself at the age of 15 to New York to student dance and has maintained her incredible talent! She continues to rehearse steadily and spoke to me a little bit about her ambitions as a performer.
The Conservatory of Dance is a pre-eminent professional training conservatory model BFA and MFA degree program in performance and technique of classical ballet and modern dance with a strong choreography program. The Purchase Dance Corps, the performing company of the Conservatory, has achieved international recognition in Asia through its performances at Dance Festivals, notably in Beijing, Taiwan and Hong Kong.
ASIANCE: So how and when did you start dancing?
Chihiro: Now I’m 21 but I started dancing when I was 6 in Hong Kong actually. I lived in Hong Kong and the reason I started was I was really sick all the time, weak and my mom got worried. So I started with gymnastics and got into it and kept dancing in Japan until I was 15 then moved to New York when I was 15. I was dancing here in New York by myself while my family was still in Japan so it was hard but…
ASIANCE: Do you ever go back to visit your family? Is it Tokyo?
Chihiro: Yes I’m from Tokyo. I go back for Christmas, summer, yeah.
ASIANCE: Your last major performance was in China at one of the Nanjing stadiums! How was the international dance festival?
Chihiro: It was great. They treated us really well. It was in the Olympic Stadium with 5,000 people, for an international festival. Artists from 20 different countries came and there was singing, visual arts, everything. So we were there for a week and also danced with the local dancers in China and had a class together, dancing, talking, it was great.
ASIANCE: Was it interesting and fun to be in China after the Olympics this year?
Chihiro: Oh yeah. We were in the city of Nanjing, the people were nice and treated us well. They thought I was the translator of the group because I was the only Asian in the group. I felt weird at first but it was actually ok. But they were talking to me in Chinese and I was telling them I was Japanese. They asked me a lot of questions like how it is to be in the United States…
ASIANCE: Was this the biggest performance you’ve done?
Chihiro: This was definitely the biggest one ever. The show was televised nationally in China so it was a big deal and we had an opening ceremony. It was like the opening ceremony during the Olympics and we were proud of it, it was great,
I’ve twisted my ankles six or seven times, knee problems. We can’t avoid it but learn how to deal with it, take care of it and deal with it.
ASIANCE: Were you nervous?
Chihiro: Yes. It was actually 8 dancers including me and we were like, “we can do this, breathe, breathe,’ and it went really well.
Since we practice so much it is muscle memory. I concentrate but not actually thinking what’s next, it just happens and we dance so much our bodies remember.
ASIANCE: What is your daily schedule like, very vigorous?
Chihiro: We start at ten-thirty in the morning and usually go till nine or ten at night. It’s a really busy schedule. We have ballet class in the morning and after that it is all rehearsal, like two or three hours sometimes.
ASIANCE: Have you been injured?
Chihiro: Yeah, injuries are pretty common. I’ve twisted my ankles six or seven times, knee problems. We can’t avoid it but learn how to deal with it, take care of it and deal with it.
ASIANCE: Do you get to rest?
Chihiro: It depends on the choreographers but we often get a water break and get water, chocolates in the back. We take a five-minute break but at first I was really exhausted during the day.
ASIANCE: So when you do get a break what do you do?
Chihiro: All we have off Saturdays here so we spend time in the city, go shopping. I pretty much do anything normal do but at the same time we have to stay in shape so I do yoga classes often and keep warmed up with sit-ups and everything.
ASIANCE: Do you have to audition for festivals such as the recent one in China?
Chihiro: We’re famous for dance programs and got picked to go to the China international festival, for example. It was last semester when the audition happened but it was basically the choreographer will give you certain stands and movement and we all have leotards and do it in front of people. We had to do improvisation so you have thirty seconds and use the floor and what you can. So it’s really, really hard.
It’s hard to have anything outside of dancing but I kind of try to do other stuff or I’ll go crazy.
ASIANCE: Do you have a strict diet?
Chihiro: Yeah. I try to eat healthy. I cook a lot actually, Japanese food.
ASIANCE: You’ve become really close with the whole dance team?
Chihiro: Yeah, definitely.
We actually go out on weekends even though the next day we have rehearsals. Then we are very tired but I’ve gotten used to it. Around school or in school most of the time is where we go. In the city we go to bars that our friends work at.
ASIANCE: So what are your plans for the future?
Chihiro: Well actually after I graduate I want to go to Europe because these past two summers I was in Europe dancing over there and it’s really great. I’m trying to go there, audition there soon and hopefully get in.
ASIANCE: What city in Europe would you go to?
Chihiro: I’ll say Paris. Wherever it takes me, I’ll go anywhere.
ASIANCE: What about Japan, would you dance in your hometown of Tokyo?
Chihiro: Actually the dancing in Japan is not quite there yet so eventually I will want to take my dancing friends back home, probably like ten years from now, and open up a company, show them what is happening in that world…
ASIANCE: What is your recent accomplishment?
Chihiro: I did the annual Nutcracker at SUNY Purchase. The pics with the blue costume are from the nutcracker last year. I am the “Arabian’ part in the second act. I do the ballet part as well. Our nutcracker is a combination of modern and classical, so, I do the modern part.
ASIANCE: Well, thank you so much and it was a pleasure! “Break a Leg!’
Chihiro: I’m excited to see the website. Thank you so much and have a great weekend.