Tokunaga Dance Ko.

Tokunaga Dance Ko. 

As the Congress is submitting a policy in response to the protests happening in all 50 states for systemic cultural changes to reform police departments of racism and reflect that all lives matter.  It is time that the police forces take their knee off the necks of black and brown people and give equal respect, freedom, and democracy so we can all breathe again.

Emiko was incarcerated as a young girl in the Gila River Internment Camp, and was discriminated as a “yellow peril” throughout her Salt Lake City schooling.  Both sisters, Emiko and Yasuko of the Tokunaga Dance Ko. (TDK) still to this day address the racism.   For 17 years, TDK developed an educational approach to facilitate the training of dancers, by merging the philosophies (similarities and differences) found in ballet and modern dance techniques (Humphrey/Weidman/ Limón and Graham).  Upon the advice of our late mentor, Pearl Primus, we developed a Board of Directors who advised us to apply to the National Endowment for the Arts, which helped fund scholarships for black and brown students to facilitate their time in training to become professional dancers. 

When TDK lost its space in NYC their philosophy was implemented by Emiko, who produced 17 “Celebrate Asian” festivals for the NY and Queens Botanical Gardens to introduce the NY audiences to Asian movement arts, and Yasuko, who for 21 years as the Director of Dance at The Boston Conservatory TBC), availed scholarships (earned predominantly by black and brown students) who were cast as leads in many TBC’s productions.   In addition, TDK toured through the southern Black colleges with their “Japanese Culture through Dance” and in Japan with their “Made in America” performances, sponsored by the Japan-US Friendship Commission.

We have seen our dancers grace the stages of many companies:  Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre, Alberta Ballet, Atlanta Ballet, Boston Ballet, Les Grand Ballet Canadiens de Montreal, Ballet BC, Dance Theatre of Harlem, Columbia City Ballet, Ballet Hispanico, and the companies of Meredith Monk, José Limón, Martha Graham, Lar Lubovitch, Twyla Tharp, and many more.

We saw the need, we heard their voices, and we will continue to support them.

Photo credit:  Yvonne Hazziez

Founded by two sisters, Emiko and Yasuko Tokunaga, TDK is a traditional hybrid of American and Japanese philosophy in their teaching, choreographing, lecturing, and designing (costume, production).  The Tokunaga family in America represents the 17th samurai generation. 

TDK performed nationally and internationally.  The company repertoire consists of over 100 works and more than a dozen productions all choreographed by the Tokunagas.  TDK has received funding from the National Endowment for the Arts (17 years), NYC Department of Cultural Affairs (10 years), and countless corporations and foundations. 

Their Japanese Culture through Dance program toured nationally throughout the US, and their Made in America program toured through seven cities in Japan.  Recognizing TDK’s cross-cultural capability, the Japan-US Friendship Commission (an agency of the US government) sponsored company tours to represent Japan to Americans and America to the Japanese.  For the advancement of cultural understanding and friendship between US and Japan, TDK received countless meritorious awards including the key to Nara City. 

They have conducted workshops and masterclasses in over 60 institutions, as well as developed and designed unique programs, concerts, and courses at The Boston Conservatory, Harvard University, among others.  The Tokunagas have been recognized for their “team teaching” and “coordinated concepts” (a sophisticated teaching method stressing commonalities and differences found in ballet and modern techniques) by Dance Magazine in May 1976 and in February 1992 wrote “…some of the most creative and imaginative teaching to be offered to the dance world. …the teaching of dance becomes truly an art.”  The Tokunagas have been praised as Teachers-of-the-Month by Attitude and co-authored two articles in Dance Magazine in September 1994 and July 1995.   Half-hour specials have been aired on WNYC AND WNYE-TV. 

TDK produced 12 Celebrate Asia festivals for the NY and Queens Botanical Gardens.  The Tokunagas are available for lectures, masterclasses, and consultation (performance, panels, discussions, etc.) to help audiences become more informed,  inquisitive, and inspired about the Asian spirit.