Tokunaga Dance Ko.


Photo credit:  Yvonne Hazziez

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

We use the language of movement arts to illustrate the cultural similarities and differences appropriated into the “dance” from the many people that make the United States the melting pot of the world.  Our goal is to help audiences become more informed, inquisitive, and inspired about the Asian spirit. 

Emiko was incarcerated as a child in the Gila River Concentration Camp and was discriminated as “yellow peril” throughout her Salt Lake City schooling.  She was told by a faculty member to “look in the mirror” and you will see why we will not be able to cast you in certain ballet roles

Yasuko faced the “glass ceiling” in employment demonstrating excellence in her choice of faculty, choreography, productions, and curriculum.

Both sisters, Emiko and Yasuko, for 17 years developed an educational approach to facilitate the training of dancers by defining the form and function found in ballet and modern techniques of Humphrey/Weidman/Limón and Graham.  Upon the advice of Emiko’s late mentor, Pearl Primus, TDK developed a Board of Directors who helped us receive funding (scholarships and productions) for talented under served students and communities from the National Endowment for the Arts (17 years), NYC Department of Cultural Affairs (10 years) and countless corporations and foundations.

With NYC for Young Audiences, PA Living Arts Experience, among others, TDK developed lecture demonstrations directly tied into the curriculum of schools (i.e. math Theorems, poetry-haikus Red Moon, literature Wilder’s Bridge of San Luis Rey etc.) which toured throughout the East Coast.  TDK performed nationally and internationally presenting over 100 works and more than 2,000 performances.

TDK was funded by the Japan-US Friendship Commission to tour the Southern Black colleges and universities with their “Japanese Culture trough Dance” and 7 cities in Japan with their “Made in Japan” performances.  TDK received countless meritorious awards including the Key to Nara City. 

When TDK lost its NYC studio space, Emiko produced 12 “Celebrate Asian” festivals for the NY and Queens Botanical Gardens to educate NY audiences to the Asian movement arts and authored books related to movement arts.  Yasuko became the Director of Dance at the Boston Conservatory for 21 years, where she produced biannual dance productions, which featured the dance classics and premiere works by contemporary choreographers.     

TDK has conducted workshops and masterclasses in over 60 institutions. The Tokunagas have been recognized for their “team teaching” and “coordinated concepts” (illustrating form and functions found in ballet and modern dance):

Dance Magazine, May 1976 and 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.”  

Teachers-of-the-Month in Attitude wrote "The concept of 'dynamic stillness' is also an integral part of classes..."

The Tokunagas co-authored two articles in Dance Magazine, September 1994 and July 1995.  Specials on the company have been aired on WNYC AND WNYCE-TV. 

TDK has seen their dancers grace the stages of many:

Ballet companies:   Alberta Ballet, Atlanta  Ballet, Boston Ballet, Les Grand Ballet Canadiens de Montreal, Ballet BC, Dance Theatre of Harlem, Columbia City Ballet, Ballet Hispanico, etc.

Modern dance companies:  Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre, Meredith Monk, José Limón, Martha Graham, Lar Lubovitch, Twyla Tharp, Alwin Nikolais, Ririe-Woodbury, Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane, Sean Curran Dance Company, Eleo Pomare, Urban  Bush Women, etc. 

Broadway shows:   The Wiz, Lion King, Movin’ Out, An Americsn in Paris, A Chorus Line, Cats, 42nd Street, Jerome Robbin’s Broadway, King and I, Come Fly Away, Young Frankenstein, West Side Story, South Pacific, Sweet Honey on the Rocks, etc.  

Produced own company:   ACB Company (NY), LshVa (India), Inclined Dance Company (NY), Thang Dao Dance Company (NY), Evolution Dance Company (Italy, Fukudance (MA), Van Huynh Company (England), Ichiro Harada Dance Groups (Australia), etc.