Interview: Sabrina Imamura
Edited by: 
Katelyn Besser

Q: How did you begin dancing?

I started dancing at the age of 3 like most dancers. My mom put my sister and I in dance because she never got to do dance. She always loved ballet, she plays the piano herself. I started in ballet and I loved going to class. That was an early sign that I loved it because other extra curricular activities I did not love. I did not want to go to piano practice, but I never wanted to skip dance class. Around middle school I wanted to do more than just ballet and tap. I wanted to do jazz and modern. I was a really late bloomer in dance. I was extremely focused on ballet so I would do summers at Joffrey and ABT, which wasn't until high school age. For ballet, attending summer programs usually starts in middle school so I was late at honing in on my technique. When it came time to decide where I wanted to apply for college I considered going to conservatories, but I wanted an academic education as well. I went to the University of Michigan for Dance and did the LSA program for Art History. I learned a lot at UM, it changed my perspective and route for what I wanted to do in the dance world rather than just being a ballet dancer I shifted towards more contemporary styles of movement. The UM program is very modern focused. When I moved to NYC and was focused on trying to be in a contemporary ballet company, I wanted to perform wherever I could. I did a lot of blackbox shows where I could see every single patrons face, which was intimidating but you get used to it. After being in NYC for a year I signed with a dance agency. One of the bigger ones that I am aware of, which is a blessing and a curse. They have a big name and can get you in the room but they also have so many people. They asked me if I wanted to do Broadway and I said sure but I never took vocal lessons. I went in for Broadway auditions here and there. Hamilton came out of the blue. Hamilton was great because before that the shows I was sent in for were always asian centric. I was very typecast - The King and I, Miss Saigon, Madame Butterfly, Allegiance. The only one I went in for that was not type cast was An American in Paris only because I had a strong background in pointe. I didn't know a lot about Hamilton. I went to the audition and the associate choreographer gave us the counts and it was complicated and weird and she kept saying, “You will know the song.” I never saw the musical and I had no idea. That audition process was very fun for me. It was the first time I went into a Broadway audition that I felt artistically fulfilled. I sometimes feel stifled artistically in Broadway auditions. I have always been iffy about Broadway before I started to audition for it. After I left UM, I was only auditioning for Cedar Lake, Alvin Ailey and Complexions which were my top 3. I came close a couple of times but was never booked. Looking back it wasn't the right thing for me but during the time when I thought about Broadway I just didn't know. The most popular question for me as a dancer in college was “Are you on the dance team or going to do Broadway?” I didn't know if I wanted to do Broadway, doing the same show 8 times a week. Going in for Hamilton I felt artistically satiated in the movement. They were very specific with the intention and the show is so real and relevant to the world. The first day was so fun. I went into the audition thinking it will be a class, I won't book it. And I got a call back the next day and it was so rough and fun. We were there from 9:30am-8pm. They kept doing rounds, we learned four rounds of choreography that day. We had one from the previous day as well. We had to sing again and partner. All this happened which was unknown to me because I had not done my research but in the room the whole time was the choreographer, director and associate choreographer and in the vocal rounds was the music director of the show. I'm so glad I didn't know who they were because that would have intimidated me too much. That's how I got to where I am. Started on the first national tour of Hamilton. We always say Ham Fam because we're a family. After being on tour for 1.5 years I had a 5-6 month break when I did more commercial freelance work. I got called in to cover leave of absence on Broadway in November 2018 then I left for a long break and then they called me back to cover another leave of absence and learned another track in the show. I heard that Hamilton LA might be a thing and I liked living in LA and my agency is based out here so I  said maybe I should try living in LA while having a sustainable job which is rarely the luxury of being an artist and dancer. So I reached out to the associate choreographer and threw my name in the hat and told my agents to let me know. I got an email a few months later while I was still doing Broadway to be a part of the LA company and now we are here and were in tech week which was a week of going through the show.  We did 2 dress rehearsals and shut down the day our first preview was supposed to happen and now we are here a month later in self isolation. Sometimes it is a depressing lifestyle because often don't have job security. I went through periods of time when I was in NYC for a month or two when I said maybe I shouldn't do this anymore because it's so hard but I still went to class which was my only solace. It is definitely a roller coaster of emotions in this profession.

Q: What has dance taught you that you have applied to your everyday life and how you engage in the world?

It is a lot of hard work and discipline. I would say that that is something I have taken into real life outside of work. I try to continue to be hardworking and diligent about my work but I also try to balance that with personal life things as well. It has also taught me a great sense of gratitude. Sometimes you take for granted what you are doing especially from doing 8 shows a week sometimes I am so tired I feel like I can’t push through but during this time I have been reflecting on how grateful I am to be a part of the community that is putting art out into the world. I think art is necessary and often not appreciated. When I was in school on the discipline aspect dance made me disciplined in my schoolwork as well. Wanting to do my best in school and working hard helped me to get the A even when it was difficult.

Q: Has dance helped you overcome any hardships in your life?

Yes, lots. Dance has helped me through many things but also caused hardships because the way the artistic world is just being such a rollercoaster. When I go through an emotional time like a bad breakup dance is always there. My friend used to say dance is my boyfriend, because if something was bothering me I would go to the studio and dance by myself and when I go through emotional times with personal things it had been a great tool to just be creative and let your emotions out that way rather than sitting at home being furious and not being able to do anything about it. It has also helped me be a more creative person.

Q: What other interests and passions do you have outside of dance that influence and inspire your artistry?

I am really big on fashion. I think it coincides with dance whenever I create a concept in my head of dance or in college when I made group dances or solos I would think of what the costume would look like and why. Music is a huge part of my life. I have been playing piano since I was 7. My mom was a pianist and I recently started taking up guitar. I think music is inspiring to movement whether you are moving with or against the music. I tend to listen to music a lot when I am walking or driving or taking the subway and I find myself sometimes choreographing things in my head even if it doesn't physically come to form. It is one of the biggest inspirations for dance for me which I think it is for a lot of dancers. I also think really good poetry is an inspiration - we learned to use that in college. Using written words to inspire movement and how you can translate words into your body rather than speaking. The thing with dance is you emote through your body without speaking words. You create an emotional connection through the physicality not speaking to the audience.

Q: What have been some challenges in your pre professional and professional career?

I have had lots of injuries pre professionally and currently. I sprained my ankle badly when I was maybe 13. I snapped two ligaments and had a long recovery time. The sprained ankle made my foot more flexible but also created instability I had to work on. When I was 14 I had fibric syndrome which is rare and specific to your second toe where a cyst forms in your metatarsal so your bone dies and when I did pointe you are told to fight through the pain but I have learned how to not do that to save the body and think about the longevity of the career. When I was 14 I wore away my metatarsal and was in a boot for 6 months. I missed my recital which I was very upset about. Going into college I suffered minor injuries. I had a misaligned lumbar spine so I went to PT for it. It is now an underlying issue that is a recurring injury. I also got a hip injury from overussage. Those are things I learned to manage and figure out and make it better. The other injury I have is a dorsal scapular entrapment. On my right scapula from over usage, my muscles get tense so when I move a certain way it is painful. I have learned how to work through that and have it not flare up. During tech week I re-pulled a hamstring that I had pulled in 2016. It hurts to stretch and warm up. Those are the physical injuries of my career. There are definitely mental difficulties as well. I mentioned I was a late bloomer in my technique for dance and being a great dancer to whoever's standards. At my dance studio I was told a lot of the time I was not good enough through words and me not getting the part because someone else would get it even if I may or may not be better. Dealing with people telling you that you are not right or good enough is always a struggle in this career. I even had professors in college tell me that maybe this was not the right career choice for me. It is devastating to hear especially when you are young and these people who are supposed to be helping you tell you this. It made me work even harder to succeed in what I wanted to do. At a young age as dancers we learn about rejection. At my studio you auditioned for parts and you get upset if you don’t get the part but you learn to adjust. There will always be someone who doesn't think you are right for the part. It was a learning curve to learn and discover that I know I am good enough and maybe I am not right for this part but not letting this one instance affect everything. When I moved to NYC I was constantly auditioning and not getting into companies or the gig and you have to learn what is meant for you and maybe you don't see it at the time but looking back often you can. That is always a difficult thing in this industry and there will be a day you get a yes and it was the dream job. Which is kind of what happened for me with being in Hamilton and it was also a great thing to prove some people wrong.

Q: How can dance be a platform for social justice issues?

I have seen many social justice pieces. It is like any other art form it is another way to express social issues and it may come a little less abruptly. When people speak on social issues it can get heated and that can cause headbutting. I think with dance it is a way to get the social issues across without creating as much conflict or as much hate because it is being done in an artistic form and I think that is something people are more willing to watch and listen to because physical words can be very attacking and it is sensitive when you put it into an art form, it is a more compelling way to express those issues.

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