January 10, 2011

Kevin “TOKYO” Inouye is everywhere. A typical week might take this in-demand contemporary teacher and choreographer from Australia to Las Vegas to West Palm Beach, FL, and then to Atlantic City. When he’s not leapfrogging around the globe, TOKYO calls Hollywood home. He teaches at Millennium Dance Complex and his combinations feature contemporary dance hallmarks: solid technique, elongated lines and sinuous transitions. But he also includes surprising details, like carefully choreographed hand movements and undulating torso work—the visible traces of his unconventional career path.

From age 5 until age 17, TOKYO studied martial arts, first at his dad’s training school in Honolulu, HI, then in Mesa, AZ, where his family moved when he was 12. He excelled in a multitude of disciplines, from karate to judo (he holds five different black belts). This is the root of his distinctive dance style. “The hands are used a lot in martial arts,” he says. “The energy comes from the spine and reaches out to the fingertips.”

While he was studying more traditional forms, TOKYO grew interested in mixed martial arts (MMA), also known as cage fighting, and was headed toward a professional MMA career. Then, during his senior year of high school, he needed a PE credit—and the school dance teacher convinced him to fulfill it with her class. He agreed and began dating a classmate whose sister owned a dance studio. They invited him to take a jazz class, then to join their competition company. Three weeks later, TOKYO was performing at his first competition—and he was hooked on dance.

After a couple years of training, TOKYO landed a job dancing in a children’s musical. He spent a year touring with the show—during which time he realized he didn’t love performing—and then moved to Orange County, CA. With his heart set on teaching, he went studio to studio, talking to instructors about their work. His curiosity and commitment landed him a job teaching for Kids Artistic Revue, which led to a job as co-director of Hall of Fame Dance Challenge, where he worked for three years.

At the same time, TOKYO was developing as a choreographer. In 2006, he was invited to create a piece for the Juilliard Centennial Senior Showcase. During a tech rehearsal, TOKYO was sitting near Lawrence Rhodes, director of the school’s dance program. “This guy was performing a solo I choreographed and Lawrence turned to me and said, ‘That arabesque doesn’t make sense,’ ” TOKYO says. The critique stung, but TOKYO learned from it. “He was saying I showed off the arabesque only as a technique,” TOKYO says. “His point was that I should have done movement that released the arabesque. It changed my whole outlook.”

Today, TOKYO’s career is taking off. In addition to his hectic teaching schedule, he has choreographed for Gina Starbuck’s Art4Life American Cancer Society benefit.

Fast Facts

Birthday: September 1, 1982

Favorite dance movie:
Dirty Dancing

Choreographer role models:
Ohad Naharin and Bob Fosse

Favorite TV show:
“The Ultimate Fighter”

Favorite book:
“I like reading history books: dance history, any kind of history. I like to learn about anything and everything.”

Favorite food:
Vietnamese food and sushi