On February 1st, 2022, I received a video from an American friend with a simple note of “Enjoy!” The video featured a group of Asian women grooving along to James Brown’s song, “Gonna Have a Funky Good Time.” I was so taken by their dancing which was so energetic that I had to look them up. The group was led by a woman named MOGA. It turns out that she is an experienced dancer and choreographer at BEAT SURF Tendo, a dance studio in Tendo, Yamagata. MOGA is known for taking her form of “Soul & Waacking” to Japan, which is a fusion of a style of dance which originated from a 1970’s TV show called “Soul Train” blended with a form of street dance called waacking. When I looked at MOGA’s Twitter page the following day, she tweeted, “My dancing video lessons are somehow appearing on Twitter and TikTok.” Unbeknownst to her, that Instagram post alone was viewed more than 60,000 times, and the video had over 460,000 views. TikTok was full of positive comments praising it as the coolest thing ever. Why did it go viral? It turns out that Wanda Sykes, an American writer, comedian, and actress tweeted the video with a comment: “When Lunar New Year and the first day of Black History Month fall on the same day.” Sykes is one of the hosts of this year’s Academy Awards ceremony, and her comment, along with a series of comments from other well-known celebrities, helped recognize the fusion of international cultures.
As Sykes posted, Black History Month is celebrated in February in the U.S. The Lunar New Year, a national holiday in China, Korea, Vietnam, and other Asian countries, happened to fall on the same month of February in 2022. Although the video went viral under the mistaken impression that Japan also celebrates the Lunar New Year, the positive feedback and enthusiasm the video received is a great example of how people recognize, embrace, and advocate multiculturalism in the U.S. It also tells us that many people respect differences in ethnicity, race, and culture and strive for a better society through collaboration.
This video may seem trivial to some, but it actually helped raise greater awareness about the dance scene in Japan among Americans. MOGA received many accolades and requests, including an invitation to a television program that auditions people to become celebrities. MOGA wants to lead an enriching life through her passion to dance.
My favorite style of dance is “Soul & Waacking,” a cross between a Soul Train-style dancing from the American music show “Soul Train” and waacking.
−−What made you start dancing? Could you tell us about your activities to date?
MOGA: When I was in elementary school, I was a fan of Namie Amuro and used to imitate her dance on television. When I showed my dancing to my sister, she continually praised me saying, “You are really good at this!” which gave me confidence. That was the start of my career into dancing. In those days, I had no idea about the street dance culture. I found a group of dancers in my local town of Akita, and went to their studio. These dancers taught me a wide range of street dancing, but we didn’t have YouTube in those days. Instead, I used to borrow videotapes of dancers and their moves in Tokyo from older dancers who had their own video collections. I also watched promotional videos by artists, which helped me refine my dance skills. I used to dance hip-hop, but after I learned about Soul Train-style dancing and waacking, I got hooked on it. Now it’s the style I keenly focus on. There are some famous dancers in Japan in this genre, and it has been stimulating to see their work firsthand.
−−Were you surprised how the video went viral?
MOGA: Every month I shoot videos of my dance classes and upload them to social media. Then I realized that my postings have gone viral unexpectedly. I noticed a rapid increase in the numbers of “Likes,” along with a gradual increase of followers. I did a quick search and realized that someone had shared my video in various places. I loved the television program “Soul Train.” My dance style is called “Soul & Waacking” in Japan. It’s a fusion of Soul Train-style dancing, which was popular in the 1970s, and waacking invented around the same time. Many Japanese dancers like me watched and studied “Soul Train,” and we adopted & constantly re-tooled this style of dance from the show. In Japan, our dance is an interpretation of various forms and interpretations of the waacking we’ve seen in the U.S. I think the original waacking is wonderful, but I like the Japanese-style of waacking, which is an offshoot.
When the waacking dance battle became popular in Japan, I was initially told that my Soul Train-style dance, which incorporates my own interpretive for of waacking, was not considered waacking. I felt conflicted and a bit troubled by the feedback. However, we now see acceptance and celebration in the diversity in waacking dance styles among the dancers. The original waacking dance style was initiated as a street dance at LGBTQ+ clubs in LA around the heyday of discos in the 1970s. I think the waacking dance interpretations are becoming popular in Japan.
Regardless of nationality and age, I want people in the world to feel the joy and appeal of dance.
−−Did it mean a lot to you that your dance was highly appreciated in the U.S.?
MOGA: Yes I was pleasantly surprised to hear the positive reactions from Americans. However in Japan, the reactions were varied. There were times that I got compliments, but there were also times when I heard nothing. I think it was good that I love dancing and did not give up my style no matter what. As a result, I got lucky with this video, which went viral. Rather than being totally faithful to the original style, the important thing about street dance is to cultivate your own unique style. You must do what you feel and like, and that is how most dancers create their niche genre. While paying respect to the original style of the dance, what matters is to develop the style your way and uniquely express it.
−−What has changed in the last two years?
MOGA: Before the pandemic, I was involved with many things and had no time to rest. I was always challenging myself to do something new. However, everything was canceled due to the pandemic. Then I had more time to myself, which allowed me to reflect about the future.
I was stressed out as I could not dance, but I ended up training some good dancers. It made me think that I could probably focus on teaching. I was also asked to choreograph online dance events for children. Nowadays, when I give classes at my studio, I broadcast them online simultaneously.
Since I do more work online, I want to produce dance videos and share them. And I would be most happy if I could help people who have seen my work. I hope it’s inspirational and fun to everyone. I hope they have a good time and feel motivated to dance. I want to brighten up everyday lives with dance. That would make me happy.
−−It’s so exciting to think that you are connecting the world from Yamagata through your dancing.
MOGA: BEAT SURF Tendo has many nationally known dancers, but they treasure their hometown. They use Yamagata as their home base while going to other places to experiment with new techniques in order to achieve new and exciting results. Many students are inspired by these dancers, and we are nurturing more dancers who are willing to take on new challenges.
We have friends all over Japan who enjoy their lives by promoting dance to make it thrive. When it’s easier to travel, I would like to travel domestically and abroad. I would like to continue to share the joy and appeal of dance with the world, regardless of nationality or age. I’d like to do my best so that I can create shows, which inspire the audience.