Kenichi Kasamatsu has taught worldwide, from New York City’s Broadway Dance Center and at workshops all across America to studios on the other side of the globe in Thailand (where he was born and raised), China, and Japan. However, his sense of musicality, he says, started to evolve three years ago when we were all forced to stay home.
“[In the past] I felt really connected to the push of being so technical that I’m pulling every single sound out of the song,” he reflects. “Over the past three years, things shifted in my mind and that started to make me listen to music differently.”
He thinks of musicality as a rainbow; every sound makes up the individual colors. “[Back then] I would be so keen on making sure you could hear every blue and red that made up the purple or every single thing you hear. I think that distracted me from seeing the whole rainbow,” says Kasamatsu.
Instead of having every moment pass instantly in rapid succession, he now finds time to let each move have its own moment, sometimes even letting the moments linger. “I’m trying to bring out what the full song is in terms of the rhythm and emotion. Sometimes that requires me letting some of the stuff go in aid of the bigger picture, the big pretty rainbow versus just working on one single color,” he says.
How to Make Intricate Choreography Look Crisp
When it comes to executing intricate street jazz choreography in class or rehearsals with his company akompany, Kasamatsu guides his dancers to focus on each movement’s connection to the music and the individual rhythms. Attention to the music also aids in muscle memory, says Kenichi. “Muscle memory doesn’t rely just on the movement, it also relies on how quick and slow you’re doing something and the pacing. Understanding the music and understanding what you’re doing in that moment is key.”
Now that you’ve got the sequence down, how do you get intricate choreography to look crisp? Precise choreography, like in Kasamatsu’s combinations, requires isolation, which he explains are more than just moving one part of the body. “Sometimes we forget that isolating our movements in certain parts [of our body] doesn’t mean just working on a certain part that’s being isolated. It also requires just as much energy to hold everything else in opposition.”
To set his students up for the choreography later in class, Kasamatsu starts with a standard street-style warm-up and then shifts to technical drills and exercises, focusing on connecting musicality with isolations and textures. He describes that the exercise could be something like a step-touch with a head change, or it could be about playing with different textures, such as bouncing or hitting and releasing. “Hopefully, the drills introduce newcomers to those textures that we’re using in class and reminds our regulars of how we can use those different textures in the same movement at the same time,” he says.
Sometimes, Kasamatsu says, hard-working students can be so determined to be technically correct that they’re no longer connected to music. While focusing on the technique of the drill is important, Kenichi always reels his students back to the music by redirecting their focus to a specific texture or layer in the music.
Finding New Music
While the “dancer side” of us always needs new music to dance and choreograph, Kasamatsu gently reminds us, the “human side” of us needs music too. “I encourage myself to take the time to listen to music as a nondancer, just be a human with it, and try not to listen in just a way that benefits us. There are times for that, but know that music needs us as a whole, not just as a dancer.”
When you allow yourself to be open and listen to new music for what it is, as Kasamatsu suggests—and not because you need unique music for class or want to film a TikTok or new footage for a reel—you can fully appreciate the lyrics and the instrumentation. And as a result, you might find new music you connect to that you might not have noticed before.
To find new music, Kasamatsu usually seeks out Spotify recommendations. He’s learned to game the system: Some of his playlists aren’t for listening, but are solely for finding new music.
He’ll create vibe-centered playlists and fill them with a few songs of the same genre, such as instrumental jazz or old-school pop. Then, Spotify will recommend similar songs in the app. Kenichi says this process is much more efficient than manually going through specific artists’ premade Spotify playlists. “For the past three to five years, I’ve been finding a lot of songs this way,” he adds.
For a look into the music that inspires Kenichi Kasamatsu, check out the playlist he made for Dance Teacher and read some of his comments below.
“The Feeling,” by ford., Sonn, Hanz, Ralph Castelli
“This song is my favorite from ford., and I just feel very safe when I’m listening to it. Whether I’m alone in a secluded space or outside in the midst of the New York public, the feeling it provides is best translated as ‘freeing,’ and it’s a go-to on a daily basis.”
“Wedding Dress,” by Taeyang
“This is, in my opinion, a song that struck the peak of K-pop. It was the first time I not only admired the artist and dance that accompanied it, but also took the initiative to research the choreographers and find out as much as I could about them: where they taught, what their personal styles were like, what other artists they choreographed for, etc. Despite there being an English version, I stay listening to the original (Korean) from time to time as it also reminds me of a time where I had just started dancing.”
“You Got Me,” by Colbie Caillat
“If you need a small pick-me-up, this is your song! We all know the greatness that is Colbie, and although this isn’t a top hit of hers, I enjoy the perfect balance between this heartfelt and upbeat track. I hope it makes someone close their eyes and smile for a second, or longer.”