Why I Dance

June 30, 2009

A member of ODC Dance Company, San Francisco’s small but mighty contemporary collective, Yayoi Kambara moves with exuberance and clean, speedy technique. Born in Tokyo and raised in the Bay Area and Surrey, England, she earned a BFA in dance performance at the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities. Before joining ODC in 2003, she performed with Bay Area groups like STEAMROLLER Dance Company, Flyaway Productions (an aerial dance group), and Scott Wells & Dancers. In ODC’s wide-ranging repertory, she darts about the space with a joyful attack or melts into the floor with luscious sensuality. While pregnant in 2006, she started studying tap and Afro-Brazilian dance. When her schedule allows, Kambara teaches modern technique and composition at the ODC School’s youth program and master classes on tour.


As a Japanese citizen living outside of Japan for most of my life, I am never quite at home anywhere—even in Japan. But when I dance, I belong. I can be a part of any culture around the world and rely on dance as my language. Dance frees me into myself.

I love the energy I feel onstage when the performance is really alive and I can feel the audience pull forward in their seats. I love watching dance because it moves me and makes sense of my life. I love teaching dance and witnessing students understanding new ideas that they can translate into their bodies.

At ODC I get to dance very different kinds of works. This past season in KT Nelson’s Grassland I threw my body around in an exhilarating duet I helped create with my wonderful colleague Daniel Santos to live music by Marcelo Zarvos. In Brenda Way’s new piece In the Memory of the Forest, I got to play her late mother-in-law, Iza Erlich, who fled Warsaw in 1941. As a teenager, she made an adventure of this ordeal, noticing how brilliant the spring in the forest was and how interesting it was to meet strange people. The challenge of making the connection between the choreographer and audience is what keeps me dancing.

This past home season at Yerba Buena Center for the Performing Arts in San Francisco I felt a wonderful calm throughout my body while I was dancing. I felt more in command than ever before in my 10 years as a professional dancer. I don’t know if I moved anyone in the audience particularly, but I hope so. Because I see my belief in the choreography as part of my job.

Last year I spent a lot of time questioning my worth as a dancer and as a mom. I started touring with my baby Hanae Cricket when she was 5 1/2 months old. It was difficult performing with the night feedings, pumping, flying, hotels, humid weather, mosquitoes, and other travel nuisances. Luckily I work for women directors who have children of their own who could teach me how to tour with a baby. And I work with dancers who are more than happy to play and sing songs to her in the airport, hotel, or waiting to get the rental car.

But no matter how hard it was at certain times, I want Cricket to know the importance of doing what you love to do. So I keep going and I keep taking her to the theater. Now she says, “Mommy dancing” with a smile, then shows me her passé. Whenever she sees her different aunties and uncles in the company in tech rehearsals, she runs onstage to dance with them.

I know performing won’t last forever, but I think my love for dance will last my whole life. And I am proud to be able to share this with my daughter—even as I sit here typing and icing my ankle while she naps.



Photo: RJ Muna, Courtesy ODC