To do on winter vacation in California: take dance class with Hama. On Dec. 21, I was fortunate to not only participate, but to also get a few personal career insights from the legendary jazz dance teacher at his Hama Dance Center in Studio City, just before class.
Turning 75 last September, Hama today is still feeling a sense of gratitude to a group of his students who had just honored him with a dance performance which featured some of his classic dance pieces. A mentor to countless dancers for decades, squeezing in a class with Hama has become a regular holiday tradition for those who come back to visit the L.A. area and cannot benefit from a consistent 'dose of Hama’ in their regular dance dance training.
“My philosophy was never focused on being popular,” Hama states when asked why he feels his dance style has endured for so many years. “My intention was to always make better dancers, and be that teacher that helps to develop that next generation of dancer. Music styles always change and so the dance expression is always changing, but I just kept going my own way.” Hama believes that his clean upright style rooted in correct ballet technique that when mastered, enables students to be able to adapt to any choreographic style that is required.
Hama’s concept of jazz which absorbed some of the same influences of the era that generated Bob Fosse and Jack Cole, was developed out of his early training from New York’s classic jazz pioneer Luigi over 50 years ago. Already an accomplished tap dancer when he arrived in New York from Japan in the mid 60’s, Takeshi Hamagaki (Hama) was attracted to the ‘stretch style’ that Luigi developed after his own near fatal car accident. Combining Luigi’s concept of length with the syncopated rhythms of tap, Hama has developed a classic jazz style completely his own that has served as a solid foundation of training for dancers past and present.
Hama's credits include lead dancer at Radio City Music Hall, as well as various Broadway productions including The Education of Hyman Kaplan in 1968 with Tom Bosley. After assisting Luigi in New York for many years, Hama ventured west and with Luig's help opened his first dance studio in the historic Falcon Studios on Hollywood Blvd. Many years of teaching and choreographing followed, including staged dance tours of Japan. Still dedicated to teaching, Hama has been in his current location since 1991, and at 75 Hama still personally instructs 4 classes per week.
Private and unassuming, Hama credits playing golf and creating Japanese calligraphy as part of what keeps him 'healthy mentally'. He enjoys his life, and his 90+ minute classes are still some of the most physically challenging experiences around.
"Look in the mirror... see what you are doing... COUNT!" He still demands of his students, and generations of dancers are all the better for it. Merry Christmas.