Today was a special day.

I saw my former student, Michelle, for the first time in over 10 years. She has become quite the accomplished dancer in the world of Tribal Fusion Dance, and her show in Tokyo coincidentally happened to be within walking distance from where I am temporarily staying, so of course I wasn’t going to miss this opportunity to see her perform live for the first time.

Because her routines seemed so well thought-out and her flow of energy so purposeful, I was surprised when she told me afterward that she had improvised the whole thing. However, I do know from my experience playing music that “improvisation” is often a misunderstood word. It does not mean “do whatever”. There’s so much preparation that happens behind the scenes because an artist must develop a vast amount of knowledge, skill, and intuition before their improvisations are any good, and contrary to the popular notion of complete freedom, it is actually the restrictions under which the artist must perform that give so much meaning and beauty to the improvisation.

We also got to catch up on life a bit, and her plan is to “quit dancing once she gets really good, because then it will be too boring.” That may sound counter-intuitive, but I was not surprised one bit, because that is a common outlook I’ve heard from many artists I admire. To them, art is a journey, not a destination. And even though they are already “really good” by worldly standards, they know that there is much more to be done to get to the next level.

Thanks Michelle for the inspiration! (By the way she was my math student. I don’t teach dance, in case anyone was wondering, but I am still a proud teacher!)

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Shin Adachi

I am a pianist and composer based in Los Angeles.