Japanese dancer Mao Kawakami’s graceful, kinetic precision and peerless creativity have earned her a fabulous career. Whether appearing on the movie screen, touring with major pop stars or performing show stopping numbers at major televised award shows, Kawakami’s vibrant, high-energy style commands attention. Even in an ensemble troupe setting, the charismatic Kawakami stands out—audiences can’t take their eyes off her.
The Los Angeles based Kawakami’s fascination with dance has been life-long. “At age 3, I was going crazy dancing with my fairy stick at home,” Kawakami said. “So my mom put me into a ballet studio, which turned out to be amazing! I was strictly a ballerina until I joined a dance club in middle school and was introduced to hip hop “
Even at this young age, Kawakami remained focused, steadily expanding upon her foundational training and always progressing. “I moved to Canada when I was 15,” Kawakami said. “I went to dance studio after school almost every day and that’s when I learned all genres in dance, because I wanted to learn more and have fun. I grew a lot as a dancer and teachers and choreographers also started to notice ne. The dance industry world seems really big yet it really is such a small world, so choreographers always talk to each other and you never know who’s watching.”
By the time she arrived in Hollywood, the stars were aligning in Kawakami’s favor, and while the dancer’s professional life is often a fast moving course of one-off freelance gigs, Kawakami easily established a steadily building momentum.
“Once I got to L.A. and started to work with on music videos, the choreographers referred me to other big name choreographers,” Kawakami said. “I was working with Oththan Burnside [MC Hammer, Snoop Dogg, Rihanna] a lot, music videos for Keyshia Cole and some other projects, and she referred me to Jamaica Craft, who choreographs TLC, Usher, NE-YO, Justin Bieber, she was looking for a dancer the FOX Teen Choice Awards. I got the job and that’s when my career grew from small projects to big award shows and tours.”
Things began to move fast for the ambitious young dancer. Before long she was getting assignments for jobs with alternative hip-hop sensations N.E.R.D., interpretive dance collaborations for pop princess Pink and hitting the road with rap superstar Iggy Azalea—some of the best, most high profile performance opportunities in all of show business. Kawakami’s signature combination of high energy, interpretive skill and flawless execution make her an in-demand asset to any dance presentation.
“I have worked with Mao on multiple gigs,” Burnside said. “She ‘gets’ all aspects of work and has an ability to figure it out, in a matter of seconds, which makes things easier for all of us. Her presence is like a diamond—she brightens up the stage and makes the whole production look better. That’s the reason I keep hiring her.”
Kawakami’s sterling professional reputation professionalism and very impressive roster of credits are the result of one thing—her artistry. Her innate gift for dance colors every aspect of her life on stage, and off stage, and Kawakami embraces her art, life and career as equal parts of a holistic philosophy,
“My career really grew when I started to know myself more as a person,” Kawakami said. “Not only as a dancer, but also as a whole person. That is a big part of any successful career. Even if you’re a really good dancer, if you can’t figure out who you are, you just don’t glow the same. I think you glow the most when everything is aligned; your dance, your personality, character, and your health, mentally and physically. Everything shows from the inside out, and when I figured this out, I definitely started to book more jobs.”
Kawakami is rarely found relaxing at home between gigs and is constantly expanding her skillset and exploring new avenues of creative expression. “I love touring!! You get to see different cities and countries on top of doing a job you love.” Kawakami said. “But I also love doing movies—I just played the new Bella in Pitch Perfect 3. I got to work with my favorite choreographer Aakomon Jones and also learned to act and took vocal lessons. Singing and dancing require extra energy, so we took boot camp classes at night to keep our shapes. The whole movie experience was so amazing, we got to shoot at the biggest aquarium in the states in front of huge whales and turtles! The process went by so quickly but I would do it all over again.”
Kawakami’s intoxicating mix of raw talent, striking good looks, dynamic moves and limitless enthusiasm for her work places the dancer in a league of her own, one where she has already achieved great success and stands poised to ascend ever higher in the entertainment world.
“Everything is connected,” she said. “One experience fuels another, and that fuels another. It’s a chain reaction. So if you experience a lot, your creative flow just becomes so smooth and colorful. Dance is my job but it always has also been my escape, it is like therapy to me. It helps me express things that I can’t say with words, it is a nonverbal communication. It is art.”