Interview with Blind Dancer Mana Hashimoto

Mana Hashimoto is a blind dancer and choreographer based in New York City. She is originally from Tokyo, Japan where she trained in classical ballet at the Tachibana Ballet School. She studied composition at the Berklee college of Music and the New England Conservatory of Music. She was studying at the Martha Graham School when she completely lost her sight due to undiagnosed optic nerve atrophy. Since then her life work is devoted to merging blindness and dance. In her choreography she seeks to explore the experience of a visually impaired person who desires to create artistically by using her remaining senses.

AXIS: What inspired you to become a dancer?

I started learning classic ballet when I was four years old. My mother took me to one of the ballet performances, and I was completely mesmerized by the magic of the performance. I think it was Swan Lake that we saw. I was longing for being part of the fairy tale that was happening on the stage. I cried and begged my parents to take ballet lessons. That was the beginning of dance. There was a time that I took a distance from dance, but the feeling and sensation of dance was always in my body and in my heart. The more I do dance, it becomes more mystery, and I feel like dance is one of the most attractively obscure art forms. And that mystery inspires me.

How does being blind affect your dancing?

I never doubt that I can’t dance because of my blindness, even in the time I just lost my sight. Blindness definitely has had an effect, for example getting directions became more challenging. I listen to my body, what my body can do, including the condition of being blind. I try to figure out movements that come from my body. The difference before and after I lost my sight is I think I searched my movements from outside when I could see. I would find the movements and adjust my body into dance. After I lost my sight, I do the contrary processing. I observe my body, and then I find the movements inside.

Also, my interest has shifted to using the other senses in dance - sense of touch, sense of smell and hearing, feeling the space. In Stories of the Blind-Light, Shadow and Wind, which I performed at the end of January at FLICfest 2015 Brooklyn NYC, I created a section of black out and the audience experienced a black out while sensing my energy, hearing my steps and my vocalization. I think my blindness made me lead in this direction.  Dance has a strong history as a visually-oriented art form. I would like to develop another perspective on dance, which I call multi-senserly dance and performance.

How do you get inspired?

I get inspired observing what I feel in daily life. Dream is another inspiring resource. I am interested in opening my eyes and ears on social justice issues. Sounds and music are also great inspirations. 

If you could be an animal for a day, what would you be and why?

This is actually the most difficult question in this interview. First I thought about being birds, then being giraffe, because I long for the sky. I thought it would be nice if I can fly free so high to the sky. Or if I become the tallest animal and feel the clouds and temperature of moon light.

Then I wondered, "wait, does this question mean I would become an animals with the condition of blindness included?". And even though I figured it wasn’t included that it would be a blind animal, I couldn’t transform myself out of blindness and being the earthy animals any more. Then I wondered how I can be free from this trap, and once my mind traveled into ocean, my mind got liberty. I found I wanted to be a dolphin. Because dolphin is one of the ancient animals and they also provides healing energy to the earth. It must feel so special to experience the deep in the blue ocean.

I think because their body system is so different from our body, and that allowed me to be able to separate from blindness and free me from the frame. I didn’t realized this stage of my mind is so persistently attached in my consciousness. I will have dream of being dolphin tonight, thanks for asking this question!

What is a piece of advice you would give to disabled person wanting to be a dancer?

If your heart desires to dance, or if you hear your call to dance, nothing will prevent you from doing it. As long as you have body, as long as you live, your dance exist. You will find your own beauty uniqueness which you never expected, it is a wonderful journey. And keep practicing. 

To Learn more about Mana’s work, visit www.manahashimoto.com