A Little Background
Emi Ichikawa is a professional dancer who grew up in Hong Kong and is now based in London, UK. She started dancing at age 3 at a local dance studio in Discovery Bay taking ballet and tap classes, and since moving to London in 2019, she has worked in feature films, music videos, TV, and live performances. Her most recent credits include RAYE, George Ezra, Marvel, Riot Games (Wild Rift, League of Legends), and Warner Bros.
What made you pursue dance as a career?
“Unlike most people, I never really had a life-changing concert or artist who I looked up to that made me decide that dance was what I wanted to do as a career. My parents put me in ballet and tap classes at the age of 3 at my local dance studio, DMR School of Ballet in Discovery Bay, since I always danced in front of the TV. As I got older I joined more dance classes, performed in my high school musicals and dance school shows, and joined programs such as the Gifted Young Dancers Programme by the Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts.
When all of my friends were deciding on which university to go to and what to study, I still hadn’t made up my mind yet about what I wanted to do as a career. I knew I wanted to study in the UK since I had done my A-Levels but beyond that, I had no plan. I decided to take a gap year, and during that time I trained intensely with my ballet teacher. She recommended some dance colleges in the UK I could apply to, just to see what would come of it. I applied to Northern Ballet School via video submission, and was accepted!
It snowballed from there, to be honest – I realized that I wanted to work on a cruise ship after graduation, as I was really keen on the idea of being paid to travel and perform. After completing that, I wanted to move to London in 2019 where opportunities were abundant, and I wanted to see what else I could achieve with dance.
A COVID pandemic, and a series of music videos, movies, and stage performances later – here we are!”
What are some roadblocks you have faced in your career so far?
“I’m sure most other industries would agree that the COVID pandemic is definitely up there! With the entertainment sector shutting down in the UK from multiple lockdowns, it was very difficult to stay driven and positive. I had moved to London less than 6 months prior and had only started to understand how the industry works and was adjusting to life here. I had just booked my first big job in a feature film, but that and a few other dream jobs didn’t come to fruition because of external circumstances such as the pandemic and visa reasons that have been incredibly frustrating and discouraging.
Another roadblock you face as a performer is the constant rejection – most performers you ask would have faced dozens and dozens of rejections over their careers, usually far outweighing their successes. Art is so subjective, and in auditions where it seems like you’re judged based on the way you look and your performance on the day (there are a lot more deciding factors at play, but that’s a whole other article to cover!), rejection can feel incredibly personal and heartbreaking.
Building a strong and healthy mindset to combat negative self-talk and imposter syndrome, and to be able to call yourself out when you start conjuring false narratives of why you didn’t get the job has been incredibly vital in the continued journey of this career.”
How do you sustain a career like dance in a city like London?
“In my case, it’s by having a side job predominantly for income, so you don’t rely on dance jobs to pay the bills! Being a freelance artist, it’s very volatile and each month looks completely different. Having a side job also allows me to be pickier about the performing jobs I accept, and to prevent falling out of love with dance, as this can often happen when you monetize on a passion.
When I first moved to London, I had to get a ‘muggle’ job (this is what we performers call the jobs we do to sustain a living) – in order to pay rent and live here. As we know, the UK went into lockdown in March 2020, and I was furloughed.
I had a lot of spare time and decided to start my own web design business during the first lockdown. I was quite nerdy in high school and learned how to code for fun, and I had made a few websites and blog designs back in the day. Since then, I have been fortunate enough to have a steady stream of clients, and flash forward to now – I balance my time between dance work and web design work predominantly, and I pick up the random odd job here and there to keep things fresh (and to prevent burnout!).”
How do you stay hopeful and motivated when things get tough?
“Every single day I am grateful to my parents for their support and all of the sacrifices they have made in order for me to be able to pursue this career – from all of the dance classes, ballet shoes, leotards, costumes, and performances, as well as supporting me through dance college from halfway across the world. As self-indulgent and rewarding as it is for me personally to be a dancer, I constantly remind myself that I want to be able to let them know that all of their support and sacrifices were worth it.
It would also be my biggest accomplishment to be a form of representation for children and young dancers out there who look like me because we rarely see people like us have a place in this industry. The rise of Asian representation in film and TV in recent years has been a big inspiration for me as well, and I hope to contribute to that.”
So, what’s next?
“Being a freelance dancer, you usually never know when the next email, call, or Instagram DM offering you your next opportunity will come! What I know so far is that I will be performing with CLEA (who will be performing for the first time together in 18 years!) at Mighty Hoopla in London in June this year – a two-day music festival celebrating the best of pop and queer culture. You can also catch me performing regularly with West End Musical Brunch.
I also have aspirations to dive headfirst into the casting side of the industry, and further promote and advocate for inclusivity, diversity, and representation.”
Check out Emi Ichigawa’s Instagram.