Manatsu Tanaka
Melissa Toogood

Manatsu Tanaka


Based in NYC and Tokyo, non-binary Japanese dancer and theater performer Manatsu Tanaka was an original cast member in the likes of Maya Dawyer's Pansy Craze and Venus of TOKYO by Dazzle Dance Company, and has danced in works by Paul Taylor, Douglas Dunn, and Romance Hashimoto. They are a proud Company Member of Hard/Femme Dances, and a co-creator and the lead actor in Hearts of Cranes, an immersive online immersive experience. Aside from performing, they are passionate about sharing their stories about being an LGBTQ artist and the O-1 Visa (Artist Visa) process. Follow them/they on Instagram at @manatsu.tanaka.


Image captions & credits: Cover image of Manatsu Tanaka in "Human Works" by Daisuke Kimura | Headshot of the artist by Yulia Skogoreva.

Melissa Toogood


Splitting her time between New York City and Sydney, award-winning, internationally recognised dancer and master teacher Melissa Toogood was once a member of the esteemed Merce Cunningham Dance Company. One of the final few who worked directly with the dance legend, she has taught Cunningham Technique internationally since 2007. She is a 2013 and 2015 Merce Cunningham Fellow and an official Stager for the Merce Cunningham Trust. She maintains her role as Dancer, Rehearsal Director and Artistic Associate for Pam Tanowitz Dance, and has assisted Tanowitz on numerous creations. Follow Toogood on Instagram at @meltoogood.


Image captions & credits: Cover image of Melissa Toogood by Stephanie Berger | Headshot of the artist by Erin Baiano.

Published on May 15, 2024


What made you decide to enter this profession?


I was a very, very creative and expressive kid who loved drawing and doing show and tell, and all of it, but I especially always loved moving my body. I was a part of a pre-professional musical theater company in Japan for 8 years, and my time with them truly established my love and passion for performing.

But it wasn't until after the pandemic that I became truly determined to pursue this profession. When I first entered the ‘real world,’ I was blindly running the race. Now, I can confidently say that I have found a very strong purpose as an artist.


Entering it didn’t feel like a decision. I began dancing before I can even remember, and it has always felt as necessary as breathing.

As I get older, deciding to continue is harder. The physical maintenance, the time constraints with a family, and the pull between mentoring and teaching versus training myself gets harder to negotiate. Ultimately it’s still the thing that I need to do to feel like me or to feel like I’m making a contribution — the thing that makes me light up.


Who has been the biggest influence on your life and why?


My beautiful and amazing friends who are all one-of-a-kind artists in their own authentic ways. They are my chosen family and have helped me navigate NYC and open so many doors. They support me through my queer, soul searching journey.


When my grandfather Stan passed away, I wrote a eulogy for him. It was then that I realized how much I had emulated him in my own way. He was a champion cyclist who loved to sing for friends, and communed often with the natural world. I realised then that it was no coincidence that I too became an athlete and an entertainer who craves time in the sun and sea.


I can always rely on __________ to cheer up.


Music is power and movement is medicine, but I also love a good Gabriel Iglesias stand-up comedy clip to get a good laugh.




I practice self-care by __________.


Tuning in to my creativity. Lots of drawings, dance improvisation anywhere, improv on the piano, cooking, singing…

I always burn incense when practicing hand poke tattoos.

Most importantly, receiving energy from nature, which can be stargazing, sitting in the sun, letting my hair down freely in the wind, or dancing in the rain. Most recently, seeing the sun set truly replenishes my soul.


I’m trying to figure out what that looks like for where I’m at in my life right now. When I don’t make time to listen to my own thoughts, I feel very unsettled. We recently moved to an apartment building with a sauna. My current goal towards getting better at self care includes taking the time to use it once a week.


Pets or plants. Either way, why and what kind?


My dream is to have a cat as my roommate, but I also dream of filling my apartment with plants.


Plants! We can’t have a pet in our rental (but if we could, I’d want a bunny). I love palms and ferns. I also love having herbs so I can easily add them to dishes.


Cooking or eating out? Either way, what is your favorite meal?


I love my weekly meal prep routine. I especially love cooking myself cous cous and serving it with the vegetarian ground beef from Trader Joe’s and stir-fried vegetables.


That’s hard. I love cooking. as it’s a way for me to experiment and be creative without the same level of pressure as in my profession.

If I could afford to eat out all the time though., I would. We love the experience of dining out. It’s not just the food; it’s also stepping into an environment that someone else has created for others to enjoy.

No favorite meal — I change my mind often.


If you could relive the past or catch a glimpse of the future, which would you pick and why?


I’m someone who loves to be fully present. I admire the seeds I planted in the past, I embrace all the flowers that are yet to bloom with unconditional love, no matter what they might look like on the outside. So neither!


Past. There are people I’d love to see again. I’m scared to know what’s coming next.


What is your personal approach to handling challenging people or situations?


My friend once said, “If someone is being cranky towards you, they probably just forgot to have their morning coffee.” And that mindset really works for me.

In challenging situations, I make sure I have my own cup filled first before offering to others.


I’ve learned that I don’t have to respond to anyone else’s schedule or terms. Taking the time and space for myself to figure out how I really feel before I engage is important.


How has your personal life changed since the pandemic?


I became more proactive in not just with my career but also my personal life.

When the lockdown happened and we all lost our jobs, my artist visa application process was put on hold, so I had to go back to Japan. I felt isolated in my home country where I had zero connections in the performance field and knew nobody.

Because I feared the pandemic would make me leave dancing, I fueled my own fire; I submitted and presented solo works, went to workshops and intensives, and talked to dancers in Japan about finding auditions and making connections (unlike in NY, the public has limited access to audition listings, which are usually only shared through agents).

If it wasn’t for the pandemic, I wouldn’t have been able to establish myself in Tokyo.


I’m now based between Sydney and New York. Not necessarily because of the pandemic; it's been more of a coincidence. There had always been a good chance of us deciding to send our child to school in Australia.

Once the pandemic hit, losing years of work overnight made me realize I wasn’t ready to completely retire once we moved. So my husband, son and I are making it work… So far.


How has your art or approach towards art changed since the pandemic?


I've invited fluidity and versatility into my ways.

During my first year out of college, I loved many creative outlets, but was set on establishing myself as a dancer first. As such, I felt a sense of guilt whenever I invested time in other creative practices.

But when there were no studios open during the pandemic, I realized that I had such a versatile range of creativity within me. And that it's a special gift, not a “distraction” from what I was working towards.


I received multiple requests to choreograph during the pandemic. It’s not something I ever felt the desire to do, even though I’m always generating movement in other peoples' work. I reluctantly said yes to a couple of projects, because what artist can ever afford to turn down an opportunity? It was every bit as hard as I knew it would be, but I enjoyed it more than I thought I would. So while I’m not at all comfortable with the title 'choreographer,' I now make things of my own, sometimes.


What is the last show you saw and loved?


Prima Facie on Broadway starring Jodie Comer. Such a powerful production with striking and important messages. Jodie Comer is simply a crazy talented, amazing actor, and seeing her perform was a confirmation for me that theater is a powerful tool of expression that serves a strong purpose.


Andrew Bird. My husband is a visual artist and we both love seeing shows outside of our own art form, so when we are able to have a date, we usually go to music concerts.


What is your pre-performance (as a spectator or a performer) ritual?


I do feet, toes and arches conditioning and strengthening for 30 minutes before I get into warming up the whole body with mobility exercises, strengthening and stretching. I also like to check in with balance to wrap up my warm up, and then eat a little snack!

If it's allowed, I love just hanging out on stage when the curtains are down; you can hear the excitement from the house before we take our places.


As a spectator, it’s usually a pre show cocktail with a friend or the hubby.

As a performer, I set up my dressing room with art work from my son and husband. If there’s time for a nap, I do that, followed by a very long warm up. It’s never the same. I’m often in pain, so it takes a while to figure out what is going on and what will work that day.


I wish I could be a fly on the wall for this moment in dance history: __________.


In the 1960s, when ballroom culture cultivated its power. I want to feel the heat, the energy, and the atmosphere of the celebration of self-expression and queerness.


The premiere of Merce Cunningham’s RainForest. I’m so lucky to have worked with Merce, but I would have loved to have seen him perform. He was a brilliant choreographer and teacher, but I know he was in his truest element as a dancer. Even on film he is electric.


I have / have had the most fun performing __________’s choreography or trying out this genre of dance _____________.


Hard/Femme Dances' latest performance, The Boof Quadrille (directed by Kelsey Rondeau and choreographed in collaboration with the cast), which premiered in June 2023.

I played one of the twins (Sneer and Snide) and it was such a creative and enriching time dancing and doing the character work with my other twin.

I’d never done a full 40-minute dance piece in a wig. It had the best mix of theater elements and ballet/contemporary technique, and I got to try new partnering choreography, and finally celebrate my queer, authentic self in performance with my queer, chosen family in NYC. And that meant so much to me.


This is might be the hardest question. Performing has never been limited to fun (enjoyment, amusement, light hearted pleasure); there’s always so much more involved.

There have been a few times that I have sought out dance for 'fun,' meaning no performing involved. Some friends in college would teach us tango once a week during lunch break. I took a Bollywood workshop with a couple of other Cunningham company members, and when MCDC ended, I went back to tap class purely for fun.


Is there a book, podcast or TV program you recommend to others and why?


The Midnight Gospel on Netflix and the full podcast episodes on YouTube. I really appreciate the way the makers dive into such vast, expansive topics, and the intentional, mindful, intelectual word choices in their conversations really inspire me. It’s almost like experiencing an auditory prism effect, the way they talk about familiar communal experiences or perspectives, and then as the conversation deepens, they introduce the listeners to a whole different perspective on that idea.


Bittersweet written by Susan Cain. I’m in the middle of it right now. I think many artists will relate to what she’s discussing in her novel about the transformative power of melancholy.


This city or country is the best place I have ever been to for art: __________.


I haven’t been to too many places for art, but I will say that I really felt warm with the art scene in Syracuse.

Nagoya city in Aichi, Japan is also a place with lively, creative energy. There are a lot of dance theater performances and a good collection of modern art museums.


New York City.


Which social media app are you most drawn to?


Instagram for the digital art, drawings, paintings, dancing, singing, words and quotes, and tattoos. The platform can hold and showcase such a diverse collection of multimedia creative outlets.


Instagram. I had to stop at Instagram.


What advice do you have for young people in your field?


As long as you plant your seeds with good intention and mindfulness, those seeds will bloom into a flower in their own time, and sometimes into something bigger that you even expected. The soil might be damp and muddy and might not feel the most comfortable to touch with your own bare hands, but without well-taken-care-of soil, a flower can’t bloom to its full potential.

Embrace your shadows, because they add dimension and depth to your craft and life.


Your social media presence isn’t your art!


How can we amplify the voices of overlooked and deserving artists?


Go see their shows, go to their art galleries, presentations, performances. Tell them what resonated with you and how you appreciate their works and creativity.

Tell your friend, spread the word, use the best of social media platforms.

Start a conversation. Whether it's about your artist friend or the concept of the works they presented, or just about art, creativity and artistry.

And, support your local queer artists.


Go and see their work, but bring others with you.


How do you spread enthusiasm about dance?


I allow myself to be unapologetic about my love for dance!

Yes, celebrating the hard work that goes into a final product is important, but I also share my work-in-progress videos and little improvisation moments in my bedroom with the people I love. Dance is not only about showcasing your physical abilities, but it is also a beautiful language and a way for us to connect with each other.


I say yes: "Yes" to dancing, "yes" to teaching, "yes" to staging, "yes" to post show discussions, "yes" to speaking to people at the stage door, "yes" to seeing dance, "yes" to writing about dance, "yes" to interviews... Just "yes"!

The Dance Enthusiast's A to Z first ran during the 2017-18 Dance Season, in celebration of our 10th Anniversary. Its warm reception inspired us to bring the series  back for the 2023-24 Dance Season. in celebration of 16 years of dance enthusiasm.

Keep checking back to see pairings of some of our favorite movers and shakers in the dance industry. You can also follow us on Instagram (@dancenthusiast) or Facebook (Dancenthusiast) so you don't miss a thing!

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