Catching Up With Mark Kanemura
By Gregory Miller
If you've seen Lady Gaga dance, you've probably seen Mark Kanemura dance. He's the one dancing alongside her -- usually in a skirt and something leather. Kanemura first graced America's television sets in 2008 as a finalist on FOX's dance competition series, So You Think You Can Dance. While you'd be hard-pressed to find many of the series' past competitors enjoying anything close to fame, Kanemura hit it big when he landed a gig as a dancer for Gaga at the 2009 MTV Video Music Awards. That was just the beginning. He soon danced his way through the videos for 'Telephone,' 'Alejandro,' 'Born This Way,' and 'Judas,' and has been touring with the world's biggest pop star ever since. Based on a recent American Idol appearance that featured him dancing one-on-one with Gaga to her latest single, 'The Edge of Glory,' it's safe to assume there's more half-naked Kanemura in our future.
We caught up with the dancer to chat about working with the most famous woman in the world, getting his start on stage, spending a good part of his life in a skirt, and more.
Out: Which do you get more: Are you the guy from So You Think You Can Dance? Or are you the guy who dances with Lady Gaga?
Mark Kanemura: It's a mix of both right now. Before it was a lot more So You Think You Can Dance, but lately it's been a lot of Gaga, as well.
When did you first start dancing?
I was actually in musical theater. My parents took me to go see -- I think it was The Phantom of the Opera or Cats, one of those musicals. But they came out to Hawaii. They took me to see the show, and I was so blown away. I was like, I need to be doing this. So my parents were always really supportive of what I wanted to do, which was amazing. They put me in some musical theater classes at a local community theater, and I had an amazing, amazing time. But then my voice changed, and I went through puberty [laughs]. So I got really uncomfortable singing, and I fell more in love with dancing.
Your parents had no qualms with you being a boy and being interested in dance?
No! They put me in baseball and soccer and all that stuff. I just really had no interest in it whatsoever. I would put on shows for them when I was really young. I went full out -- I put my sister in the shows, I did lighting, I made programs. You name it, we did it. So they had an idea of where all the madness was going [laughs].
How long did you think about auditioning for So You Think You Can Dance before you finally did it?
I had decided a few months before. I was teaching dance in Hawaii for years. I loved it so much, and I still consider it one of the things I'm most passionate about. But I felt like I needed to shake me up a little and [I needed] something to challenge me. So a few months before the audition happened, I was like, I think I want to push myself and audition for the show. As soon as I realized I wanted to do that, I really started training and focusing on the audition process.
Did you ever imagine that you'd get as far as you did?
No, not at all. I mean, even through the whole audition process, I always felt like I was different from everyone else there. I wasn't sure if that's what they were looking for. And, of course, I went through my doubts -- I felt like I wasn't as good as everyone around me. Not only did I not think I would make it that far, first of all, I never even thought that I would make it on the show.
On the show you seemed like you were really into choreographing the solos. Do you still choreograph?
It's weird because I actually moved out to L.A. to pursue choreography. After So You Think..., I was like, I'm going to move to L.A. and I'm going to be a choreographer. That's something I want to focus on. But it was weird. I got out here and it just wasn't inspiring me. I was trying to teach at different studios and whatnot, and I just wasn't inspired to dance. I think what it came down to was I really need to learn more about the dance world and the dance community here in L.A. I just felt like there was so much to learn about the industry from a dancer's perspective. I haven't been inspired to do it lately, but hopefully that time comes.
Do you still remember the choreography to 'The Garden,' a fan (and judge) favorite from the show?
I probably do. We took some of the numbers on tour. So on top of having to rehearse it a lot for the show, we did it so many times. It was actually weird because Courtney [Galiano] and I had to do that last season, and some of the moves just naturally came. It was crazy. I think I remember a few things, but probably not the whole thing.