• Kyodo

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Kazunori Kumagai, 37, is the first Japanese to win the Flo-Bert prize, a prestigious award that honors tap dancers for outstanding achievements.

Fresh from landing the prize in May, Kumagai, who is based in New York, returned to Japan this fall for a 70-minute solo performance in Tokyo, where he received warm applause from the 2,000-strong audience.

“Tap dance accepts anyone and any language,” Kumagai said during an interview.

Kumagai mesmerized the audience with the dynamic yet subtle sounds he created, swinging his arms back and forth in wide movements.

As an Asian dancer, he is often reminded that the art form he practices grew out of a different culture to his own and has a very long history.

“Black people, who suffered under the slavery system, expressed their sadness and anger by dancing, and that is the history of tap dance,” he said.

Kumagai, who lives with his wife, Japanese singer Kahimi Karie, and their 4-year-old daughter, began tap dancing at age 15 and moved to the United States when he was 19. While studying psychology at New York University, he also practiced tap dancing at a professional training school.

He said that while he had never been good at mixing with other people, he learned for the first time the joy of engaging with others through dancing.

In 2011, Kumagai was back in Japan when the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami struck his hometown of Sendai and Tohoku’s coast. The following year, he moved back to New York, which he describes as “a battlefield for dancers.”

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