Basketball

Thunder Girls dancer Kei Hirata imparts cheerleading knowledge to Akita students

by Ed Odeven

Staff Writer

Before the Oklahoma City Thunder opened their 2018-19 NBA season, cheerleader Kei Hirata returned to Japan for a short vacation. The trip, of course, gave her a chance to visit family and friends.

It also included a fun opportunity to pass on her knowledge and love of dancing to Japanese cheerleaders. On Sunday, Hirata visited Akita for a dance clinic, which was sponsored by the B. League’s Akita Northern Happinets. Forty-one individuals, ranging in age from 5 to adult, attended the event.

Hirata taught three classes and provided a positive message for the attendees.

In an interview with The Japan Times, Hirata recounted her message: “Don’t think too much to be perfect, try to act like an NBA cheerleader and have fun.”

She continued: “I told them I know it is hard to learn NBA-style choreography, which is a different style than they (are) used to dancing, but don’t be afraid of failure, try first.”

Indeed, perfection wasn’t the goal, according to Hirata, who previously danced for the Thunder Girls from 2012-14 and returned to the NBA team for a second two-year stint after a strenuous tryout in July.

“It’s OK to mess up at practice,” she said.

During her brief visit to Akita, Hirata reunited with a student named Chiyo Tanabe, an 11-year-old who considers Hirata a role model. Tanabe hopes to follow in her footsteps, becoming a cheerleader for the Northern Happinets and an NBA team in the future.

In 2016, they met at a dance clinic at the Noshiro Basketball Museum in Noshiro, Akita Prefecture.

That clinic motivated Tanabe to begin taking English lessons, Hirata said.

“Since then, we exchange letters and videos,” Hirata revealed before traveling to Akita last weekend. “I can’t wait to see her smile seeing me in (person).”

And what did Tanabe learn at Sunday’s clinic?

“It’s important to try first, even if the choreography is hard to memorize, so she wants to keep it in her mind during this season,” Hirata said of Tanabe.

This Sunday, the OKC Thunder are set to play their first home game of the new season against the Sacramento Kings. Hirata will be there, dancing and inspiring Tanabe and others halfway around the world.