Dance Mogul: What inspired you to start dancing?
Ai Shimatsu: My parents took me to Tokyo Disney Land when I was little. I saw one of the shows and I remember the dancers were shining like stars to me. I told my mom I want to be a part of it. “I want to be a dancer at Disney land.” She said if I want to be like them I have to be able to do Ballet. So I begged her to take me to the ballet studio. That’s how I started dancing, I was 3.
Dance Mogul: How did you develop a work ethic to train?
Ai Shimatsu: I think ballet training definitely helped me develop a work ethic. I started at a young age and my ballet teachers weren’t easy, I was almost scared of them. They made me practice over and over until I got it. I had to get the right steps and the right lines. I carried that kind of work ethic into every style of dance that I learned.
Dance Mogul: When was your big break?
Ai Shimatsu: After years of training to become a ballerina at the age of 17, I had a dream to explore other avenues and styles of dance professionally. I stopped going to ballet school and moved to New York. Finally, in the big city, I trained for two more years in order to understand the fast pace and competitive lifestyle of the dance community. In 2011, I got a text from a friend about an audition for Beyonce. I crashed the audition and booked my first big promo tour!
Dance Mogul: What have been some of your memorable moments on stage?
Ai Shimatsu: My most memorable time on stage was bringing in the New Year performing with Pharrell in Dubai. I remember the fireworks I saw from the stage. It was really beautiful! It was definitely a special moment. Another time was when I performed with Madonna in Japan for the Rebel Heart Tour. It was so special because all of my family and friends were there. And most recently, I can’t forget to mention performing in front of 80,000 people with Beyonce in London on the Formation World Tour. Wow! I will never forget the view of the audience from the stage.
Dance Mogul: Based on your experience now what would you tell your younger self?
Ai Shimatsu: I want to tell my younger self, there is always somebody watching you so never get comfortable. Always be ready for anything because you’ll never know when a big opportunity will come. Don’t be shy when you don’t understand English. There is always help when you need it.
Dance Mogul: How was it performing on this year’s BET Awards?
Ai Shimatsu: It was one of the most powerful performances I’ve ever been a part of. ‘Freedom’ is such a strong and powerful song. And dancing in the water to the song took me to another level of excitement. I was splashing and kicking the water for this performance to touch everybody’s heart. I fully enjoyed being on that stage. That was a performance that I will never forget.
Dance Mogul: What advice do you have for the younger generation of dancers?
Ai Shimatsu: Be a smart dancer. To me, a great dancer is not someone who can just dance well. A great dancer is someone who can dance as well as watch and pay attention to what is going on around them. Keep working towards your goal. Never give up. And when you reach the goal, find another goal and start working for it.
Dance Mogul: Is there anyone you would like to thank?
Ai Shimatsu: Yes. First I would like to thank my parents for their support. I wouldn’t be here without them. Actually, my mom was the one who pushed me to go to NY. They helped me financially when I started living in NY as a student. I would like to thank Tracie Stanfield for allowing me to dance in her company and for giving me my first artist visa. She is the reason I could stay and start working in NY. And I would like to thank Dana Foglia. She basically taught me everything about the dance industry. She taught me not just dance steps but to be a smart dancer. She gave me advice about my hairstyle and how to dress for each audition. I learned so much from her and I still do.