We had the good fortune of connecting with Lani Yamanaka and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Lani, how has your perspective on work-life balance evolved over time?
Throughout training and early on in my dance career I wanted more challenges, more performing, more and multiple opportunities, just more. My life was 99% work, and the 1% I gave to myself was shadowed by the stress of not doing enough. With each achievement, I craved the next prominent moment and constantly compared myself to where I wanted to be. It was exhausting.
As I’ve grown in age and experience, my health has come center stage. I’ve previously subsisted in environments that took a toll on my mental health, which took an even bigger toll on my physical health. I even started having severe stomach issues and drastically changed my diet trying to figure out the cause. Hindsight is 20/20, but eventually, when the fog of stress and overwork cleared I understood the root of the problem. As dancers, our bodies are our livelihood and I think we tend to forget that.
Now I prioritize my health and healing and therefore my work feels fulfilling instead of draining. As an artist, I feel powerful and confident. I choose my environments thoughtfully because (although it seems obvious) good people make great things together. I actively think about keeping my balance, and the answer to that changes daily, but it feels good.
Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
My art runs deeper.
I am a Yonsei Japanese-American. At five years old I trained, alongside my siblings, in Judo. Judo is a Japanese martial art developed in 1882, and in my family, it started with my grandpa and trickled down to me.
I competed seriously for about ten years, then chose to focus more on dance. Still, Judo is the foundation of my training that has wholly influenced my movement practice. There’s a beauty to the kata (form or technique). It’s swift and utilizes grounding your weight to use against your opponent. In competition, you want to keep moving, look for an opening or make one if you need to. Then, be concise, clean, and quick when you find it.
That’s how my professional journey has felt. It wasn’t easy and still isn’t, but that’s where the excitement is. I am an ever-changing story with shifts and pivots, I look back fondly on where I came from because those aspects are important to where I am today.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
I love that in Southern California you can drive to the beach, the mountains, the city, even Mexico in a few hours, but I’d likely choose the sand every time.
Visit – If they’ve never been to LA, then it’s museums, Grand Central Market for food, and iconic spots like The Last Bookstore. Otherwise, the beach is my happy place. Certain smaller spots in Laguna Beach are beautiful. I feel like the best beach experience includes little to no people nearby, a good book, and a great burrito.
Eat – Bear Flag Fish Co. in Newport, for fresh seafood you can’t beat it. For dinner, Mama D’s pasta dishes are heaven. Or, although it’s an all-day event, I make a mean chicken pot pie.
Drink – Anywhere with good margaritas.
Sweat – I’d bring them to a climbing gym to boulder, Cliffs of Id, or Hangar in Orange. Or we’d take a long hike with views somewhere new for both of us.
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
My siblings. We are tight-knit, competitive, and ever so loyal. As the youngest of four, I was privileged to grow up with them leading the way. As adults, we’ve grown roots in different places, but our paths are forever braided.
Thextinct, Eric B. Photos, Randall Hobbet Photography, still from MOVE on Netflix by Falabracks and Gaumont, The Shed NYC: Dragon Spring Phoenix Rise by New York Times, ODC/Dance by Andrew Weeks Photography, BLANK STATE still – dance film by Megumi Iwama and Lani Yamanaka.