This article originally featured in the December 2021 issue of Connect.
Bachata in Shizuoka City
Lacey Gerdes (Shizuoka) interviewed by Sierra Nelson-Liner (Shizuoka)
Everyone wants to find their own community. A place where they can be themselves as well as connect to others. Unfortunately, that can sometimes feel difficult to do as a foreigner living in Japan. There are often language or cultural differences that keep people from making initial connections. Exploring a new passion can be intimidating enough on its own, especially if you don’t know anyone, or struggle speaking the common language. But, if you look at it another way, jumping into a completely new experience can be extremely rewarding.
Last weekend I put my best foot forward (literally, as it was for a dance class and I’m recovering from a broken ankle) and stepped into an entirely new community where a mix of cultures is encouraged. Bachata is a dance that is originally from the Dominican Republic, and American-born instructor Lacey Gerdes focuses on a fusion style that was formed in Spain. I
I was happily surprised to find such a multicultural class all the way here in Japan. From this experience I can faithfully say bachata is thriving in Shizuoka city. All thanks to Lacey.
Lacey is an instructor, model, and marketing consultant who offers bachata dance classes for beginner and intermediate dancers, regardless of nationality. She empowers her dancers to bring attitude to the many steps and hip circles that bachata offers. She welcomes newcomers to explore new passions and join an international community through her classes.
I was initially nervous to take her class because it was my first time dancing bachata, and my first dance class that I assumed would be entirely in Japanese. That nervousness quickly melted away after meeting Lacey and the other dancers in person. She didn’t hesitate to help with introductions in Japanese and English when I entered the studio. I was pleased to meet a mix of Japanese and International women wearing rhinestone shoes—all eager to get started on the dance floor.
With a mix of English and Japanese, we warmed up together. Stretching and moving to the rhythm of an upbeat song. Lacey explained the movements in both Japanese and English. The languages mixed together as effortlessly as her steps. You would never be able to tell that she only started teaching just 6 months ago.
She explained to us in detail how to move our feet and bodies for bachata’s basic steps. As we moved our hips in figure eights and spinned around the studio she made us laugh and feel confident in her choreography. She reminded us that even though these were set moves, it is important to express ourselves with attitude so we stand out as individuals. She also reminded us all that we were powerful, strong, and beautiful women.
I couldn’t be more happy to be introduced to this community in Japan. Lacey is an incredibly driven and passionate woman who is definitely making an impression in the bachata community in Japan. The studio was inviting, and the girls were welcoming. If you are a dancer, interested in learning more about spanish-fusion-style bachata or looking to try something new, then this class is definitely for you.
What made you decide to teach bachata in Japan?
I love dancing bachata and I really wanted to make a community based on my interests. There are not many dancing groups in Shizuoka, so I decided to make one based on my style. My boyfriend has also been teaching salsa for years, so he has supported me with this goal.
Have you faced any challenges teaching? If so, how have you overcome them?
Not necessarily a challenge, but I have been trying to reach new students to grow the community. It’s hard to know how to get my lessons out there. More than money, I just want to grow the community. I love dancing with my students, and we even have “cafe time” before class, for us to bond. I started my girls class a couple of months ago, and before I had any students, my experienced friends in the salsa world would come to my classes, encourage me and cheer me on. Also, I have been trying to utilize flyers, and social media of course.
What has been your favorite experience so far?
My favorite thing about starting my ladies group specifically, is that several foreigners started joining for the first time. I think since I, the teacher, am a foreigner that it makes others feel more comfortable with joining. The girls that come to my class have become very close and even though we all come from different countries we bond over the fact that one, making friends in Japan is hard, and two, we like dancing. The crazy thing is that most of the girls haven’t necessarily been dancing for years, but we still make such a great group. This is not to say that Japanese students don’t also attend, but I was just shocked at all of the foreign ladies that weren’t already in the dancing community.
I also really love that I met some of the girls in the most random ways. One of them saw me at a gym and asked me about Latin dancing. Another was working at a cafe I was eating at with some of the girls. And I love that I finally feel like I have a community and a place to belong in Japan and that I have created that feeling for other people too.
What do you want dancers to remember the most from your classes?
I really want the students in my class to remember the fun experiences with each other and the confidence they gain from dance. I had a late start to dancing and I was originally quite shy and self conscious, but dance has helped me gain confidence and a way to express myself, and I want to help others find that feeling.
How has the Bachata community grown over the years?
Japan in general has a decent sized salsa and bachata community, the two are basically intertwined (although, I cannot teach salsa, haha). Of course the biggest hub is Tokyo. With the pandemic the community was hit pretty hard, although it is slowly making a comeback as the vaccine rates increase and people start to feel more comfortable with coming out to dance again. It’s almost strange that Shizuoka, being more in the countryside, has a dancing community. Although small, each and every member is sweet in Shizuoka. Although it’s starting to recover from the pandemic, I am trying to help it grow through reaching out to the foreigner community in Shizuoka, as I can provide English and Japanese support.
How do you hope to expand the community?
I really want to help the community bounce-back from the pandemic 100% and grow it a little extra. I want foreigners to feel empowered and comfortable with coming to class, especially because with me they don’t need to know Japanese. It’s a great way for people from different cultures to mingle while having fun. No one has to be a pro to dance. Many of the dancers started dancing as adults.
Have you always wanted to be a dance instructor?
I’ve liked dance since I was young, but my family never had enough money for me to take lessons. I started in university actually. I did belly dancing for three years and then I switched to bachata. Once I finally began dancing, and improved, I really wanted to become an instructor.
How has your life evolved since you arrived in Japan?
I never worked for JET, but I started as an ALT for Altia. I knew I wanted to live in Japan, but I didn’t want to be an ALT forever. I started off as an ALT to get my foot in the door in Japan, and then started job hunting once my contract was almost up. I do have a pretty decent level of Japanese, N2, which helped. I actually was going to work at Hilton before the pandemic hit. I had a job offer, which I never ended up starting because of corona. I felt a bit discouraged, but I kept looking and was able to find a marketing job that didn’t make me move to Tokyo. It was a rocky time, but I’m glad I didn’t give up. Of course, working for a company is not my dream, so I love doing dance on the side. I think that piece of advice I would give is even if it is scary, you are worth it. Don’t give up. After corona took my Hilton job, I was unemployed for almost three months and terrified, but my work and courage paid off.
Did you know Japanese before coming here?
I studied abroad twice in Japan before moving. I went to Gifu University for two semesters, and Nanzan for one, so my Japanese was pretty strong.
If you could explain a bit about modeling or other communities you are involved in here that would be wonderful.
So I had a completely random start in modeling. My ex boyfriend was showing my picture to his hair stylist and he asked me to come do a paid shoot. It was my first one. After that stylist posted my picture on Instagram, I got more jobs. Since I don’t live in Tokyo, the number of jobs are limited, but I do bridal and hair salon modeling about once every two months or so.
When did you start dancing bachata?
I actually only started two years ago, but my body isolations from belly dance certainly helped. I was, and am very intense with my dance training and took several private lessons. I still take private lessons online with a famous teacher from Spain that coaches me on teaching bachata and choreography creation. I feel that dancers should never stop learning because it helps with creativity.
What do you recommend for new dancers?
I recommend that they never give up. Especially when learning as an adult it’s easy for people to say, I can’t dance, I’m terrible, etcetera, etcetera. I don’t believe that. Everyone can dance. Yes some people may have more of a natural ability and some may need more practice, but if you want to, there is no reason not to. You’re not a pro and it doesn’t need to be perfect. The most important thing is to enjoy yourself and have fun. Try, practice, and don’t give up.
Where do you get your beautifully sparkled dance shoes?
Thank you! They are from Gfranco, an American dance shoe brand. Most of the dancers in Japan order that brand. Burju is also good!
How many dancers typically attend your classes?
Of course it varies, I have a couple of steady students, and I have new people attend too. Average is usually 6 or so for my ladies class.
Do you teach choreography so you and the dancers can perform together in Shizuoka?
That’s the goal. Before I only taught once a month and took videos with the girls. Now that I am growing, I am teaching longer choreography to hopefully perform now that there are events. Many events were cancelled because of corona. Of course, not all of the students are interested in performing. Some only want to take videos (because there is always a retake, haha) so it’s really for the girls that want to.
Lacey Gerdes is a dance instructor, model, and marketing consultant. She enjoys dancing of course, travel, and baking. She wants to create community connections in Shizuoka through dance. Her current dreams are to visit Spain and do a month of dance training to bring back new skills and techniques (psst, it’s happening soon!).
If you would like to follow Lacey or sign up for her classes, you can find out more at:
Instagram ID: laceychan TikTok tok ID: laceymgerdes
Sierra Nelson-Liner is a third year ALT who is the Community Editor for [CONNECT] Magazine. She enjoys dancing on the beach and putting flowers in her hair. She wants to inspire cultural exchange through farming in the Japanese countryside. Her current dream is to swim like a mermaid in Okinawa.