June Watanabe

JUNE (TSUKIDA) WATANABE b.1939 in Los Angeles, began studying dance at age 9, after leaving Heart Mt. internment camp. She enrolled in dance classes at the West Coast School of Music and Dance with Elizabeth Gilman in 1948. After a few years she transferred to the LA Conservatory of Music and Arts to begin studies with Patricia O’Kane with whom she studied for most of her ballet training. June also attended the Eugene Loring School of American Dance, and at 16 she auditioned and was chosen by Jerome Robbins, along with 5 other minors to dance in 20th Century Fox’s “Small of Uncle Thomas” in the “King and I” in 1955.  Little did she know that her introduction to Graham technique with Yuriko during the film’s daily classes, would establish her life’s commitment and lead her to become a modern dancer at UCLA from 1956-1960. She also danced in the MGM film, “Teahouse of the August”.

Her UCLA mentor, Alma Hawkins guided her to focus on dance education, even when June left for NY to understudy in the Graham Company in 1962, following her first East Coast exposure to dance at the American Dance Festival. Prior to leaving for NY in 1960, with a BS from UCLA, she took her first job at EL Camino College as the dance specialist and choreographed for a few musicals.  She has also joined the Gloria Newman Dance Company performing a few years, and was most influenced by Gloria’s unique physical sensibility of dancing through space with every cell in the body, which became embedded in June’s feeling for movement while still or in action.

Marrying Akira Watanabe of San Francisco took June to Northern California where she raised 3 children in Marin County and taught at UC Berkeley and is now Professor Emerita of Dance Mills College after 24 yrs. of teaching, mostly part-time because she was also Artistic Director of June Watanabe in Company.  While the Company initially began in 1982 as a more traditional modern dance company her focus changed to a collaborative focus with guest artists as well continuing interdisciplinary work in large scale production works. Much of her work focused on the Japanese American Interment and Noh dance studies.

June Watanabe in Company was presented in Los Angeles at the Japan America Theatre numerous times, along with Moorpark College where Stella Matsuda developed a dance program and presented many artists.  June also gave a solo performance at El Camino College in the mid-80’s. She received commissions from the American Dance Festival as an Emerging Choreographer in ’87 and ’88 and from Jacobs Pillow in ’91 and ’93. She has created work for other companies as well as independent choreographers/performers and was selected as one of 13 Bay Area artists for the PBS interviews on “The Creative Mind” in 1991. Most recently she was a mentor in MJDC’s CHIME program.

She was a recipient of fellowships from the NEA/Japan Friendship Commission, the California and Marin Arts Councils. She received a San Francisco “Izzie Award” for Individual Dance Performance and a special award for “Time Over Time” with Frank Shawl and Marnie Thomas, and was a nominee numerous times for choreography and other aspects of production. From 1983-2006 the Company received funding/support from numerous local, state, national funding and commissioning organizations. She also sat on the Board of Dance USA and on many panels nationally.

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Categorized as: ARTIST, Artistic Director, Choreographer, Dancer, Modern, Teacher/Educator