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How Mark Kanemura Created A Safe Space for Carefree Dance & Queer Joy

How Mark Kanemura Created A Safe Space for Carefree Dance & Queer Joy

How Mark Kanemura Created A Safe Space for Carefree Dance & Queer Joy

The Instagram sensation talks to PRIDE about dancing with Carly Rae Jepsen and Lady Gaga, joyful celebrations of queerness, and more!

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These days, Mark Kanemura is known for his wig reveals, rainbows, dance parties, and love of Carly Rae Jepsen, but the dancer, choreographer, and Instagram star has been spreading queer joy and positivity for years.

You might remember Kanemura from a Lady Gaga video or two (or seven) as he danced with Mother Monster for over five years. He made it to the top 6 of So You Think You Can Dance's fourth season, and you might've even spotted him lifting Katya into an upside-down split on RuPaul's Drag Race All Stars 2

The 37-year-old has gone viral over and over again with his DIY dance/lipsync videos, each one an explosion of glitter and light. While much of the world was locked in their apartments last summer, Kanemura hosted virtual dance parties that brought in hundreds of thousands of viewers, featured celebrities, and even raised tens of thousands of dollars for The Trevor Project. 

In an exclusive interview, PRIDE caught up with the star. "I feel so honored and grateful that this platform that I have on social media allows people space where they can feel inspired and free and liberated to live their authentic lives," he shares. We chat about everything from dancing with Lady Gaga, the power of queer joy, and his plans once the world opens up once more. 

PRIDE: So I remember stumbling upon your Instagram page a few years ago because of the "Cut to the Feeling Friday" videos. What inspired those? 

Mark Kanemura: Depression. I came out of depression, to be honest. I had broken up with a boyfriend that I had been with for about...we were together for seven years and I had moved out of our home, and it was a very, very rough and challenging time as you can imagine. I just went through a period where I was just like, I didn't wanna dance, I didn't wanna do anything, and then this song started to play and I heard it on my Apple Music or Spotify or something. And I was just like, "Oh wow, like, what's this? This is kind of a fun song."

I just kinda noticed that it was bringing some light, it was showing up in small ways. Then I noticed myself singing along to it and then starting dancing to it. I just started doing these silly little lipsync videos and it brought me so much joy and happiness and I started sharing that online and I love that it was bringing other people a lot of joy and happiness. And yeah, that's kind of how it all started, to be honest.

I think there's something very powerful in seeing queer people be joyful and positive. I think that's why it attracted so many people to your page, myself included. It sounds like that wasn't something you purposefully try to cultivate?

Before that with my social media, I would share some work stuff, I would share some of my choreography or dance stuff, but it was pretty curated. I'm a pretty private person. So when I started to release these videos it was very, very difficult for me just because it was super unpolished and it was just me at home dancing around and being silly and having fun. 

It was a little strange, was a little foreign to me. But again I love that A.) it was bringing me a lot of joy and B.) I love that it was bringing other people joy. I love that people were finding some light in it, which excited me.

Your comment section is littered with people who share how the videos have made their day or improved their mood. I'm sure you get tons of DMs from queer people or kids who watch you and your content meant something to them. Do you have any stories you can share?  

I've had quite a few people that have reached out to me. Oh gosh! It's making me feel emotional thinking about it. Through watching and experiencing the things that I share on social media, it's sort of giving them the courage to let their light shine authentically and genuinely. And in some cases it's led to them coming out which I think is really, I don't know, that's really wonderful. I feel so honored and grateful that this platform that I have on social media allows people space where they can feel inspired and free and liberated to live their authentic lives. So that stuff always gets me. 

I also love when I see parents. I get a lot of videos from parents sending me videos of their kids dressing up and dancing in wigs or dresses. That always just warms my heart to see parents allowing their children to express themselves in any way they want to.

That's beautiful. We forget sometimes that when we're out here just like, existing and being ourselves out loud, it can inspire so many others who are struggling to do it. One thing I've always wanted to know, how do you record these videos? Is it just an iPhone? 

It's just my iPhone, yeah. I set it up. I have this little window so that it happens to be the perfect little spot for me to rest my iPhone up on. I just pop it up on there and hit record and we start going.

The things that I've done in the past with So You Think You Can Dance and with Gaga and other pop artists, I think it's really cool to watch someone do that but there's also a level of...it feels like you're watching someone else's world or dream happen. With this, there's an accessibility to it where you're watching these videos of me dancing around in my apartment with my iPhone and it's like, "Oh wait, I can do that too." 

That's what I love seeing. I love seeing these videos of my friends or followers or family or whatever that I got of them dancing in their rooms and expressing themselves. I think it's so beautiful and I love that. It inspires that.

So I think we were all looking for ways to stay sane during this pandemic. Were the IG live dance parties yours?

It just took off really quickly. I've had this idea for a while to do these dance parties that were very, very inclusive. It was always this idea that I had to do in-person, sort of dance party that welcomed everyone. When the pandemic hit, I was like, "Oh, this could actually be a great opportunity to stay connected with people."

For me, I'm living here in my apartment by myself. I thought it was an important thing for me to do to channel some of my energy into dance, which has always been therapy for me, and also channel my energy into staying connected with others.

I found that Instagram Live was a really, really great tool and an easy tool to do that. So at first, I think I hopped on and I was like, "Hey friends, do you wanna just come and dance around with me?" I think we danced around maybe one or two songs at first. It was like freestyling and it was like super fun. Then literally within two or three days, there were outfits, there was a playlist, I had choreography, it turned into a 20-, 30-minute set. 

That's just kinda how I work too. If I have an idea, I'm gonna go with it and we are gonna go full out. It was such a cool thing to start and to experience through the loneliness and the scariness of that time period.

Can we expect any more anytime soon?

I hope so. As the year went on, there was a lot happening, and I just...it was hard for me to show up for people in a way that felt authentic just because I was trynna take care of my own mental health.

I would definitely like to start up again just because I really, really loved the community that built. I actually heard of people around the world that were able to meet up with each other in different countries from these dance parties, which I thought was really, really cool and beautiful. 

There are all these songs that came out in 2020 that we never got to dance to. Pick 3 songs you are itching to dance to when we can go dance at clubs again.

Honestly, put me in a club and put "Rain On Me" on repeat for five hours and I'm good. That's all I want to be honest. I would be so happy. I mean, that's pretty much what I do at home anyway.

There's so much good music. I feel like I could hear the entire Chromatica album in a club and be happy. Kylie's disco album was so freaking fun. I absolutely love that. There's also this song by the House Gospel Choir which I recently discovered called "Most Precious Love" and if I heard that in a club...that gets me going, you have to check it out.

What's your favorite memory performing with Lady Gaga?

That is a tough question. I think about the time that they played "Born This Way" for us for the first time. It was a very emotional experience. Just thinking about the journey that I had been on but also about how her fans being able to hear this song and receive this song. I was like, "Whoa, this is gonna be really, really powerful." The lyrics, obviously the beat and everything, but it was the lyrics for me that were just like, "Whoa." I remember exactly where we were hearing it for the first time and thinking it was really magical. 

"Telephone" always goes off for me. I absolutely love that song. That was an incredible memory as well, shooting that video and being sandwiched between Gaga and Beyoncé and that last dance break sequence. That's definitely a highlight for sure. 

Yeah, I can imagine.

It was very, very surreal. As a kid, my older sisters would show me music videos of Janet and Madonna and Paula. Music videos were something that I knew from a very, very early age that I wanted to do. To be able to come to LA and be able to do those things in this way was just so real for me. I felt as far as highlights memory-wise, that's pretty up there for me. What else?

Those are pretty big ones.

There was this performance of "Edge of Glory" that we had done for American Idol where Gaga and I were dancing up on this...I think it was 20 feet or something up in the air and it was this small little square platform. At the end we dropped down, it's like this pit. That was a really fun and scary memory for me just because it was thrilling. It was terrifying. It was exciting. I love that.

And also just getting to dance for her fan base was like really, really, really, really special. That's definitely a memory that I will cherish and that I'm so grateful for. There's something really special about being able to perform with an artist that provides a space for people to show up in a way that feels very authentic. And you have these kids and teenagers and adults that are coming to our shows just so excited and basically finding their chosen family in a way. And they're coming dressed up. They're crying, they're just, they're in this space of complete bliss and acceptance and celebration. That was really special, just being able to look into their eyes and see that energy and that light and that life.

So 2021 is up in the air right now for all of us. But do you have any, I don't wanna say plans, but hopes, aspirations?

I'm hoping for some sense of connection with others in a way that I've been missing. I do hope that things start to get better in a way that allows us a little bit of space maybe to interact again.

I've been very thoughtful about starting up my dance parties again. There are also some fun and exciting things that I've been working on that I think are possibly coming out next year.

Watch our full interview with Mark Kanemura below!

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