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School Fuels Teenage Performing Dreams

Date Posted: 2000-09-01

The Okinawa Actor’s School has never produced any actors. Not a single one has graduated in its 17-year history. That’s because the name is a little misleading. According to director Ana Makino, it’s really a “singing and dancing” school.

The title “school” isn’t completely accurate, either. Makino says it is actually more of a guidance center for its 250 teenage students who dream of becoming professional performers. Rather than following a strict method, she prefers to give her students the space and encouragement they need to cultivate their own talents.

“If you love to sing and dance,” she says, “no one has to tell you what to do.”

She should know. Makino has been singing and dancing since she was 11 years old, taking instruction from her father, the school’s founder. By the time she was 16 she was helping him teach, and in 1994 she took over as director.

In fact, Makino comes from a family of performers. Her grandfather was a film director, and her grandmother was an actress. Her father also pursued an acting career before opening the school in Naha in 1983.

Following in their footsteps, Makino launched her own professional career, releasing a record when she was 15. She later recorded a CD as part of a five-member group known as Super Monkeys, which was formed in her father’s school. One of her bandmates was Japanese singing star Namie Amuro, who went on to a highly successful solo career after Super Monkeys separated. She recorded and performed "Never End," the theme song of last month's G-8 Summit. Other successful acts who began their careers at Makino’s school include Speed and Da Pump.

Makino now divides her time between the Naha studio and the company’s two other schools in Osaka, known as Makino World Pops, which are home to another 400 students. She says her philosophy is to give the students the tools they need to build confidence in their own ideas and abilities.

“We believe it’s not right to teach, to make students follow a routine, when there are so many different kinds of talent,” Makino says.

Potential students need no prior experience or training in performing arts to enroll in the school. At first they simply watch videos of other performers and imitate what they see. Eventually, their individual styles begin to emerge. In addition to performing, students are encouraged to choreograph their own routines and even write original music. Though classes are held twice a week, Makino says most students are in the studio rehearsing every day. For them, this is much more than a hobby.

The latest sensation to come out of the Okinawa Actor’s School is a multi-faceted, 150-person ensemble known as B.B. Waves. Now in their fourth year, B.B. Waves specialize in high-energy routines performed by various dance teams and musical groups in different combinations. One of those groups, Makino says, has recently been offered a recording contract with a U.S. company.

B.B. Waves performed Sunday at the Convention Center’s outdoor amphitheater, in their “2000 Summer Live - Face the World” concert. It was an hour and a half of non-stop music, dancing, and costume changes, complete with a film crew and pyrotechnics. Performances included well-known ballads, hip-hop and dance hits, and massive sing-alongs involving the entire cast.

Amid all this talent and energy, Makino insists the only thing a student needs to be successful is a passion for performing. “And good guidance,” she adds. “That’s what my father was for me, and that’s what I’m trying to be for my students.”

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