Two years after landing in Hollywood, Bryan Tanaka is already on his third international tour with a major artist. After sharing the stage with Destiny’s Child at a Dallas Cowboys halftime show in 2004, Tanaka impressed DC’s choreographers enough to land a spot on the Destiny Fulfilled world tour. Just one year later, he headed back out on the road with Mariah Carey on her high-profile Emancipation of Mimi tour. These days, he’s off globe-trotting with hip-hop diva Rihanna. Driven and down-to-earth, Tanaka tells DS all about life in the touring lane.
DS: What are rehearsals for a world tour like?
BT: You start one to two months beforehand. On the Mariah tour, there were only four guy dancers and two girls, whereas Destiny’s Child had six guys and four girls. Having that many people for Destiny’s Child meant more work and more people to get on the same page. Choreographer Frank Gatson rehearsed us seven days a week—sometimes from 10 am to 11 pm. But he was very focused on the artists, so the dancers had to pull together as a team and work with the assistant choreographers.
DS: What changed for you from the Destiny’s Child tour to the Mariah tour?
BT: On the Destiny’s Child tour, I was the rookie, the new cat, the youngest. People were trying to look out for me. For the Mariah tour, I was with veterans—the “OG-est” of the “OGs” of the dance game. [OG means “original gangsta.”] The male dancers were true legends: Russell “Goofy” Wright, Earl “Punch” Wright and Eddie Morales, who could possibly be the best dancer in the world.
DS: How do you make inroads with established cliques of dancers on a tour?
BT: You’ve got to go in and do your job. You have to be focused, know everything you’re taught and work 110 percent. Work harder than they do and prove that you deserve to fit in with these people.
DS: What other types of people do you interact with behind the scenes?
BT: Touring with a major artist is like having an entourage of 70 or 80 people. In every country, every hotel you go into—you own the whole thing. You’re protected with security; you’ve got the stars and their assistants, the band and dancers, and the crew. They’re your family for that time.
DS: Do you have time to sightsee?
BT: It depends on how the tour is laid out. You might have to drive immediately after a show to the next location. Sometimes you don’t get time to chill and see the place. When I can, I make sure to take pictures and explore. The first time going around the world, you should take time to really see it, or you’re cheating yourself.
DS: What kinds of things do you do the day of a show?
BT: Sightsee, check out of the hotel around 2:30 pm, go to the venue, sit around on the bus and get massages, watch movies or eat dinner. I also like to watch the opening act. It’s a good way to get hyped up for the show.
DS: Is there a protocol for interacting with the artist?
BT: At first, you can’t think the artist is your best friend. It took three or four months before I got called by name by someone in Destiny’s Child. Artists deal with a lot of people. If they see you working hard every night, they might eventually reward you with recognition or invite you to dinner or an after-party, but that’s rare.
DS: What valuable lessons have you learned from past gigs that are helping you now with the Rihanna tour?
BT: The DC tour warmed me up for success. In that camp, things were chaotic; there were always changes being made. You had to be ready to learn new fixes, and we were rehearsing two or three months into the show. It was a work in progress. I now feel prepared for anything!
Check out a clip of Bryan Tanaka’s choreography from his hip-hop class at Millennium Dance Complex in L.A. at dancespirit.com.