My Island Home: Finding positivity through Cuban Salsa in Launceston

Dance: Rueda in the Square, with Takanobu Nakamura calling the steps for social and beginner salsa dancers. Picture: Scott Gelston
Dance: Rueda in the Square, with Takanobu Nakamura calling the steps for social and beginner salsa dancers. Picture: Scott Gelston

A man from Japan, teaching Cuban Salsa in Launceston.

Tasmania has always attracted some of the most eclectic and creative people, so perhaps it is not surprising that Takanobu Nakamura found his way here.

Mr Nakamura, known as Taka, has a life in Launceston far removed from that in Japan, where, more than 10 years ago, he worked as a project leader in the headquarters of a major telecom company.

Now, he is more likely to be spotted dancing with fellow Cuban Salsa performers and members of the public at the Harvest Market, or in Princes’ Square.

Mr Nakamura works as a cleaner part-time, and teaches salsa dancing to all comers.

How Mr Nakamura came to Australia in the first place was motivated partly by the need to learn English to pursue his career, and the drive to do something different.

“If people wanted to be a senior manager, they had to speak English – I couldn’t speak English, almost at all,” he said.

At home: Takanobu Nakamura is a salsa dancer and teacher who has made Tasmania home. Picture: Phillip Biggs

At home: Takanobu Nakamura is a salsa dancer and teacher who has made Tasmania home. Picture: Phillip Biggs

His friends and family were perplexed by his decision: leaving a solid, secure job with good prospects in a high-profile company to move to Australia? Why not America, or England?

“I was working at the biggest company in Japan, everyone said, ‘oh, you have a good job, why are you leaving the job?’” Mr Nakamura said.

But simply ticking the boxes and working his way up the ladder wasn’t satisfying: he wanted to do something different, and make something new.

Aware that his career would only increase in competitiveness as younger IT professionals rose through the ranks, Mr Nakamura decided to farewell his life in Japan and move to Australia.

It was while studying an MBA at Monash University in Melbourne that Mr Nakamura chanced upon salsa dancing almost by accident – a friend suggested they go to a salsa dancing party.

“I said what’s the salsa?” Mr Nakamura said.

A few lessons were booked in beforehand. His friend discovered that he did not like salsa: Mr Nakamura discovered he loved it.

“I started salsa dancing, took lessons once a week, once a week became twice a week, three times a week.

“I wasn’t confident, I went and did social dancing, still nervous, and so I needed confidence.

“So I joined a performance team. After that, I was confident.”

Performance: Takanobu Nakamura (left) in a team performance in Adelaide. Picture: Bob McGahan Photography

Performance: Takanobu Nakamura (left) in a team performance in Adelaide. Picture: Bob McGahan Photography

Still dancing, having completed his Masters and searching for work, Mr Nakamura did not want to return to Japan just yet.

“My original plan was to return to Japan and look for a job, but I didn’t feel that I had achieved anything.”

Struggling to find work in Melbourne that would suit, Mr Nakamura took up an offer to move to Tasmania for a permanent job at a fish farm that would help him secure his permanent residency visa. 

In 2015, he moved to St Helens and continued teaching salsa dancing, before deciding to try Launceston for the chance at more stable work.

Social: Dancing at Harvest Market with other salsa performers and visitors. Picture: Supplied/Harvest Market Launceston

Social: Dancing at Harvest Market with other salsa performers and visitors. Picture: Supplied/Harvest Market Launceston

In Launceston he began Rueda in the Square, in October 2016 a free weekly Sunday dance event for all comers, teaching the beginning steps of salsa to passers-by and regular dancers.

Out in Princes Square, or at the rotunda in City Park when the weather turned bad, Mr Nakamura said he could share what made him happy, and perhaps create a legacy of Cuban Salsa in Launceston.

While his work situation remains tenuous, Mr Nakamura said he is focused on positivity and enjoying the connections made through dance – through his free lessons, and teaching for his profession.

“I started Rueda to give something to the community,” he said.

“If I can bring more local people the Rueda, I feel like that achievement, okay … I’m doing something good.”

“It’s not the monetary value.”

But while Mr Nakamura lives in Launceston, and loves the community and the dance, he said needing work kept him uncertain if he could stay permanently.

“I would love to call Launceston home.”