How I'm Skirting the Rules

I’m Showing Women Why Not Fitting In Can Be Your Biggest Strength

As a principle dancer in Spain and New York, Yuko Sumida Jackson could have let critical feedback from a teacher halt her career at 24. Instead, she auditioned for Michael Jackson and got the lead role. Now, she's coaching other women to listen to their body's inner wisdom.

At the age of 24, Yuko Jackson, a native of Kumamoto, Japan, was pursuing a dance career in Spain, the UK and New York. Though technically skilled in every way, her teachers told her moves stood out as different from the other dancers, and that she should try another route, suggesting a move to L.A. Initially distraught, and also reeling from a knee injury, something told her to keep going and in just a few months of touching down, she got word of a casting call for an upcoming promo spot for Michael Jackson’s Black Or White video, which led to an audition on Michael’s first world tour as its first principle female dancer. Despite heavy competition, something told her to go for it, that somehow Michael would see her unique dance style as a positive. Once she got in front of the cameras at the audition, which Michael would later see, she knew it was hers with a confidence she didn’t know she had. From there, Yuko went on to become Jackson’s principle dancer on tour, TV and video for six years, and then went on to create her own form of injury prevention and fitness methodology called Awakening. She’s also invented and produced her own brand of revolutionary supportive footwear for dancers, and has become one of Japan’s cultural fashion and beauty icons. Here, she tells us how expressing her individuality—despite working and living in a culture that doesn’t always make it easy for women to do so—has been has been the key to her greatest successes.

I’m Skirting the Rules by teaching Awakening, and spreading my message of encouraging women to discover and define ourselves—rather than let the world define us. In Japan, if you don’t think the same as everyone else, there is the idea that you have something wrong with you. You’re taught to see the world in this way that is based off of what our society says is common sense or the status quo. But to me, so-called “common sense” changes across generations and it changes due to circumstances. Approaching things the traditionally accepted way doesn’t always work. I try to open the mind and the body in order to allow people to express themselves in whatever way feels best for them. To do that in Japan, you have to have confidence because a lot of people won’t like it. So I try to encourage women to feel that 1) it’s okay to be you and 2) it’s okay to show people that you’re you.

For example, when we exercise, clients often are quick to judge themselves instead of simply accepting how they are feeling during a movement or posture. I try to guide students to be more aware of all their feelings that arise from postures in the moment, big and small. We help them tune into their core, using all different kinds of balancing, feeling into gravity’s pull. When you are aware of gravity and learn to use it to raise up, it can make you feel more balanced in many ways, and more aware of your own power within.

A recent time when I found the possible (a creative solution) within the impossible (against incredible odds) is when, about four years ago, my doctors in Japan told me I had to get a hip replacement because I was having severe pain and I was in the last stage of a hip joint condition. My thigh bone shape wasn’t normal and I only discovered this as I got older because of the pain. I was ready to have an operation in the States because I couldn’t find doctors in Japan who had as much experience treating this condition. I decided to see a doctor in Chicago, but a couple of days before I was supposed to get on my flight, my TV in my hotel room was on and I kept seeing commercial advertisements on TV about hip replacement lawyers. I took it as a sign. My intuition kicked in and said I should take my experience and pain as my challenge. So I cancelled my operation and I started focusing on this problem in my exercise using different methods. I’m grateful I listened to my inner knowing because now I’ve fully recovered from my hip problems and have a new methodology with which to help others.

My secret talent is I love to create things. Fashion has always been my interest. Something to put on. I love to create something that doesn’t exist and can help. I actually designed my own brand of sandals to keep the right posture. As soon as you put them on, your posture adjusts toward proper alignment.

My biggest rebel move (or my biggest risk) was believing in intuition. When you take any action based on your intuition, risk always follows, because there’s no guarantee or long-term answer. But still, I’ve always done that. It’s the only way for me to live!

A woman is most powerful when she shines her own light from within. If we’re not afraid to let that light come out through our body, expression, or existence then I think that’s the most powerful state we can be in.

A time I wish I’d listened to my inner knowing more was when I met someone and started a relationship, and my family members didn’t like the person and didn’t think he was a suitable match. Love can make you blind and I just couldn’t see that they were right. I wish I had been more open to considering the viewpoints of those who sincerely loved me in my life. We have this love to give and when you are young, you may not realize yet that not every man is deserving of it.

The female disruptor who most inspires me and why is my mother, of course, and Mother Theresa. People who have given love to others are really mentors to me.

My advice to my younger self would be it’s okay to be free and experience what you choose to experience. Don’t be scared and just go for it. Live fully without fear. Whatever happens, just be in the moment. I believe that our ancestors existed and their experiences left us something in our system to be the person who we are.

My favorite ‘skirt’ is to be in the flow of life. I give a lot of attention to my intuition—it has great wisdom without having to try to think. It’s like a present. You open it, you don’t know what’s in it, and what it can lead you to.