For Kenichi Ebina, the passion for dance began with one simple move: the running man.
Born in Japan, Ebina came to the United States at a young age. One night he wandered into a freshman dance on the college campus where he learned English.
“Everyone made a big circle on the floor, people started dancing in the circle and I was watching and I was shy,” Ebina said. “But there was a moment where it was like ‘OK, you’re next.”
So Ebina did "The Running Man," the only move in his arsenal, taught to him by a high school friend in Japan. When people cheered, the energy he felt in that moment propelled him into a lifelong passion. He didn’t realize until later that the audience was actually laughing at his outdated move, but fast forward to 2013 and Ebina, now 39, wins $1 million on "America’s Got Talent."
What Ebina does on stage is hard to define. His act is equal parts break dancing, technoand physical prowess, developed over years of exposure to the New York club scene and MTV.
“They call it dance, but I don’t call it dance,” Ebina said. “It’s a versatile performance, a multi-media performance.”
Although he never had formal training, Ebina took every chance he could to perform.
“I love the feedback and the energy during a performance. When people get loud and excited, the energy I can feel from the audience gives me a reason to live,” Ebina said. “Before that I didn’t have ambition or a dream. That feeling gave me a sense of identity, like ‘OK, I’m Kenichi, I’m alive. I’m here.’ ”
Despite the money, recognition and stream of talk show appearances, Ebina maintains a humbleness that even winning the largest talent contest in the country couldn’t tarnish.
“As a performer, I’m not that good. So many other performers are better than me,” Ebina said. “[When I won] I had mixed feelings. Of course I was happy, but I thought my final performance was not that good, so I was thinking ‘why?'”
America clearly disagreed, and notoriety from AGT has opened doors for Ebina, bringing to life ideas that he didn’t think possible.
“I’m coming up with ideas that I didn’t have before. 'America’s Got Talent' helped me develop concepts into my performance that I couldn’t before,” Ebina said. “It raised that bar so I have to catch up to the standard and update my one-man show to meet the expectations of the fans.”
A challenge that he is more than willing to take on, and take on the road. Ebina’s plans for the future include taking his performance to Las Vegas and New York. Eventually, he would like to work behind the scenes, producing shows for other performers.
Currently, Ebina is on the America's Got Talent Live! tour, coming to Jacksonville on Oct. 4 at the Times-Union Center for the Performing Arts.
“Right now it’s kind of overwhelming …,” Ebina said “[The tour] is exciting and fun, but at the same time, I miss my family.”
When I asked what he planned to do with the $1 million, he said: “That’s more of a question for my wife than me.”