Practice Begins for Nisei Week Ondo

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Madame Sanjo Kangiku leads dancers in the first dance practice on Tuesday night in Little Tokyo for the Nisei Week public ondo. Practices will be held every Tuesday and Friday night until Aug. 7. (Photos by MARIO G. REYES/Rafu Shimpo)

Madame Sanjo Kangiku leads dancers in the first dance practice on Tuesday night in Little Tokyo for the Nisei Week public ondo. Practices will be held every Tuesday and Friday night until Aug. 7. (Photos by MARIO G. REYES/Rafu Shimpo)

By GWEN MURANAKA
RAFU ENGLISH EDITOR IN CHIEF

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On a balmy summer night, more than 100 dancers gathered Tuesday in the plaza of the Japanese American Cultural and Community Center to learn this year’s ondo dances for the Nisei Week Grand Parade.

Madame Sanjo Kangiku and her students, dressed in emerald green kimono, led the dancers in the steps they will perform on the streets of Little Tokyo on Aug. 16. Sanjo (June Ito) has a dance studio in Monterey Park and is making her debut as the Nisei Week choreographer. She began studying Japanese classical dance at the age of 4 under the instruction of Kanya Sanjo V, and also studied nagauta music and nihon buyo. In 1976, she appeared in David Bowie’s film, “The Man Who Fell to Earth.”

“I made the dance very basic but also I made it to advance because it’s a parade. I made it so people could enjoy it,” Madame Sanjo said.

The public ondo will perform two dances, “Yosakoi Matsuri” and “Kiyoshi no Zundoko Bushi,” a hit made popular in 2002 by young Enka star Kiyoshi Hikawa.

“It was a big hit in Japan and everyone kind of knows the tune. I want the people to clap along and feel the festivities,” the dance choreographer explained.

At first, the dancers, some in yukata, others dressed in T-shirts, lined up behind Madame Sanjo’s students as she explained the steps. But soon they formed a large circle and gracefully moved counterclockwise around JACCC plaza.

Masako Rodriguez raises her uchiwa fan during Tuesday’s practice.

Masako Rodriguez raises her uchiwa fan during Tuesday’s practice.

Masako Rodriguez of Arleta was among the dancers who were returning for the public ondo. Originally from Okayama, she teaches Japanese dance at the San Fernando Japanese American Community Center. She said she has joined the Nisei Week dancers for nearly 20 years and that dance keeps her young and healthy.

“I’ve been dancing since I was five, 70 years. Staying healthy, happy, get to know a lot of people and learn another people’s culture,” said Rodriguez.

Asako Tomita, left, and David Osako were among the dancers at the practice at JACCC Plaza.

Asako Tomita, left, and David Osako were among the dancers at the practice at JACCC Plaza.

David Osako said this would be his first time dancing in the Nisei Week parade, after rediscovering obon dancing last year.

“This is fantastic, I’m half Japanese and last year I rediscovered bon odori and went crazy and went to eight of them,” said Osako. “I was listening to old music that my parents and grandparents used to listen to and it made me want to make those shapes I used to see.”

Practices will continue every Tuesday and Friday night from 7 to 8:30 p.m. until Aug. 7. Please bring tenugui (towel) and uchiwa (round fan).

“I want to instill some energy and have people get enthused about it. Whether they dance or are sitting one the curb and clapping along. I like that festive kind of feeling,” Madame Sanjo said.

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