Rafu Staff Intern
My resume in dancing is not extensive. I have about two years of experience, the result of a combination ballet-tap-jazz class when I was four and five. After that, I became involved in other activities that didn’t really involve rhythm or graceful movements, like piano, basketball, and Girl Scouts.
However, last Sunday, I was able to add another facet to my resume: Nisei Week Grand Parade ondo dancer.
This was a completely new experience for me. In addition to being a novice at Japanese dancing, I had never been in a parade, never worn a yukata, and had not gone to the Nisei Week parade in years. But when my aunt told me that her friend’s dance group, Hanayagi Rokufukumi, needed a few more dancers, my cousin Jennifer and I decided to give it a try.
We started to attend practices towards the end of July, not knowing much about what we had just gotten ourselves into. For starters, we didn’t have the right materials: Jenn had neither the uchiwa (round fan) nor the tenugui (towel) and I had a borrowed fan and had decided to use a bright blue hand towel as a makeshift tenugui.
I realized my incompetence when I pulled out my colorful towel before practice while talking to a fellow participant. After the woman saw my towel, she advised me to put it back in my bag, saying that the teachers would provide towels for us.
When the actual dancing began, the graceful movements and small steps seemed foreign to me. My cousin and I tried to mimic the leaders of the group, but the dancing was much harder than it looked. In my attempts to learn the moves while remembering the counts, my dancing looked more stiff and robotic than rhythmic.
We attended one more practice before we left for vacation, trading the smoggy skyline of Los Angeles for the sunny beaches of Hawaii, and when we returned, we attended one final rehearsal, resulting in a grand total of three official practices to our credit.
On parade day, my afternoon was spent physically preparing for the parade by getting my hair and makeup done, in addition to being dressed in a yukata. For a girl who never wears makeup and generally leaves the house wearing a t-shirt and jeans, this was another new experience. But after I was dressed, I felt a much greater affinity towards the Japanese women of the past who wore the tightly tied obi on a daily basis.
Before I knew it, I was lined up on Second Street ready to go in a blue and white yukata with white powdered arms and legs and so much makeup on my face that I could barely recognize myself. As it turned out, neither could Rafu Photo Editor Mario Reyes, or my own mother.
While dancing along the parade route, I was amazed to see hundreds of people lined up on the curbs and sidewalks, watching us dance and applauding our efforts. Included in that group were my parents and aunts, cheering for my cousin and I as we made our way down the street, while taking numerous photos of us.
But the level of support from the community, as well as the high turnout really surprised me, as I thought that Nisei Week festivities were becoming smaller and smaller. It showed me that the community continues to support Little Tokyo and that with this level of support, JA culture and heritage will be able to survive and flourish.
My moment of fame in the Nisei Week parade has added to what has become a summer of learning about my culture. Through this experience, I was able to connect with my heritage in a new way by seeing the traditions, hard work, and creativity that goes into ondo dancing. By celebrating activities like odori, we can help to preserve our traditions for future generations. And after this, I can proudly say that I survived dancing in the Nisei Week parade.
Samantha Masunaga is Rafu staff intern and an assistant news editor of the Daily Bruin. She can be reached at [email protected] Ochazuke is a staff written column. The opinions expressed in this column are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.