Ondo Practice for Nisei Week Begins Monday at JACCC Plaza


Dance instructors learn the dance that will be performed during this year's Nisei Week Grand Parade on Aug. 14. (TAKASHI ISHIHARA/Rafu Shimpo)

To help the public prepare for this year’s Nisei Week Japanese Festival Grand Parade (Aug. 14) and onto street dancing and closing ceremony (Aug. 21), free ondo classes are being held each Monday and Thursday starting July 18 from 7 to 9 p.m. on the Japanese American Cultural and Community Center Plaza, 244 S. San Pedro St. in Little Tokyo.

The practices will be split into two sessions: the first hour for parade dances and the second hour for the ondo dances. Bring two sensu (folding fan), two bachi (16-inch-long, one-inch-diameter wood dowel) and uchiwa (round fan) to practices. (See www.NiseiWeek.org for practice dates and link to dance practice videos on YouTube.)

Bando Mitsuhiro

The 2011 Nisei Week choreographer is Madame Madame Bando Mitsuhiro, who has choreographed two dances for the parade, “Ai wa Katsu” by Kan and “Omikoshi.” The seven onto dances are “Kyushu Tanko Bushi,” “Kagoshima Ohara Bushi,” “Aizu Bandai San,” “Ichi Tatsu Ichi,” “Shiawase Samba,” “Sho Tokyo Ondo,” and “Asadoya Yunta.” This year, Minyo Station will perform live dance music.

Bando Mitsuhiro Kai is under the direction of head instructor Madame Bando Mitsuhiro, who has been teaching Japanese classical dance for 62 years, including 42 years in the U.S.

Bando sensei, who turned 83 this year, was born in Yawatahama City in Ehime Prefecture, in southern Japan on the island of Shikoku. She began Japanese classical dance lessons at the age of 4, and during the course of her training, studied under kabuki actor and Bando School Headmaster Bando Mitsugoro VIII, who has been recognized as a National Living Treasure of Japan.

After teaching Japanese dance in Japan for 20 years, she visited Los Angeles to see her aunt. On an outing to a kenjin kai (prefectural association) picnic, she saw a Japanese dance program performed on stage. That experience and the encouragement of her relatives led to her permanent move to the U.S. in 1969, with the goal of teaching true Japanese classical dance. She has taught Japanese dance to students in studios in Los Angeles, San Diego, Vista, Santa Monica, Huntington Beach, Monterey and Tacoma, Wash., and has awarded her top students with 28 natori (rank with professional stage name) and 11 shihan (teaching certificate) titles in the U.S. She has participated in the Nisei Week Japanese Festival from the 1970s and has choreographed parade dances on many occasions, most recently in 2005.

Her students have presented Japanese dance programs in Canada and in cities across the U.S., including popular local venues such as Disneyland, Knott’s Berry Farm, Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach, Japan Expo, the Japan America Theatre, and Asian cultural festivals. For her lifetime contributions to the Japanese American community, she was named 2006 Woman of the Year by the Downtown Los Angeles Chapter of the Japanese American Citizens League and the Japanese Women’s Society, and was selected as one of the 2008 Los Angeles Nisei Week Pioneers. She was also presented with the prestigious Chokumon Shihan title by the grand master of the Bando School in Tokyo, renowned kabuki and television actor Bando Mitsugoro X.

Today, her students range in age from 3-year-old preschool children to seniors well into their 80s. Their language abilities vary as well, from fluent Japanese native speakers to American born non-Japanese-speaking students. But somehow, through the language of dance, she is able to communicate and promote this cultural art.

For more information, contact Miles Hamada, onto and closing ceremony chairman, at [email protected] or (323) 620-0662.