Nisei Week to Hold Free Ondo Dance Lessons

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Kikusue Azuma leads dancers in the 2008 Nisei Week Grand Parade. (MARIO G. REYES/Rafu Shimpo)

To help the public prepare for this year’s Nisei Week Japanese Festival Grand Parade (Aug. 12) and onto street dancing and closing ceremony (Aug. 19),
free ondo classes are being held each Monday and Thursday starting July 16 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 focusing on the ondo dances.

Bring one sensu (folding fan) to practices. (See www.NiseiWeek.org for practice dates and link to dance practice videos on YouTube.)

Sumako Azuma

The 2012 Nisei Week choreographers are Azuma Sumako II and Azuma Kikusue, who have choreographed two dances for the parade, “Kawachi Otoko Bushi” by Mitsuko Nakamura and “One World” by Hiroshima.

The eight onto dances include “Kyushu Tanko Bushi,” “Kagoshima Ohara Bushi,” “Aizu Bandai San,” “One Plus One,” “Shiawase Samba,” “Sho Tokyo Ondo,” and “Asadoya Yunta.” Because this is an Olympic year, also included will be “Tokyo Gorin Ondo,” which celebrated the 1964 Olympics in Tokyo. Additionally, Minyo Station will perform live dance music.

Azuma Ryu style is under the direction of Sumako Azuma and Kikusue Azuma. Together they have more than 45 years of teaching experience, and they seek to preserve and promote Japanese culture in the U.S. through the art of Nihon Buyo.

Sumako Azuma sensei was born in Tokyo but was raised in Southern California. Her mother, Sumako Azuma I, a dance instructor, and grandmother, Setsu Okawa, a tea ceremony instructor, surrounded her with Japanese language and culture as a child. She showed tremendous talent in dance at a young age, and studied in Japan for many summers under the soke (Grand Master) of the Azuma school, Tokuho Azuma. At age 14, she was awarded the natori (master) degree as a direct student of Mme. Tokuho Azuma.

After the untimely death of her mother a few years later, young Sumako returned to Japan for one year and was a live-in student under the soke. She received her shihan (instructor’s) degree at 19, and honored her mother’s legacy by returning to Southern California and continuing her mother’s dance school. She also earned the senmombu (specialty instructor’s) degree, and was honored as a “Woman of the Year” by the Downtown chapter of the JACL. Sumako currently balances teaching with her full-time job as a corporate insurance broker for Marsh & McLennan Companies.

Kikusue Azuma sensei was born and raised in Los Angeles. She earned degrees in math and computer science and worked for 11 years as a software engineer, but eventually realized that teaching was her passion. She studied Nihon buyo for many years under Sumako Azuma sensei, earning her natori and shihan degrees from the Azuma School headquarters in Tokyo. She became the first foreign-born-and-raised shihan of the Azuma School. After receiving her shihan degree, she started teaching dance classes in Ventura County. She currently has more than 50 students from Ventura, Los Angeles and Orange counties. She is married, has three children and is also a math teacher and tutor.

Sumako sensei, Kikusue sensei and their students have performed both at professional venues — the Greek Theater, Hollywood Bowl and Universal Amphitheater —and at benefit performances for community and nonprofit organizations. Although they still teach the Japanese dance classics, they have broken new ground artistically, reaching out to the Sansei, Yonsei and Gosei by blending traditional Japanese dance techniques with modern influences. Through their efforts, the U.S. Azuma School continues to grow and perpetuate Japanese culture through the art of Japanese dance.

For more information, contact Miles Hamada, onto and closing ceremony chairman, at mileshamada@yahoo.com or (323) 620-0662.

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1 Comment

  1. As the owner of the oldest building in Little Tokyo and probably the oldest family still in Little Tokyo (1882 to present) it is an honor for me to watch the “ONDO Dancing”….It is really the highlight of my year. I have watched over the past 20 years as the younger dancers have taken over from the older ones and may I say “They are Just as Good as THE GRAND MASTERS”.

    Great Job Girls

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