Okinawan Dancer Receives NEA Fellowship

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Lynne Yoshiko Nakasone performing Okinawan dance. (Photo courtesy of Nakasone Dance Academy)

WASHINGTON — Lynne Yoshiko Nakasone of Honolulu has been named a 2012 NEA (National Endowment for the Arts) Heritage Fellow, becoming the first recipient to be honored for Okinawan dancing.

The nine fellowships, announced June 19, recognize individuals for their artistic excellence and efforts to conserve America’s culture for future generations. The nation’s highest honor in the folk and traditional arts includes a one-time award of $25,000.

Throughout their careers, these artists have honored the history of their art forms while also incorporating their own creativity and innovation to carry the art forms into the 21st century. In addition, for the first time ever, the NEA is recognizing a director of a state arts agency for his work in promoting the importance of the folk and traditional arts in defining and giving life to a community.

The other recipients are:

Mike Auldridge, dobro player, Silver Spring, Md.

Paul and Darlene Bergren, dog sled and snowshoe designers and builders, Minot, N.D.

Harold A. Burnham, master shipwright, Essex, Mass.

Albert B. Head, traditional arts advocate, Montgomery, Ala.

Leonardo “Flaco” Jiménez, Tejano accordion player, San Antonio, Texas

Molly Neptune Parker, Passamaquoddy basketmaker, Princeton, Maine

The Paschall Brothers, Tidewater Gospel Quartet, Chesapeake, Va.

Andy Statman, klezmer clarinetist, mandolinist and composer, Brooklyn, N.Y.

Past recipients include Seiichi Tanaka, founder and leader of San Francisco Taiko Dojo.

“At the NEA, we are working to invest in, support, and celebrate all the arts in this country,” said NEA Chairman Rocco Landesman. “From the tidewater gospel traditions of the Paschall Brothers to Mike Auldridge’s innovative approach to the dobro and Andy Statman’s work in reviving klezmer music, these nine NEA National Heritage Fellows are not only national leaders in their art forms, but also leaders of their communities in which they live, work, and create.”

The 2012 awardees will come to Washington, D.C., in October for a series of events, including an awards presentation and banquet at the Library of Congress, as well as a concert scheduled for Thursday, Oct. 4, at 7:30 p.m. at the George Washington University Lisner Auditorium. Free tickets will be available this fall. Check the NEA website (www.arts.gov) for more details.

The 2012 honorees join the ranks of previous Heritage Fellows, including bluesman B.B. King, Cajun fiddler and composer Michael Doucet, cowboy poet Wally McRae, gospel and soul singer Mavis Staples, and bluegrass musician Bill Monroe. Since 1982, 368 fellowships have been awarded. Recipients are nominated by the public, often by members of their own communities, and then judged by a panel of experts in folk and traditional arts on the basis of their continuing artistic accomplishments and contributions as practitioners and teachers. This year, the panel reviewed 200 nominations.

The NEA is currently accepting nominations for 2013. The deadline is Oct. 1. Visit the website to submit a nomination.

Lynne Yoshiko Nakasone

For 73 years, Nakasone has dedicated her life to Okinawan dance through teaching, performing, and choreographing original dances to enrich the art form’s repertoire.

Lynne Yoshiko Nakasone (Photo courtesy of Nakasone Dance Academy)

Born in Naha, Okinawa, in 1933, into a family that appreciated classical Okinawan music and dance, she began studying dance under Master Ryosho Kin, beginning at the age of 6 and continuing until 1955.

Okinawan classical dance, also referred to as Ryukyu dance, dates back to the Ryukyu Kingdom and was developed to entertain Chinese envoys and Japanese clans. Featuring slow dance movements and colorful clothing called Ryukyu bingata, Okinawan dancers use movements of the eyes and hips to tell stories while the upper part of the body remains stationary.

In 1955, Nakasone was honored as one of the 10 best dancers in an Okinawa dance competition and moved to Hawaii with her husband. In Honolulu, she began teaching Okinawan dance and founded the Hooge Ryu Hana Nuuzi no Kai Nakasone Dance Academy, where she teaches both traditional Okinawan dance and the modern, upbeat folk style, or minyo, dance.

The Nakasone Dance Academy has performed throughout Hawaii and on the West Coast and has been a traditional part of the Hawaii United Okinawan Association’s annual festival. In 2006, the Nakasone Dance Academy was recognized by the State of Hawaii for presenting 1,000 goodwill performances, including such venues as a special gathering in honor of Japan’s Prince and Princess Takamatsu in 1968, the Japan National Dance Theatre in 1982, and the Centennial Celebration of Japanese Immigration to Hawaii in 1985.

In addition to performing and teaching, Nakasone also choreographs new dances for her students, incorporating elements of traditional Okinawan dance into contemporary pieces.

In her nomination support letter, Claudia Higa, a student who studied with Nakasone for more than 50 years, writes, “Her nurturing nature and guidance brings multigenerational students together to learn about the Okinawan history, language, and values through dance. [She] is truly a master in the performance and instruction of Okinawan dance.”

Among Nakasone’s many awards are an Individual Artist Fellowship from the State of Hawaii, a Legacy Award from the Hawaii United Okinawa Association, a certificate of commendation from the government of Japan, and a Living Treasure Award from the Hawaii Buddhist Association. May 20, 2006 was officially proclaimed “Lynn Yoshiko Nakasone Day” by the mayor of Honolulu.

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