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Sunday, October 6, 2013

60 Years and Counting

Hey everyone. I want to tell you about a very important part of my life. Dance. Yes, dance. I started in dance as a kid in the fourth grade. I took tap. I also took jazz for a short while. It was fun and I loved doing it each week. Being on stage is something that always gives me thrills and I am a great big ham so it suited me. Then something happened, I moved. In the second year of high school my family moved to East Tennessee and I discovered that there wasn't a school of dance around that took anyone over the age of 13. I was crushed. I loved to dance and thought about doing it professionally, or at least semi-pro in local theaters.

After a couple years I had given up and moved on. Then I met a woman, Nanae Ramey. She was an little Okinawan woman who was at a meeting for the local international festival being set up. I asked her what she did and she said she taught dance. I asked her if I was too old and she just smiled. I started taking classes from her and learned a whole new style of dance and music, the traditional dance and music of Okinawa Japan.

From there I began a journey that changed my life. I wrote before about my sensei and that she was taken by lung cancer last year. Before that, the experience was unique, beautiful, exciting and nothing like I ever expected. 

Yotsu Dake Dancer
Early on I discovered that I was part of a school of many many students from all over the world. My sensei was in charge of the branch that hailed mostly from the Atlanta, Georgia, area. The students down there counted me as lucky since the sensei (teacher) of the school was so near me and they had to wait for her to make the long trip to teach. Not long after joining we began training for shows. To help fund the school we would travel all over the south east U.S. to perform at international festivals and Japanese festivals. Most of the trips were four or more hours away from where I lived so I spent a lot of time in the car riding from place to place. Since the majority of the time was just Nanae-sensei and myself, I was the one who carried things, set up places, even spoke to the crowds since I did not have a Japanese accent. I loved it. 

What I loved more than the stage was my time with my sensei. She was a wise and kind person who enjoyed teaching about everything. Most of the traveling was done early in the morning or late into the night. I watched sunrises and sunsets on the same days with her in the car. To help introduce me to the Okinawan society Nanae-sensei would play traditional music and tell me the stories behind it. 

My fondest memories were those long dark nights on the roads heading home. I was never able to sleep in a car as a child or young adult, but I soon discovered I could rest easily on those rides. She would play soft, soothing Japanese music while I laid back in the seat and looked out the window at the stars and the moon. I fell asleep and it was calm sleep. I miss those nights and I wish I had had more of them. 

I was happy to be dancing again, but now I was more than just a student dancer in a school, I was an adopted member of a society of kind, happy people. They wanted to teach me about their culture and I wanted to learn. 

After a few years I was happy to attend a big show in Los Angeles. This was no ordinary show or festival. This was the the anniversary of our  grand master, Nosho Miyagi. At that time she celebrated 50 years in the school. It was a big deal. I was still a rather new student, especially compared to some that came from Okinawa for the event. I was only supposed to perform in one dance, but after the master watched me dancing along with the others during a special dance she asked me if I would be interested in being part of that one as well. You may not understand the honor that was, but it was incredible. I was a new student who had never performed for the master before those days of practice and now she was asking me to take part in one of the most beloved dances of the Okinawa society. Not only that, I was in the center of that dance. I was nervous, but so incredibly honored I could not turn it down. The show went off without a hitch and it turned out to be one of the best experiences in my life. 
Fast forward ten years and it has come again. Yes, Master Nosho Miyagi is celebrating another big anniversary, her 60th year of being in the school. A lot has changed for me. I am not the boy I was back then, I have learned and performed all over the country. My sensei taught me every week, sometimes for many days a week. I leave next week to be part of this show and hope the experience is even better this time. 

An unplanned situation has crept up, one that will only serve to remind me of what is lost. I will travel from my home to L.A. alone. My group is still coming, but the flights got all screwed up. My thoughts will be on the show and the trip, but I will also note that this trip is taken alone. This show will be with one less sensei to dance on stage in honor of the grand master. I will dance my best in her memory and I hope that anyone reading this that lives in the Los Angeles area can mark the date and make it out to celebrate with me. As a performer there is no better way of honoring my work that sitting in the audience.   

A final note: The song that I most treasured during our long night trips home was Densa Bushi. You can go online to learn what it is about, but I don't think about the meaning, just the music. For some reason this song was and is a close one to my heart. 

2 comments:

  1. Oh Dan that is fantastic. This information helped me to know you a little bit better and I wish I could watch you dance. You are a man of many talents and am glad you are my friend. Best of luck on your trip and have a wonderful experience while you are there.

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  2. I too wish I could watch you dance. I hope you have a wonderful trip. You will do your sensei proud.

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