Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Dancing Fools

As far as I am concerned, Awa Odori is the biggest thing that ever happens in Japan. Tokushima hosts Awa Odori every August. Awa Odori is said to be the second biggest dance festival in the world, behind the Brazilian Carnival.

The people of Tokushima prepare for Awa Odori all year. I went to an Awa Odori dance practice in February. And tonight is the first night since early June that I have sat in my small apartment, with the windows open, and not listened to the constant beat of the familiar Awa Odori taiko drum.

In it's most simplistic form, the Awa Odori dance involves lifting ones arms over ones head while rhythmically tapping feet leads ones body forward. These simple steps can be complicated into choreographed dances of flipping fans and lanterns, jumping in and out of spectators views, and balancing acts of wearing traditional Japanese shoes. And of course, the dancers find ways to incorporate bottles of sake and manage to maintain their grace as sake is being poured into one another's mouths.

During Awa Odori, dancers dance in groups or "rens." Each ren has it's own style and name. Musicians follow close behind their ren playing shamisens, taikos, and fues.

I danced with the Arasowaren in Tokushima city, with a bunch of other foreigners. I danced with the same ren last year when I first arrived.

But, due to larger numbers, this year we danced in rows of six as opposed to last years rows of five. And taking advantage of the free beer was not of such high concern.

After one night of being a spectator and one night of being a participate, in Tokushima city, I headed back to Ikeda for the smaller and perhaps more raw, mountain version of the festival.

On the last night of Awa Odori I had more people crammed into my small apartment than have ever been here before. An old Japanese lady made Leah and I put on yukatta's.

And I balanced a beer and my camera while I waved to my students whom I would like to take dance lessons from.

The people of Ikeda have stopped their daily practices of the Awa Odori traditions, for the summer. But I know I will find myself pulled into some impromptu Awa Dance situation dozens of times before I am able to leave the country side of Japan.

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