Visit to Japan

by Rima Dael, Executive Director

Happy New Year and a warm hello from all of us in the CDSS office. Thank you for your passionate support in helping us end the 2012 fiscal year brilliantly! We are busy placing finishing touches on our budget for 2013. This Friday I will be traveling to attend the Ralph Page Memorial Dance Weekend in NH and then off to Sacramento, CA at the end of the month for our traveling Executive Committee meeting.

Speaking of travels, I just returned to the US — I had been home to the Philippines, taking my daughter on her first international trip to meet family she had never met – and, on the trip back to the US, I had the great fortune to meet members of the international folk dance community in Tokyo, Japan.

Delightful, informative and fun best describe my lunch and meeting there on January 4 with six local Scottish and English country dancers. I must first thank Jenny Beer, CDSS Vice President, for her help and translation assistance in reaching out to colleagues of hers and CDSS Japanese members. My heartfelt thanks go to Obata Masaaki for spearheading the planning and organization of our meeting in Tokyo.

We spent a few hours laughing, sharing stories and getting to know each other and the needs of the dance communities in Japan. I met with Kondo Sachiko, Sato Hitomi, Wakamatsu Yo-ko, Miki Mari, Idokawa Akiko and Obata Masaaki. (Kondo-san is the chair of the Tokyo Folk Dance Federation, and Sato-san is the vice chair of the Japan Folk Dance Federation; they attended the meeting as individuals, not in official capacity.) Of the group, Obata-san was the only male and the only member of CDSS, but at the end of the meeting it was decided those who were there would also join CDSS. They discussed how they could better use CDSS resources for their individual dances and I shared how we could further help them.

The English country dances are held usually once or twice a month and they have two balls a year. There is a very small international folk family dance that is starting where some English country dances are done. CDSS is also aware of contra dances in Japan, primarily led by the expatriate communities. Both Obata-san and Kondo-san have been to camp at Pinewoods. CDSS members and past board members Bruce Hamilton and Gene Murrow have been to Japan to teach, as have Jenny Beer and Sharon Green, and we know other members have gone to teach or dance in other capacities as well. Our meeting was a small turn out due to coinciding with the New Year holiday celebrations.

It was interesting to discover that our friends in Japan share very many of the same concerns we do here in the US. They are worried about:

  • copyright laws
  • access to dance resources and the need for Japanese translations
  • difficulties of having dances in rural or suburban areas vs. those in urban areas
  • how to better encourage beginners
  • how to engage the next generation
  • how to have more men at dances
  • how to increase arts or folk dance in schools (schools are only mandated to have 3 hours of folk dance a year as part of the PE curriculum in primary and secondary schools)
  • how popular culture influences younger people and how can we reach them to engage them into “our type of dancing,” or, for many people, is this a type of dancing that interests one as they get older, like symphony music
  • that they don’t get together as a group and discuss dance organizer issues as often as they should

I think it was a surprise and also reassuring to the Japanese dancers that many groups in the US have the same issues they face. The group is eager to think about how they might participate in the 2015 CDSS Centennial celebrations at camp, and probably consult on various other topics.

The most important take-away for me to share is that for much of the meeting, and what seemed to be the most important part of the meeting, the group had discourse with each other. As I have discovered in my meetings in different communities, CDSS provides the opportunity and catalyst for a meeting within a community to discuss issues of importance to them and to engage each other in how best to use the resources of CDSS to assist their community. Several times throughout the Tokyo meeting they would apologize since they spoke with each other in Japanese about a topic or issue and did not include me fully. I told them to not worry because part of our organizational mission is to connect individuals and communities to each other on their terms for their needs. In the role of connector and convener, we bring people together — at regional conferences, online and in person — to cross-pollinate good ideas and resources and to create stronger communities and well-organized activities at the local, regional and, yes, international level. We also discussed scholarship opportunities to bring Japanese members to CDSS or other camps in the US.

It was wonderful to leave the meeting with six new friends. So to my new friends in Japan, “Arigatou Gozaimasu…thank you so very much.” We look forward to a greater partnership with your dance communities.

To all our members and friends: May your New Year be a prosperous one filled with the joy of dance, music and song!