By Angie Hawn
This month I bring you Maria Reyes and the wonderfully awesome world of yosakoi. You can catch her interview below and some amazing videos through this link:
I’m originally from Seattle, Washington. And I’m a second year JET in Noheji.
How are you involved with your Japanese community? Did you join a club or class? Do you volunteer, jump into festival season, or teach an eikaiwa?
First of all, I’m a tea snob. I came to Japan knowing I wanted to get involved with tea ceremony. Tea is comfortable and familiar to me and I had no thoughts of doing anything else. I joined the Bakadoh yosakoi dance group by accident this last November.
Why did you choose to get involved? What drew you to this activity? Did you want to try something new? Did you read about it when first researching your placement or get wrangled in by your JTE?
A misunderstanding led to my joining yosakoi. James (a former Shichinohe ALT) got me into the group by accident. We had a random conversation about how I liked dancing, not that I was good at or had any real experience with dance. He then told another ALT, who was already a member of the group, that he knew a really good dancer that would be great for the group. I was then invited to come to a practice.
Is this a one-time gig? Or something you do on a continuous basis? Is it a short- or long-term commitment? Are you gonna keep it up?
I practice every Tuesday, Thursday, and Sunday. I plan to keep going with yosakoi for as long as I can. And if possible, I hope to continue with yosakoi when I eventually return to Seattle.
What have you gained from this experience? Good, bad, indifferent…I want to know it all.
I was discouraged because there were all these awesome dancers around me and I just wasn’t any good at the beginning. I didn’t think I’d reach a point where I would be good enough for performances. But the Bakadoh group is very supportive and they want to see you do well. They are willing to work with you as you learn. Learning how to take feedback constructively was also difficult for me. It took me a bit to realize that they just had high expectations for me and weren’t giving me criticisms. It was scary to put myself out there, but it’s worth it to share the joy of dancing with others. Accepting that I’m not perfect and just giving my all in practice or a performance, has been a major growing point for me.
What advice would you give to those who want to jump in?
Be open to new opportunities. Not having expectations and letting go may be scary but it can lead to some great experiences. I wanted to do tea ceremony because it was easy and safe. Yosakoi is so different from anything else I have ever done and has challenged me to find out a bit more about myself. Joining a part of the Japanese community is also a great way to learn or practice the Japanese language. I’ve also gotten to travel a lot more with the group than I expected. We’ve had performances all over Aomori as well as in other prefectures. Finding your niche in Japan may seem daunting at first—and sometimes your niche finds you instead.