by Karleen C. Chinen (Bito Doshi Kai)

“Art is very important to our lives. Dance is important — it is transmitted through the body, so your body is the carrier of the tradition,” shared Dr. Victor Kobayashi, Dean of the University of Hawai`i’s Outreach College, at a kick-off program for the Hooge-kai, Nakasone Dance Academy’s 45th anniversary dance recital. The June 16 performance at the Blaisdell Concert Hall also celebrates Yoshiko Nakasone Sensei’s 62 years of dedication to the art of Okinawan dance. “You are a great contribution to all of us in,” added Kobayashi.

The HUOA is honored to endorse Sensei’s recital, said President Jimmy Iha. “Her performances have always been magnificent.”

That magnificence is the result of Sensei’s deep love for the music and dances of her homeland.

Yoshiko Nakasone was born in Naha and began studying Okinawan dance at the tender age of 6. For nearly 20 years she studied under the late Iemoto (Grand Master) Kin Ryosho, whom the government of Japan honored as an “Intangible Cultural Asset.” In 1955, Nakasone Sensei’s 16 years of training with Kin Ryosho paid off when she was selected as one of the 10 best dance artists in an all-Okinawa competition sponsored by the Okinawa Times newspaper. Six years later, in 1961, the Iemoto awarded Sensei her shihan, or senior instructor teaching certificate). The following year, she was invited to perform at the Japan National Theatre in Tokyo as part of an international symposium on Okinawan studies co-sponsored by the Okinawa Prefectural Government and Hosei University.

Sensei has received numerous awards for her dedication to the art of Okinawan dance, including a culture award from the Minzoku Isho Bunka Fukyu Kyokai by its honorary president, Japan’s Princess Yuriko Mikasanomiya. She also performed several times for members of Japan’s Imperial family during their visits to Hawaii. In 1986, then-Governor Junji Nishime of Okinawa presented Sensei a Certificate of Meritorious Achievement, making her the first individual or organization outside of Okinawa to be so honored.

In 1999 Sensei was awarded an individual artist fellowship by the State Foundation on Culture and the Arts. Last year, she was appointed a Goodwill Ambassador by the Okinawa Prefectural Government.

Hooge-kai, Nakasone Dance Academy currently has about 100 students who range in age from nearly 80 to children 3 years old. Most, however, are Sansei and Yonsei. The Nakasone Dance Academy has shared their talents numerous times at HUOA events and programs.

The audience for the June 16 recital, which begins at 6:30 p.m., will be treated to the full spectrum of Okinawan dance — from classical court numbers to folk dances, to modern Okinawan dance, many of which were choreographed by Sensei herself.

“Dentoo No Bi — The Beauty of Tradition” is a most appropriate theme for Sensei’s anniversary recital — for Sensei has passed on so much of her knowledge of the Okinawan arts not only to her students, but to her daughters, Julia Kawahara and Lisa Nakandakari and their daughters.

Hooge-kai, Nakasone Dance Academy parent-teacher association president Jane Sakima urged the entire Okinawan community to support the school’s recital. “We need the support of everyone — the power of unity, of friends and family, together — we call this ‘Yui Nu Kukuru.’ This cooperative teamwork is a classic example of the Uchinanchu spirit.”

Tickets for “Dentoo No Bi — The Beauty of Tradition” are $17 and can be obtained by calling Jane Sakima at 841-3075, or the Nakasone Dance Academy at 536-0276.