Sometimes I forget that my child attends a religious school. And the reason I forget is because the school is Buddhist and not Catholic (the religion I associate with religious school). I forget that he attends temple every week. That he says a Buddhist blessing before eating lunch every day at school. Sometimes I just forget. Until it is Bon Dance season. Ah, the Bon Dance, which on first blush, seems sort of like Japanese line dancing. But that is not true. Bon Dance is more than synchronized moves danced in boots on a beer soaked floor. It is true that everyone does the same moves all together but that is pretty much where the similarity ends. There are elements of culture and family. There is blessing, religion and honoring the dead. During the dance, some dancers are graceful while others are just trying to keep up. Bon Dances are held at temple sites, such as the one affiliated with my son’s school. This was the location of the first Bon Dance I ever attended a few years back.
I remember that first time watching the dancers and feeling touched by the range of individuals participating. Teenagers, who, one would think would want to be someplace else on a weekend night. Old women dancing in kimono alongside their tiny preschool counterparts. At the center of the dancers is a square shaped tower known as the yagura. It is up in this tower, reminiscent of rapunzel’s, that the temple ministers offer a prayer before the actual dancing begins. The otherworldly chanting of the three men this evening was hypnotic. The temple is in a residential neighborhood and during the blessing I envisioned the singsong words blanketing the surrounding houses and apartments like a low lying morning fog. Seeping in through the windows. Provoking, what? Wonder? Anger? Nothing? After the blessing, the tower is where the musicians play for portions of the evening. Participating in the dancing can be intimidating. I did not dance at my first Bon Dance. I did dance at my second Bon Dance. I remember feeling like part of a community. Granted an ox-like, clumsy and out of step part of it, but a part of it nonetheless. The joy of dancing is that there is much tolerance for those of us participating by learning on the fly.
Tonight was my third bon dance. My son had danced with some of his friends early in the evening but I finally got him to dance with me. Which is when I discovered that the secret to good bon dancing is to dance to a really, really long song. I try to only dance to songs that don’t use fans, drumsticks or towels because they seem too tricky. So since the song was long, with the repetitive moves that most dances have, by the end, I felt almost like I belonged. Like I knew what I was doing. Like a part of the community. I found this great quote from a local reverend some years ago:
“Bon Odori’s spiritual meaning is to discover your ego through dance and thus being able, even momentarily, to forget the self. That moment of “just dancing” is Bon Odori – and it is then that one naturally remembers the dead.”
I love that. I’d like to think that tonight I was able to achieve the moment of just dancing. That I was able to forget myself. Even just for a moment.