Bon odori is a Japanese folk dance most often performed outside and danced in concentric circles around a raised wooden platform called a yagura, where taiko drummers may keep the beat. The dance developed several hundred years ago from a Buddhist chant to welcome the spirits of the ancestors, and has long been a staple of Obon, a Japanese summertime festival which is a period for Japanese to appreciate their ancestors by returning to their hometowns and “visiting with” the spirits of those who have passed. Obon is sometimes called the Lantern Festival; at its beginning Japanese light chochin lanterns to guide the ancestors’ spirits from their graves to the family home (a tradition called mukae-bon) and at the end, in okuri-bon, family members use lanterns to lead the spirits back.
Bon odori is a public, participatory dance that is meant to attract young and old, both trained dancers and those who just want to celebrate. Each region of Japan has its own variety of bon odori that celebrates its own unique culture. (For example, according to Wikipedia’s entry on bon odori, “Soran Bushi is a sea shanty, and the movements in the dance depict net dragging and luggage hoisting.”) Bon odori made its first known public appearance in the U.S. in 1910 and since 1931 has been a fixture of a yearly bon odori dance in San Francisco.
In class we’ll dance to “Ashibinaa,” one of the songs on our CD, which is a bon odori dance from Okinawa. In true Okinawan style, we’ll hoot, holler, and of course whistle. See Okinawans dancing joyously to Ashibinaa.