The Saipan Awaodori Team that recently returned from Japan acquitted themselves well during its nearly two-month stint performing in a number of Awaodori Festivals, according to PDI Promoters, Inc. CEO Misako Kamata.
The owner of Kinpachi Restautant in Garapan said the islands’ eight-person delegation improved week after week performing alongside its mother organization, Tokyo Tensuiren Group.
She said the group got a lot of pointers and personal instruction from members of the Tokyo Tensurien Group headed by Yukihiro Iwanami.
The Saipan team was made up of drummers/musicians Zacarias Sakisat and siblings Mitsunobu and Ran Suzuki as well as dancers Itheyvin They, Ronald Fitipol, Cody Litulumar, Nyla Sablan, and Elisa Lazaro.
Kamata said the Saipan Awaodori Team couldn’t help but stand out during their performances and many in the audience were surprised after finding out that some of the dancers are in fact from Saipan. “The crowd would acknowledge them and everyone seems to know were Saipan is,” said Kamata.
The Saipan Awaodori Team’s instructors, Mayumi Suzuki and Shunsuke Katagiri, also had kind words for the members of the local group. The two said that after some initial jitters, the local team eventually figured out how to perform effectively with the Tokyo Tensuiren Group.
Suzuki and Katagiri echoed Kamata’s observations that the members improved steadily as the weeks went by.
They said the group also got some important mentoring from older and more veteran Tokyo Tensuiren Group members, some of who have been performing for more than 30 years. Suzuki said there was a member of the Japanese group who was already 70 years old but still danced with enthusiasm and gusto.
Longtime Japan resident and blogger Robert Svärd had nothing but glowing words for the Saipan Awaodori Team in a recent email to the Saipan Tribune.
“The first time I saw them they seemed happy and proud to be part of the team. It takes a lot of courage and strength to take part in such a famous team in one of the biggest festivals in Japan. I could tell they still had some way to go and that the Japanese members were very good in helping them, like parents watching over their own children.”
That all changed when he saw them perform in the Koenji Awaodori Festival last Aug. 24.
“This time I could see their strength and confidence in themselves, their ready smiles and sense of rhythm. They were dancing as well as any of the other participants—there was no telling them apart! Tensuiren has one of the absolutely best drum sections of any Awaodori team that I have ever seen, but the Saipan members could hold their own and really impressed the audience. I know the drumming especially really impressed me! I speak Japanese and I could hear the Japanese ladies next to me saying that ‘those foreigners are really good’ and ‘that drummer is really kakkoii (cool).’”
Svärd was impressed not only with how the Saipan Awaodori Team improved after nearly two months in Japan but also how well they assimilated with the Tokyo Tensuiren Group.
“I think the only way to be really accepted in Awaodori is to give it everything you have got, especially as foreigners, and the Saipan team are really doing that, they seem to be putting even more effort and training into it! Last but not least, dancing for hours on end in the hot Tokyo summer is very hard, but when they came past me they looked as fresh as if they had just started. Every time I see the Tensuiren I look out for the Saipan members! Oh and did I mention the drummers? Unbelievably good. I think I wasn’t the only one in the cheering audience that had goose bumps after that!”