The second annual Bon-Odori Dance Festival, named for an ancient Japanese folk-dancing celebration, is coming to New Paltz on Aug. 5 from 1 to 9 p.m. It will be held at the Blueberry Patch, located next to the Groovy Blueberry Wholesale Warehouse at Main and Water Street. While Bon-Odori dance festivals happen in every nook and cranny and village in Japan, and are gaining more international steam, particularly in Japanese hot spots like Hawaii and Australia, this is the only Hudson Valley Bon-Odori festival. According to its creator, Youko Yamamoto, co-owner with her husband of the Gomen-Kudasai Restaurant in the Rite Aid Plaza, it “is the only one of its kind, because we combine it with an emphasis and education on peace and to create a non-nuclear world.”
Last year the Bon-Odori Festival was staged at Hasbrouck Park and was a huge success; but this year, Yamamoto decided to hold it in a space that had more visibility. “It’s right on Main Street, and if you want to have a drink, there is the Gilded Otter right across the street and many places to eat within a few hundred feet.”
This festival will occur in the midst of two other major summer events in New Paltz: the final day of the Ulster County Fair and the 125th anniversary party for the Village of New Paltz. “I’m hoping that because of the other events going on, that we will attract people who might not know what Bon-Odori is, or who see the dancing and martial arts exhibitions and want to come and learn more and dance and enjoy this great Japanese tradition.”
The festival will kick off with four different martial arts exhibitions at 1:30 p.m. including an Aikido demo by Aikido of New Paltz, as well as a Kyudo and Laido performance by New York Budokai, finishing off with a karate demo by the New Paltz Karate Academy. “The martial arts demonstrations are unbelievable,” Yamamoto said. “It’s so rare to get this many different forms of martial arts together in one place: Karate, Aikido, Kyudo, Laido. And they come in costumes and outfits and bring such a spirit to the event.”
The piece of the New Paltz Bon-Odori Festival that is markedly unique is the peace-activism portion. “It’s a way to build community around something we all care about: putting an end to nuclear weaponry and nuclear fear,” said Yamamoto, who spent much of her childhood growing up in Hiroshima. “People need to understand what happened in Hiroshima and Nagasaki and most recently in Fukushima. If we don’t learn what happened and how 150,000 people died instantly from one nuclear bomb — literally melted and vaporized — then we are bound to repeat such brutal human horrors. This is not about pointing fingers; war is a governmental act. It’s about coming together to protect humanity in the future from nuclear horror.”
To that end, there will be several experts on various nuclear topics who will speak beginning at 4:15 p.m., including Joel Tyner, Manna Jo Green on “Closing Indian Point” and Eric Francis Coppolino, who will deliver thoughts “From Hiroshima to Fukushima.”
At 5:30 p.m. there will be a Buddhist ritual, prayers for peace and prayers for the victims of Hiroshima, Nagasaki and Fukushima. “This is important to pray for those who were victims of nuclear tragedy, and we will do it in several different languages so that everyone can follow along.”
The headliner for the event will be the Vanaver Caravan, who will perform traditional Japanese folk dances and songs. It will be followed by another professional dance group, Hanagasa-kai from the Japanese Folk Dance Institute of New York, and then Stuart Paton of Burlington, who will engage the audience with the fiery and feisty Taiko style of Japanese drumming.
“You don’t have to know how to dance or know the songs; we all just follow and have fun,” she said. “You don’t have to show up in a kimono! There are so many people that come into our restaurant that are from Japan, or have lived there, have ties there from family, a spouse, a corporation they worked for — it’s amazing! There are many people in this community that speak Japanese, are familiar with the culture. I encourage them to all come out, as well as those who are interested in learning more and having a fun community dance festival!”
The festival will end with a fire dance by Lia Simon. “I saw her twirling fire at a party last year, and asked her if she would do it at the festival and she said ‘Yes!’ She used to work here and is a SUNY-New Paltz graduate. We’re very excited.”
For additional information, call Yamamoto at 255-8811 or go to Facebook: Bon-Odori New Paltz Dance Festival or www.bonodorinewpaltz.org.