Dancing for the dead is a time-honored tradition at the annual Seattle Bon Odori festival, which is why I stumbled through three dances last Sunday to pay my respects to my mother and two friends who died within the last year. I say stumbled, because the dancing crowd — which ranges in age from youngsters to old-timers — contains novices as well as experienced dancers, and I put myself in the lowest-skill group. Fortunately, I find myself so focused on trying to imitate those who know what they’re doing, there’s no time to be self-conscious.
The previous Sunday I offered incense to my mother in a memorial service. That’s because the week before Bon Odori is a time of sadness and remembrance, a time to visit graves of our deceased ancestors. In contrast, Bon Odori is a time of eating, dancing and welcoming our ancestors back into our lives, as the lyrics to one of the dance songs — Obon no Uta — shared by Rev. JK Harano, illustrate: Dragonfly, dragonfly, red dragonfly, Lighting the bonfires and paper lanterns, let’s greet our guests…
These contrasting experiences of sadness and joy, death and vitality, show that there’s no escaping the ups and downs of life, and that accepting this is the way to find peace within us.
For a brief video of the Obon no Uta dance, visit this YouTube site.