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Japanese dancer visits Waco

Jan. 29, 1997

Kevin Johnson/ The Baylor LariatKoichika Nishikawa performs Tuesday in the Meadows Recital in the Glennis McCrary Music Building.

By Robin Starnes

Lariat Reporter

Japanese classical dance master Koichika Nishikawa, sensei, had never visited the United States before her performance at President Clinton's inauguration activities last week. As excited as she was to meet the president, Nishikawa said she was more excited about her second United States destination: Waco.

Nishikawa, who holds the title 'sensei,' or 'respected teacher,' has wanted to visit Waco and the University ever since she taught her oldest dance pupil, University sociology lecturer Kay Mueller. She got her opportunity Tuesday afternoon in Meadows Recital Hall.

'Wherever I go, I talk about Baylor,' said Mueller. 'I was an exchange professor to Japan three years ago and that is where I met Nishikawa, sensei. She has visited many other countries, but her dream has always been to perform in the United States, and she wanted Baylor to be her first official performance.'

Nishikawa has performed for such audiences as Pope John Paul II, the king and queen of Malaysia and the Royal Emperor of Japan, but she said she is awed by her experiences here.

'The United States is so big and broad that it astounds me,' she said. 'To walk on a street where you can't see people is a strange experience. Everything is beautiful and so big. The air is pure. You can expand your heart in this place.'

Nishikawa said the environment in Waco is completely different from Japan.

'I'm staying on the eleventh floor of a hotel and I feel like I can see forever,' Nishikawa said. 'This is very different from Japan, where you can only see people, buildings, or mountains.'

Nishikawa, who performs under the stage name Koichika Nishikawa, sensei, has studied Japanese dance since she was six years old. At 18 she was a fully qualified dance instructor. Her first paid performances followed soon after, but Nishikawa was not performing for profit. She donated all the money to a Catholic church to buy blankets for the elderly and war victims. She is now known as a dance master throughout Japan and has earned a variety of awards and medals, including a medal from the Japanese Minister of Education.

With University professor Dr. John Shepard translating, Nishikawa spoke about the history of Japanese classical dance.

'In Japanese mythology, the sun goddess hid herself in a cave because of trouble with her younger brother,' Nishikawa said. 'She was the principle goddess of Japan. Because she hid in the cave, the whole world was darkened. The other gods and goddesses decided to do something interesting in the garden in front of the cave to lure her out.'

'One goddess did a striptease and all the other goddesses clapped. The sun goddess peeked out to see what was going on. One god grabbed her and pulled her out, making the world bright again. From that, dancing became a way of comforting the hearts of the goddesses. This was the beginning of Japanese classical dance,' said Nishikawa.

In the classical dances, women do not perform. The female parts are played by males. When the dances began 350 years ago, a story accompanied the movements. Eventually the dance and drama became separated. The dance no longer tells a story as much as it represents an era.

This was true of the dance that was performed during Tuesday's presentation. Two other senseis, Koinoshin Nishikawa, sensei, and Goro Nishikawa, sensei, performed a dance that represented the era of the samurai.

'This type of dance is highly symbolic and stylized,' Shepard said. 'The dancers use a limited space and slow movements. The face is expressionless; the body movements are in the hands and feet.'

The sensei teaches University exchange students who travel to Japan as part of an exchange program. She said Baylor is the most popular choice of Japanese students wanting to study abroad.

'All the exchange students want to come to Baylor,' Nishikawa said. 'This is a wonderful school. I am surprised not only by the size but by the spirit of the students as well.'

The three performers will be on campus all week as guests of the University. Friday has been declared Koichika Nishikawa Day by the Waco city council.

The last opportunity to see the group perform will be this Friday, when Koichika Nishikawa, sensei, will be the featured performer at the Theater Educators of Texas conference at the Waco Convention Center.

A group of interested University students are learning the art of Japanese classical dance this week, and eight of those students will perform with Nishikawa on Friday.

Tickets are extremely limited. Interested students should contact Kay Mueller in the sociology department.

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