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Eisa : Dances In Honor of our Ancestors

By Eric Wada

Eisa is performed in the main island of Okinawa in the Ryukyu island chain. It is done to welcome and entertain the ancestors who are believed to have come back for a three day visit during July 13,14,15 of the lunar calendar. The first day is cailed "unke", followed by "naka nu hi" and ending with "ukui".

Traditionally, eisa is done by the sehenkai, or youth clubs of the village. Each village co-ordinates their own group with different styles and songs. Practices begin in mid April or May, and the seinen(18-25) are encouraged to participate. They are led and taught by the sempai(leaders) of the community, who pass down this tradition from generation to generation. The eisa is not meant for the living members of the village, but is an offering of songs and dances to the ancestors to honor and remember them and the culture passed down. The eisa performers see themselves as carrying on the responsibility to honor the “elders“ who have passed away, and play a key role in renewing the ties through obon.

Recently however, eisa can be found any time of the year, at tourist attractions, parties, and outside of Okinawa. Although this has had an enormous surge of interest in this part of Okinawa's culture, it has also helped to dilute the real meaning of eisa, and take away the “special” celebration of the once a year event,

Eisa Basics: Feet movements are basically the same for both the shime and odaiko. Shimedaiko will have more upper body motion as the odaiko will have basic hitting.

These basics were just made to make it easier to practice.

Single: In place single beats in time with down beats

Half Single: In place with half beat

Pivot: Place right foot front, hit shime face level once/ pull right foot back, place shime chest level flat hit shime once

Rock: feet/body rock front/back

Single Pivot: Pivot front, back, single hits

Double: double hit with right foot front placement, single hit with swing on back placement

Double fly: Open arms out, double hit towards ground with bend, single hit with swing on outer turn

Single fly: Same as double but with single hits

Turn: Single beats with walk-turn, shime hit at face level ( turning shime with each hit)

Arm swing turn: Hit shime face level, pull shime back to other position as hitting hand is pulled back at the same time.