Dance competition brings service members, community together
GINOWAN CITY, OKINAWA, Japan -- The dancers move with purpose, every step in time with the beat of the drum, as they elicit roaring cheers from the crowd.
U.S. service members and Okinawa residents competed in the 26th annual Hagoromo Kachashi Dance Competition Aug. 3 at the Ginowan City Marine Park.
Several teams from all over Okinawa took the stage and danced as judges picked the top three performances. The dances ranged from traditional Okinawa folk dances, such as “kachashi,” to more modern styles. Although the teams were not required to perform a specific dance style for the competition, they were encouraged to incorporate the traditional dances of Okinawa.
One team comprised of U.S. Marines, sailors and their families participated in the competition under the name Team Futenma. This marked the second time a team of U.S. service members and their families have participated in the annual competition.
The 20 dancers of Team Futenma enjoyed the experience, according to Lt. Cmdr. Matthew Weems, the chaplain for Marine Corps Air Station Futenma.
“It was a great opportunity to really interact with our neighbors,” said Weems, a Kingfisher, Oklahoma, native. “We met new people, tried something completely out of our normal routine, and we got to experience a part of our host country’s culture.”
For the team’s family members, the event helped them better understand and experience traditions unique to Okinawa, according to Tess M. Wobbe, a senior at Kadena High School.
“I want to see what’s out here and experience it for myself,” said Wobbe, a New London, Iowa, native. “Learning more about the Okinawa residents lets us show how much we appreciate their culture.”
To prepare for the competition, the team began to train July 16 and spent two days a week refining their routine.
The Marines and sailors took advantage of the opportunity to interact with new people in an enjoyable environment, according to Cpl. Heather M. McNamara, a tactical air defense controller with Marine Air Control Squadron 4, Marine Air Control Group 18, 1st Marine Aircraft Wing, III Marine Expeditionary Force.
“We live here,” said McNamara, a West Hills, California, native. “Maybe not permanently, but we still live here with the people of Okinawa. This is a mixture of different cultures, and we’re learning about them while doing something we probably wouldn’t be doing if we were back home.”
The competition ended with a large-scale dance with all the competing teams and was followed by a fireworks show.
Although Team Futenma did not earn a top place in the competition, they had fun and learned a little more about their neighbors, according to Col. Peter N. Lee, the base commander for Marine Corps Air Station Futenma. The team members eagerly await the opportunity to compete again next year.
“I had high expectations, and (this event) surpassed them,” said Lee, a New Rochelle, New York, native. “I was hoping for a good time, and I definitely had that. I’m definitely looking forward to this next year.”