By Renée Tillotson
Yumi Inamine took my breath away as she moved onto the dance floor at Still & Moving Center’s 12th birthday celebration. Her dance looked effortlessly unrestrained. As one of Elizabeth Lenz-Hill’s Contemporary Dance students, she incorporated both choreography and also free, vibrant, unrepressed expressivity. Her joy in the dance spilled out onto the mango wood floor and into us, her audience.
In a way, Yumi expressed the relief that so many of us feel at being able to dance with each other in person again, even while we continue to dance joyfully online with our distant friends.
Like many Citizens of the Future (which is Still & Moving Center’s theme in our 2023 almanac), Yumi reaches across the world’s cultures. She is a polyglot… you know, one of those people who can speak a number of languages fluently. Yumi’s mother was a local Hawaiian girl who spoke English to her and brought her to the islands frequently. Her dad spoke Okinawan to her grandparents – though not to his children – and her school teachers taught her Japanese, the official language now in Okinawa. As you will learn, Yumi also speaks fluent French. Now that she’s moved to Hawai’i, she’s added some Pidgeon to her repertoire.
No doubt born under a dancing star, baby Yumi arrived into her family’s waiting arms in Okinawa, where she was raised amongst people with musical talent. Her mom played Ke’alli Reichelle and a lot of other good Hawaiian music, and many family members were musicians. In Okinawan school she learned Okinawan fan dance, as well as drumming and martial arts in her PE classes.
Yumi got to dance hula briefly and ballet a lot in Tokyo where she attended college. In love with ballet as well as French cinema, she enrolled in a foreign exchange student program. When she landed as “a little island girl”, all alone in Leon, France, she was immersed in a completely new culture and language, for which her French classes in college could not fully prepare her.
Her time in France started as one of her life’s greatest challenges. “You feel like a nobody at the beginning. They called me Chinese because they couldn’t tell the difference between Asian people.” True to form, Yumi danced through the tough times. Her bright smile and sincere efforts to learn their language eventually charmed the people of her host country and they opened their hearts to her by the time she left.
After graduation, Yumi moved to O’ahu, and someone at the East West Center advised her to come dance at Still & Moving. She loved the decor immediately, as well as the welcoming feeling and the variety of classes and teachers. However, the pandemic hit shortly thereafter, and she sheltered in place with her family on island.
Venturing out again, Yumi got a job in August of 2022 at the Honolulu airport based on her French! No doubt her Japanese comes in handy as well. She works in their Visitor Information Program helping people from all over the world who are lost or need translation services or other forms of assistance.
What would she ultimately like to do? “I want to live in Hawaii, stay connected with family back home, and be a bridge to connect and promote Okinawa to the world.” Already a place for vacations and honeymoons for the Japanese, Okinawa can provide warm and welcoming culture to anyone in the fast-paced business world. Yumi intuits that citizens of the future will embrace the whole globe.
Yumi loves being back at Still & Moving Center as her work schedule allows. As a fan of the TV show, So You Think You Can Dance, Yumi felt drawn to Elizabeth Lenz-Hill’s Contemporary dance class. She felt delighted to be taking class with another avid dancer close to her grandmother’s age, Naomi Kanai. “She was someone I could finally speak Japanese with again!” recalls Yumi.
Our 12th birthday celebration was the first time in years that Yumi had performed. “I really loved Elizabeth telling us, ‘Stretch, don’t hesitate! Enjoy your dance from the bottom of your heart.”
Those of us in the audience recognize how closely Yumi followed her teacher’s suggestion!
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This post is also available in: 日本語 (Japanese)