The bon dance season here in Hawaii starts in June and goes through August, with two or three dances in September. Everyone is welcome to come – and to dance. There are dances every Friday and Saturday night somewhere on Oahu during the summer, and several are held on the outer islands, as well. Statewide, there are as many as 90 scheduled each year, about half of them on Oahu. You have to try at least one while you’re in the islands this summer. You don’t need to know the history or the custom (Japanese-Okinawan); just enjoy yourself.*
It’s perfectly all right to jump in without any experience and follow the more experienced dancers. Food is key to the bon dance experience, especially since most of the dances start between 6 and 7 p.m., the dinner hour. All the sites have food booths with standard fare of Spam musubi, some kind of plate lunch and stir-fry noodles. Some serve barbecued beef or chicken sticks, and andagi (Okinawan donuts).
Many of the dances are held at Buddhist temples, where there are host dance troupes with people who belong to and take lessons at that temple. Each group has its own unique, beautiful kimono ensemble. When they are dancing at their own temples, these groups have the privilege of dancing around the “yaguras” (music towers) in the innermost circle. Everyone else dances in the outer circles. Usually, there are three circles going at the same time, the degree of experience lessening with each. You actually might find yourself dancing to crowd pleasers such as the mambo, salsa or country-western do-si-dos. And, of course, it’s okay to just watch.
You won’t find bon dances promoted at your hotel or in the papers (except in the activities listings), but you can find one. You can call your Hawaii-Aloha agent while you’re here to find out where the weekend’s dances are. Or you can call us now (1-800-843-8771), or select an agent on our home page (hawaii-aloha.com). We’ll e-mail the whole summer schedule to you.
*Bon dances are a Buddhist custom to honor the spirits of dead ancestors.