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An Active Senior

Shizue Billedo, dancing with Curtis Luke. Photos by David Yamaguchi

By David Yamaguchi

The North American Post

These days, I’m probably not the only Sansei who occasionally sees an active senior doing something, pauses to watch, and then makes a mental note to myself that “I want to be like that when I am his or her age.” One such instance occurred in the beer garden of Seattle Bon Odori on July 16.

In that well-known once-a-year watering hole behind the temple, most people were sitting or standing around, chatting with friends and enjoying their liquid “contributions to the temple.” When the music was right, a few couples would get up to dance to the live reggae of “Two Story Zori.”

At one point, the entire gathered crowd paused to watch a single couple dancing. The lead member of the pair was exceptional dancer Curtis Luke, whom many Sansei knew from Franklin High. These days, Curtis is a part-time dance instructor. He has taught at “Salsa N Seattle,” in the classes taught at the Nisei Veterans Hall (<www.crashdancers.net>), and elsewhere. His partner for the dance was none other than Shizue Billedo, the alumnus of 40 years of waitressing at Bush Garden Restaurant (see “The Story of Bush Garden Restaurant,” June 30).

What everyone present found arresting was how Mrs. Billedo more than held her own dancing with Curtis. When, at one point, Curtis danced low, near the ground, she was down on bent knees right with him. Later, when she stole his hat during their dance, the crowd became hers.

It was one of those fleeting experiences that no one expected to see, that lasted only a few minutes, and then was over. Throughout, everyone had been rooting for Mrs. Billedo, and burst into applause when the two finished.

Most certainly there had been elegant, well-dressed dancers, of all ages, dancing the traditional dances on the street in front of the temple. But sometimes, the magic of Bon Odori comes not from the practiced marquee event, but from a spontaneous, unexpected sideshow.

It is said that during Bon Odori, the souls of the departed heed the ringing of the bell and the beating of the drums to return to the village to see that it is all right. Those old souls too must have been smiling at Billedo-san.

For another year, the village is all right.