I learned three dances that year. I started with “Sakura” (Cherry blossom). Everyone starts with “Sakura.” Lydia was ahead of me in her lessons. So Ura Sensei taught her the more difficult “Kuroda bushi” or “Song of the Kuroda Samurai,” ostensibly a “drinking song” but one invested with the pride of Fukuoka samurai.
With her tall physique and graceful movements, Lydia was impressive when she danced. We both were allowed to perform in the spring recital with other students in Ura Sensei’s school. Ura Sensei arranged for us to have our hair fixed in a Japanese style and had us both dressed in lovely kimono.
Lydia wore a man’s hakama and a black montsuki or crested kimono. As I was to be the embodiment of spring, fluttering away like cherry blossoms, she dressed me in a lovely furisode kimono with long swaying sleeves. I carried an artificial branch of blossoming cherries on my shoulder at the start of the dance and had to set the branch down mid-dance to retrieve my fan for the remainder of the dance.
As our lessons had all been done in practice yukata—a simple cotton garment with short sleeves—I was not used to moving in an elegant furisode. The kimono was heavy with brocade and the obi around my waist was thick and tight. I remember kneeling to pick the branch back up before making my exit from the stage and then finding it difficult to stand.
I had knelt on the sleeve. I heard it rip as I tried to stand, the awful scream of tearing silk. But I moved onto the next step as if nothing had happened. My mother, who was in the audience, told me she didn’t notice me stumble. But of course, she wouldn’t have. She was too happy, too proud, her mother’s heart too full to detect even the most obvious flaw.