The students bow respectfully -- first to a plaque representing the grandmaster of classical dance, then to their instructor, murmuring a greeting in Japanese. Class is now in session.
Teacher Mieko Takahashi, clad in a colorful kimono and sash, as all the students are, demonstrates how to hold the fan and move gracefully to the rhythm of music playing from a tape recorder. They swivel in careful patterns, making sweeping motions with their fans that intend to symbolize the wings of a crane.
This is the Japanese Kotobuki dance, long believed to offer luck and good fortune to its audience -- it's one of several classic Japanese dances being taught at the new studio of the Long Island Japanese Cultural Center in Port Washington.
ABOUT THE CLASSES
No one is more excited about its new home than founder Toyomi Shibahara, who had been teaching classes in her home in Glen Head for the past six months and, before that, in a small room in a community center.
"It was not enough space," says Shibahara, who opened the dance studio in September. "We were limited."
Although all of her current students are of Japanese heritage, Shibahara says she hopes to introduce the culture to a broader audience.
In keeping with custom, students don traditional cotton kimonos and wide sashes called obis, plus white mitten-like socks called tabi that are worn tightly over the ankle and foot for fluid movement over the floor.
Throughout the class, the students learn a series of Japanese classical dances that are all based on stories. Students of varying age and skill levels are combined -- it's not uncommon for a child to be in the same class as an adult.
LEARNING THE RIGHT MOVES
Experienced in ballet and tap, Sayah Katsuma, 13, of Port Washington, added the Japanese dance classes to her repertoire a year and a half ago.
"It's fun, but sometimes it can be a little stressful -- like when you have to hold a position for a while and then you can't walk for a half-hour after," she says with a laugh. "But it is worth it."
Standing nearby, her mother, Masako Katsuma, 46, who was born in Japan but never danced, says she admires her daughter's dedication. "The instructor is very authentic," she says, and the moves look difficult.
Tomomi Horie, 42, of Port Washington also accompanies her 7-year-old daughter, Nanami, to weekly lessons -- Tomomi, was born in Japan but never took dance lessons. She looks on as Nanami does a quick pivot in her bright pink and white floral kimono, proudly demonstrating new moves she learned in class.
Says Horie, "I think her favorite part is wearing the dress and dancing in it."
Nihon Buyo Japanese classical dance class
INFO 516-551-4907, lijcc.org
COST $68 for four classes (free trial class available). Kimonos are provided.
A sampling of other authentic ethnic dance classes:
Chinese Lion Dance
INFO 516-483-7770, ccliny.org
COST $50 a year
The nonprofit organization offers members a host of traditional Chinese dance lessons for kids and teenagers. Its Lion Troupe has been tapped by several Long Island restaurants and other venues to perform the symbolic dance during Chinese New Year celebrations. Dancers don snaking lion costumes and dance to a drum-heavy beat.
WHEN|WHERE 7:30 p.m. Fridays at BollyArts Performing Arts, 252 W. Old Country Rd., Hicksville
INFO 516-933-2787, bollyarts.com
COST $15 a class
It's the stuff that Indian movies are made of -- gorgeously costumed performers putting on choreographed shows of dance that blend traditional Eastern moves and music with contemporary Western touches that might include jazz or even hip-hop. Adults can join the one-hour classes at BollyArts that incorporate a touch of Bhangra, a folk dance rooted in the northern Punjab region of India.