Graceful Kimono Dancer Is A Him
Wednesday - October 28, 2009
The young man sitting and facing me is reed-slender and sports a little stubble on his chin. Dazzman Toguchi looks like a typical 20-something local boy. You’d never guess he makes his living dressing up as a woman.
Toguchi is not a drag performer, not in the American sense of the word. He is a practitioner of a semi-classical Japanese art form called Nihon Shin Buyo.
It’s actually a refined combination of elements of dance from Kabuki, a form of classical drama, and older performing arts traditions in the form of court dance and music (Bugaku and Noh).
In Nihon Shin Buyo, men play all the parts. Toguchi specializes in playing female roles. When you see him all made up and dressed in elaborate kimono, it’s easy to forget he’s a man. He looks and moves like a beautiful young woman.
“When you dance you have to think more like a woman,” says Toguchi, 26, who has spent years trying to get inside the heads and hearts of the opposite sex in order to portray them effectively in song and dance. The main thing he’s learned about women, he says, is that it’s all about the feelings:
“How to bring out the emotion is an art. You have to know how they’re feeling, how they express love ...”
And it isn’t easy. “When you broke up with your girlfriend, how was she feeling? You have to really be in touch with your emotions to bring it out as performance - the breathing, the sighs, the eyes, the facial expression and body language ...”
And playing female hasn’t been easy on his personal life.
“Lot of my girlfriends have said to me, ‘Oh my god, you’re more feminine than a woman.’”
But that’s not what took the major toll. It was all the hours spent practicing, practicing practicing, taking lessons in several forms of dance, singing and koto (a Japanese musical instrument). There is little time left for relationships after that.
Toguchi says it’s always come down to “me or the art form, or me or the relationship.”
Toguchi always chose his art. It’s not the lifestyle you’d expect from a guy who grew up in some of the poorest areas of Oahu. Toguchi’s home turf was in the Kalihi projects - Kamehameha Housing and Mayor Wright Homes. He was raised by his grandmother Eleanor Wong, who died three years ago. Toguchi pays her the highest honor he can, saying everything he is, is because of her love.
“She pretty much sacrificed whatever she had to sacrifice in order to put food on the table, to clothe me and my brother. We attended public school in the Kalihi areas. She tried to do her very best in every way she could to make us succeed in life and to have everything we need to help us succeed in life. So a lot of my character and who I am is because of my grandmother.”
His love of Japanese dance began when she took him to his first Bon dance. He was 10, and from that point on he was hooked.
Wong gave him whatever money she could, but this is was an expensive obsession.
“Being in this kind of art, it takes money, time - a lot of money for practices, kimono, lessons ...”
Toguchi got a job at Central Intermediate to make up the difference. It was minimum wage, $5.25 an hour, at the time, but he’s grateful to his old school for paying him to answer phones and run errands. It gave him a start. He still keeps in touch with some of his teachers, and he says his classmates taught him a lot, too. Kids from Samoa, Vietnam, Laos and China surrounded him. It provided an early lesson in tolerance.
“I learned how to accept someone else’s culture and understand other people’s point of views.”
And while his Mayor Wright neighborhood was tough, he got along with everyone. And he says growing up poor was a gift.
“It really made me see a different side of life. What is here, and what I can strive for. When you already have something on a silver platter, you don’t know how to appreciate it.”
After graduation from McKinley High School, Toguchi was awarded a scholarship from an Okinawan art university. He has persevered with his dream, and he can see it on the cusp of coming true.
He has a manager, Kyoko Sano, who helped him book his first solo dance concert. He’ll be performing Sunday, Nov. 1, at the Hawaii Theatre. The performance begins at 3 p.m.
Toguchi thinks he has a shot at making it in Japan, where the fact that he is from Hawaii is a major plus. Everything Hawaii is popular there, and he thinks that can gain him a certain notoriety and eventual acceptance.
He’d also like to perform in Europe and other areas around the globe.
And he wants to educate people here at home about Nihon Shin Buyo. It does-n’t bother him that people may place labels on him because he dresses up as a woman.
“People are only open to what they know.”
Dazz Toguchi knows who he is. And he wants to share.
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