Densho Digital Archive
Densho Visual History Collection
Title: Martha Nishitani Interview
Narrator: Martha Nishitani
Interviewer: Sara Yamasaki
Location: Seattle, Washington
Date: May 15, 1998
Densho ID: denshovh-nmartha-01-0033

<Begin Segment 33>

SY: During that time, you had your Martha Nishitani Dance Company, you had your Martha Nishitani Dance Studio, and you were basically the only modern dance, private modern dance school, in the Northwest. Is that correct?

MN: Right, at that time. That was in the early '50s.

SY: So when people were asking you to do all these things, it was basically, there were no other opportunities for people to learn about modern dance?

MN: (Except in the P.E. Department at the U of W.) And since I was working at the university, I was exposed to quite (a large) audience. Then, so people got to know me. And then they sent their children to me. So actually, I do modern dance, but my, my (forte) is creative dance for children. And I was the first one to start that in this area.

SY: How is creative dance for children different from modern dance?

MN: Well, in theory, it's about the same thing. But the thing is that you have to use images for children. You can't say, "Okay, first position," or you can't say, "releve," because who wants to do that when you're five years old? What difference does it make? So that you can say, "Well, get in first position. Now bend your knees and so you look like a frog. And put your hands out and then open your fingers and you look like a frog. Okay." And then you can say, "Now get your balloons." And then we always say, "I want a red balloon. I want a green balloon. I want an orange balloon." And they all get a couple balloons, and the balloons pull 'em right up onto the half-toe. So they're up on the half-toe. So you don't say, "releve." You say, "Now, take your balloons and go up on your toes." And so they do that. And one little girl said to me, she wasn't going up. She was just standing there and (...) I said, "Aren't you going to go up with your balloons?" And she (said), "My balloons are busted." And so I (said), "Oh, here, take mine." and so she finally went up on the half-toe. So creative dance is, there's basic technique involved, but not very much. But then they learn the basic locomotive steps like walk and run and jump and hop and skip and gallop and slide. They do those and they love (them). They like to go around the room galloping.

And then I try to teach 'em some (...) rhythm. And the rhythm is not like metric, like you play the piano. But the piano player is there, so we say, "I like apple pie, apple pie with ice cream." And so they clap that, and they'll do it on the drum, and then they'll get up and dance it. Or they'll say "Tom, Tom the piper's son," and they all dance that or they can dance, "Medium rare, T-bone steak," but the words make the rhythm. (...) The piano player's sittin' there, and they each, (with the piano), get a turn on the drum. And then they dance it so then they (learn) rhythm. (...) They have a little dance drama. (...) Every nine weeks the parents come in so we make a little dance. In the fall, we usually have a witches' dance. And we have a big pot, and we make witches' brew, and put things in it, like something off the ground and something out of the trees and something out of the sky, so we get the feeling of different levels. And then we do a snowflake dance and there's the mean Jack Frost comes in and freezes all the snowflakes. And then spring comes in with warm hands and melts them all down into a nice big stream. (...)

SY: Oh, I see. So what you're doing with these dramas and images is you're incorporating those with modern dance concepts...

MN: Yeah, and then...

SY: As like level, and you...

MN: (Yes). And you saw the one where it was negative and positive space. Where you're in an egg and then you're out of an egg, hatched, and so you have no space, and then you have spaces. And they did that about the little (pheasants) being (hatched).

<End Segment 33> - Copyright © 1998 Densho. All Rights Reserved.