A Dancer's Journey Home

January 21, 2001|By Photography and text by CHIAKI KAWAJIRI | Photography and text by CHIAKI KAWAJIRI,SUN STAFF

Kay Hayes is floating alone across the floor. Her soft steps and gentle sweeping motions follow the rise and fall of the lyrics. The song is in her native Japanese, and Kay sees Japan again and feels the sorrow of this song of lost love. With the wandering of her eyes and a tilt of her head, she shows she is in love. A twist in her wrist, and she has lost that love. A step forward, and she continues to love.

Outside, the sirens of Baltimore are whining, but inside, deep inside, Kay has returned home to the Japan she left for America 43 years ago.

When Kay married Howard Hayes Jr. in 1958, her mother told her that she should forget Japan. But Kay couldn't forget. "There wasn't a day that I didn't miss Japan," she says.

She missed her family; Japanese food; Sapporo, the town where she grew up; the time of her youth. As a child she dreamed of studying traditional Japanese dance. But growing up in impoverished Japan after World War II, pursuing such a luxury was unthinkable.

For years, she put the dream away, a working mother raising three children in Odenton. But now that her children have grown and moved away, Kay returns to Japan regularly - not by plane, but in moments of music and dance: when she sings karaoke with her Japanese friends, when she puts on her kimono, when she steps forward and continues to love.

While Kay and her friends reconnect with their culture, their families are learning new things, too. Her friend Kuniko's son, she says, once complained that his mother spent too much time with her Japanese friends. But his father told him, "I took your mother away from her native country when she was young. You should be more understanding and supportive when she wants to reacquaint herself with her Japanese friends and culture." Some of Kay's other friends say that their husbands, entranced by their dancing, fell in love with them all over again.

"For some, it's [about] friends. For some, it's romance. For some it's exercise, and for me, it's a dream come true. I am just so happy. So happy."

Her dance over, Kay says goodbye, puts on her shoes and walks back into her American life, smiling.

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