Dance has always been a big part of my life, so my first thought for CIP was joining a university dance circle. Although I wanted to join a hiphop circle, they unfortunately didn’t answer my email for a few weeks (twitter seems to be the big contact hub for university circles but I didn’t want to create an account). Instead I joined Meahula, a hula group on campus open to females only. They usually don’t take students mid-year (I ran into this problem quite a lot with other dance groups), but since I’ve previously danced hula for about 6 years, the president allowed me to join and learn the first-year group dances.
As much as I disagree with strict kouhai-senpai relationships, I’m glad I was able to experience it with my own eyes through the group. Examples include the senpai waiting for first years to move all the desks and chairs out of the way whenever we used the classroom, and also first years feeling they did something wrong because it wasn’t them who took the mirrors all the way from the other room but the older students. Yet according to my friend, the hula group is one of the stricter ones on campus compared to other university circles in terms of the senpai-kouhai relationship, but it is still far less strict than high school clubs.
I was in the weird position of being a foreigner – one who was sort of a first year for the group because I was learning the first-year dances, but the same age and grade as the senpai, and technically everybody’s senpai in hula because of how much experience I have. Everyone approached me to talk during breaks, but only in groups of kouhai or senpai – there was only once when I was talking to both first years and a senpai at the same time. I was also able to get away with a lot of advantages by not being a real part of the group – I didn’t have to pay fees since I was only borrowing a skirt and uniform, and I also didn’t have to pay for participating in the festival. If anyone felt animosity towards me for being able to swoop in, they didn’t show it though (but my privilege is something I couldn’t help but keep in mind, which is why I made efforts to go to both practices every week – also because I genuinely enjoyed being able to talk and dance with new and old people). I had a great time dancing something I hadn’t in such a long time, and I made a few good friends (both first years, who were arguably easiest to talk to, and senpai who were the same age as me), and many new acquaintances (there were so many girls that when I talked to some for one practice I usually didn’t talk to them again because the next time there would be a new group of girls I’d be talking to). A few my favorite conversations included dropping the “Harvard” bomb, saying that my favorite food was taiyaki, and perfecting the art of talking about my studies and where I live. The best part was hearing that many of the girls admired English and the US because people can say their opinions straightforwardly. If the modern generation thinks this way, I wonder if these senpai-kouhai and strict keigo-speaking relationships can slowly change?