FITNESS PROFILE | GABRIELLE ANGELES
Drumming up a great workout
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By Catherine E. Toth
Advertiser Staff Writer
By Catherine E. Toth
Gabrielle Angeles took her first turn at striking a taiko drum four years ago. She remembers, down to her bones, how it left her feeling that night.
"I came home and I couldn't even hold a cup," said Angeles, a 25-year-old dance instructor who lives in Kaimuki. "I (had been) gripping the bachi sticks so hard that the vibration didn't know where to travel. I couldn't stop shaking."
Angeles has come a long way since that first lesson at UCLA, where she earned a degree in world arts and cultures in 2004.
After spending a year in Japan studying taiko, she was awarded a one-year fellowship to train with Kenny Endo at his Taiko Center of the Pacific.
And though she's spent most of her life dancing, taiko has taken her fitness to another level.
"Taiko hones all aspects of your cognitive and kinesthetic skills," Angeles said. "It's a good overall workout."
THE TAIKO CHALLENGE
Taiko, a traditional Japanese style of drumming, found its way to Hawai'i with the wave of Japanese immigrants who arrived in the early 1900s.
Since then, taiko has become an integral — and aesthetic — part of local culture, with groups playing at obon festivals, corporate meetings and weddings.
Learning to play the thundering drums is not just about percussion. At the Taiko Center of the Pacific, along with the "musical challenge," people take classes "for things like stress relief, for the physical exercise," said Endo. He thinks taiko is "an example of something that combines your mind, body and spirit."
Drumming naturally works the arms and upper body, but it also requires a strong core, to maintain the discipline's physically demanding upright posture and lunging.
"You would think that it's concentrating on your arms, but because we have to play with our whole bodies, after a performance, my legs are just as tired as my arms," Endo said. "It's a total body workout ... You have to focus on building strength, flexibility and stamina."
After four years of consistent taiko training, Angeles has seen fitness improvements — particularly in her stamina.
And it's changed the way she dances, too.
"Taiko has really helped my dance, because I can feel rhythms more clearly and I can process information quicker," Angeles said. "And it feels really good to feel what I'm doing while I'm playing."
BORN TO DANCE
When Angeles was two months old, her family left Detroit to return to the Philippines.
They moved into a house next to her aunt who, with Angeles' mother, a professional dance instructor, ran a dance studio that connected the two homes.
"People were always coming in and out," Angeles said. "I'd always see people dancing."
It was just a matter of time before Angeles wandered into the studio.
Angeles would mimic the older students doing ballet moves, and her mother quickly enrolled her only daughter in dance class, where she learned ballet and hula.
"I loved it from the beginning," Angeles said. "It introduced me to different types of music and cultures. And I was good at it."
During high school in Michigan and college at UCLA, she added jazz, hip-hop and salsa to her repertoire.
But it wasn't until she attended the World Festival of Sacred Music in Los Angeles — and saw Endo perform with a Balinese dance group — that she discovered taiko.
"When I saw that, it was just awesome to have such great music with dance," Angeles said.
She gushed about it to a friend who knew the instructor of a practice taiko group at UCLA. She quickly signed up.
"I fell in love with the fact that it was so musical, and at the same time, very movement-based," Angeles said. "That's what struck my interest."
After two years of playing at UCLA, she moved to Japan in 2004 — right after graduation — to teach English and further her taiko training.
In Japan, she heard about Endo's fellowship program to study taiko in Hawai'i. She applied, was accepted, and moved to O'ahu last August.
Though she practices taiko for about six hours a week, she hasn't given up dancing — yet. The hard decision, she knows, is inevitably coming.
"It kinda scares me," Angeles said. "Eventually I'll have to decide between the two, and that's my biggest fear."
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|HAVING FUN BEATING HER OWN DRUM
Workout habits: In addition to teaching dance classes, Angeles takes one-hour modern dance and capoeira classes twice a week. She has drum practice three times a week for a total of about six hours. She stretches morning and night.
When and why I started working out: Born to a dancer mother, Angeles started ballet and hula at age 4 in the Philippines. She danced through high school in Detroit and in college in California. While a junior at UCLA, she took a taiko class and was instantly hooked. After graduating with a degree in world arts and cultures in 2004, Angeles moved to Japan to study taiko. She came to Hawai'i in August 2005 to study with Kenny Endo.
Good foods/bad foods: Angeles loves sushi and vegetables, especially spinach, asparagus, broccoli and tomatoes. Her weakness: Fast food. "Because I don't have a lot of time, I eat the fastest food I can get," she admitted. "I'm a closet fan of chicken nuggets!"
Biggest motivator: "I have to stay healthy because I work with kids all the time," Angeles said. "And they're always sick. In order to do all the things I do, I have to stay healthy."
Advice for those interested in taiko or dance: "Just do it," she said. "Go in with your curiosity and decide after. Because it's not going to hurt you if you try."
Facts About taiko
• "Taiko" is a Japanese word that means "great drum." Today, the word can also mean the drumming style and music.
• "Kumi-daiko" is an ensemble style of taiko popular in the U.S.
• There are two major types of taiko drums. Byouchi-daiko are drums with nailed heads. Shime-daiko are drums with heads stretched over steel rings and tensioned by ropes or bolts.
• The head of the taiko drum is usually cowhide. The cowhide of a 3-year-old Japanese cow is said to be the best material because of its yieldingness. Horsehide is often used for the head of a katsugi-oke-daiko.
• By some estimates, there are more than 8,000 taiko groups in Japan.
• Some experts believe today's taiko drums strongly resemble Chinese and Korean instruments. The predecessor of the tsuzumi style of taiko may have roots in India.
• One of the first uses of taiko was thought to be a battlefield instrument used to intimidate and frighten an enemy. (Many cultures use drums in this way.) According to some accounts, taiko was the only instrument heard across an entire battlefield.
• According to historians, taiko was used to drive away evil spirits and pests harmful to crops. It was believed that by imitating the sound of thunder, the spirit of the rain would be forced into action. At harvest time, taiko was played to show gratitude to the gods for a bountiful crop.
• Japanese immigrants to Hawai'i and North America in the early 1900s brought taiko with them. Taiko drumming for obon festivals was established as early as 1910 in Hawai'i.
• Seiichi Tanaka formed the first North American taiko group the San Francisco Taiko Dojo in 1968. Kinnara Taiko of Los Angeles was founded the next year. San Jose Taiko followed in 1973.
• Taiko drums are handmade in Japan. It's believed that the drum embodies the spirits of the tree wood, the builders of the drum and the performers who have played them over the years.
• Some taiko groups use antique instruments to produce an ancient sound. The prize possession of the San Francisco Taiko Dojo is the one-ton o-daiko drum, which stands taller than 12 feet. The group says it's the largest drum in this hemisphere and valued at $500,000.
Source: San Francisco Taiko Dojo; Rolling Thunder, The Total Taiko Resource; The Taiko Center Ltd.
Reach Catherine E. Toth at email@example.com.