Martha Graham, one of the most famous dancers of our time, once said “Dance is the hidden language of the soul.” This week’s Neighbor to Know should know because she has lived this language all her life on her remarkable journey. Please meet Jojo Weingart of Leisure World.
One of the first things Jojo will tell you is that she has been a transplant all her life. She was born in Shanghai and raised in Hong Kong as an only child whose family fled rising communism in China. Her mother is deaf, and Jojo learned to sign before she learned to speak. Her family had her cousins come when she was three to give her opportunities to speak. As a result, the use of her hands, and language through them, became a way of life for her.
At age 13, she was sent to Canada to attend a private boarding school. She traveled alone and knew no French or English when she came. Jojo made friends easily and spent time with local families in Canada as much as possible. She only got to go home to see her parents for a few short weeks each summer. Imagine the difficulty at that age being away from your home and a mother that you could only communicate with in writing. It laid a foundation for a strong spirit that remains with her today.
She had an uncle in Wisconsin who got her enrolled in a local junior college and later into Southern Illinois University where she majored in the Arts, receiving a BS and a BFS. Her parents moved to Honolulu during this time and upon graduating she was finding jobs in her field tough to come by so she joined them, beginning a new remarkable chapter in her life.
She found work doing art and page setup for a magazine, and although she enjoyed the work, it really did not fulfill her creative artistic energy. She used that energy to paint and sculpt and would sell her art on weekends at fairs and small shops on the island. She still has a good deal of her beautiful work in her home on display.
In 1985, she met her first husband, Roger, who was a traveler and the two of them set sail, literally, on a 47-foot boat. They had no set course, no timeline, they just sailed as the winds took them. Their five year journey took them as far north as the San Juan and Gulf islands, and deep into the South Pacific to places like Tonga, Fiji, New Caledonia and ultimately Australia. She learned to fish and they sustained themselves primarily on food they caught along the way as well as delicacies like crab and lobster. It did not hurt that Roger was a chef and could do remarkable things with what little they might have on hand. They would pull into a port and stay for a couple of months, many times Roger would take on a chef job locally for a time and making new friends everywhere they went. And wherever they went, Jojo would capture some part of that journey through her art.
Jojo tells me that the greatest thing about this time was seeing the goodness of people no matter where they went. She shared stories of times when they did not have money and the local people would simply extend them credit until they had a chance to get on their feet and pay it back. And she spoke of the number of people who welcomed two strangers into their homes without question.
As idyllic as it sounds after five years, she was ready to come back to land. Sadly, Roger wanted to continue on the boat and so they parted ways. She found herself back in Honolulu, living with her mother who was also newly divorced, helping care for her and reconnecting with the friends she had made before her five year absence. One of these was a neighbor who had been living upstairs from them for years, Joe Weingart, who she married in 1992.
One of the new activities Jojo fell in love with when she returned to Hawaii was the art of Hulu dancing and the story telling it encompasses. Because she had such amazing skills with her hands she picked it up quickly. She continued to learn from some of the masters in Hawaii, finding a connection she had never known before. Watching Jojo perform, she makes the movements look simple and fluid when in fact it is extremely difficult.
Joe is a native California son whose own mother was in Leisure World and not well. So in 2004, Jojo, Joe and her mother packed up and came to Seal Beach. The two mothers lived together until Joe’s mom’s passing several years ago while Jojo and Joe moved to a unit next door where they remain today.
Soon after arriving in Leisure World, Jojo connected with a dance group. She began giving lessons and teaching simple Hula dances. Her students blossomed under her tutelage and they began doing local performances. They are now known as Hui O’Hula which translated means “Group of Hula.” Eleven years later there are almost 30 dancers who do over 100 performances a year throughout our area at such venues as the O.C. Fair and Shoreline Village and they were on stage last year for our Centennial Day Celebration.
Jojo and Joe are avid world travelers. Their journeys have taken them to Europe, Africa, Cuba, Southeast Asia and South America. I asked if there have been any bad trips she has taken and she says “No, every trip has had merit, every place I have been I have learned something new.” Even when they were robbed on a trip, the kindness and outreach of the local people to help them overshadowed that event and she remembers that most.
She writes a blog on her trips to share with others as she goes as well.
The thing that strikes you most about Jojo is that she has the most amazingly positive outlook and spirit. She has seen so much and done so much and yet her inner peace simply exudes from her. That is part of the beauty in her dancing, it simply flows through her. She is truly a “poet in motion.” If you would like to know more about Hui O’Hula, go to: huiohula.com.