Japanese dance differs greatly from many forms of Western dance. While Western modes of dance tend to emphasize grand gestures and sweeping feats of athleticism, Japanese dance tends to focus on more subtle body movements and a sort of understated grace. Whether you're thinking about learning dance in Japan itself or stateside, here are just a few types of Japanese dance that you may wish to further investigate and research.
There is a longstanding tradition in Japan where the forms of dance and theater unite. Kabuki is one of the most well known forms of this combination both inside and outside of Japan, and is often considered one of the country's greatest traditions. The narrative of kabuki is largely concerned with telling stories from Japan's varied history, although often times in a romanticized manner. Kabuki often times employs the use of elaborate make up and costumes. As for the dance that is employed in kabuki theater, the movements are often times considered exaggerated natural gestures, but performed in such a manner that is slow enough that the audience recognizes its grace and technical proficiency.
Bon odori is often considered a popular form of dance in Japan. Every summer, bon odori festivals are performed in both the cities and countryside of the nation. Bon odori dance involves wearing kimonos and dancing to the bon odori style music (which is often considered a high tempo music, as far as traditional Japanese music goes). The dance steps are often quite simple and involve small, quick foot movements and twisting of the upper torso and shoulders.
Many times, Westerners will confuse butoh for an ancient form of Japanese dance. This isn't the case. Butoh was largely developed in the post-war era of Japan and was developed in both tandem to and as a reaction to contemporary Western dance. While many forms of Japanese dance focus on elegance and grace, butoh is largely concerned with conveying a sense of the grotesque. Butoh does not adhere to any set of strict rules, although certain tropes are often employed by butoh dancers. Dancers are usually scantily clad or nude and tend to contort or configure their bodies in manners that are generally considered unnatural or difficult. Although performers were originally encouraged to remain aloof or emotionless throughout the performance, many contemporary butoh performers will convey everything from bliss to pain through their face.
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