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Japanese Dance

History of Nihon Buyo

The origins of Japanese dance can be traced to ancient imperial court music called gagaku, which dates to the Heian period (794-1192). Gagaku is a highly distinctive genre of music, song, and dance that evolved as a fusion of native Japanese songs and dances and Buddhist performing arts from China and the Korean Peninsula. Even today it continues to be performed during imperial ceremonies.

A new type of song-and-dance performance called shirabyoshi appeared in the twelfth century, featuring women dressed as men singing hit songs of the day and dancing to the accompaniment of flutes and drums.

In the fourteenth century a masked dance-drama called noh was born, featuring performances by actors who danced mai as they narrated a story. And in the seventeenth century, a woman named Okuni of Izumo founded a troupe of actresses and put on dance and drama performances in Kyoto, which won widespread popularity. From these performances, kabuki evolved into a genre of its own in the Edo period (1603-1868), and there developed a type of dance performed during kabuki plays.

After World War II, a surge of artistic activity got underway as Japanese dance came under the influence of ballet, opera, and other Western arts and departed from the traditional framework of kabuki. Today Japanese dance continues to evolve with the creation of various new works.