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Dance Revival Sweeps Japan

July 28, 2000
The latest dance craze to sweep Japanese nightclubs is the para-para, a uniquely Japanese concept in which hand movement plays an essential role. It is like the Bon dances performed every year in July or August, when citizens parade around to the accompaniment of traditional Japanese festival music. The only difference is that the para-para is performed in nightclubs to high-tempo Eurobeats.

The Para-Para in Perspective
In nightclubs around the country, an energy akin to what Japan witnessed during its bubble-period "disco boom" is now coming back, thanks to the para-para. Twinstar, a nightclub in Tokyo's Shinjuku Ward, for instance, turns into a para-para wonderland on Tuesday nights, when it gets packed wall to wall with young people. Serious dancers climb on stage and motion the para-para moves to those on the dance floor, all of whom follow in unison.

Dancing the para-para is different from dancing to R&B or techno music, since you do not have the freedom to move your body as you like, but must dance a fixed set of moves, each corresponding to a particular moment in a song. Memorizing all the moves can be difficult--there are said to be over 300--but enthusiasts say the reward that comes with mastering the dance makes it all worthwhile. It is strange to see everyone dancing the exact same moves at once. But as die-hard para-para fanatics will tell you, "The feeling of becoming part of a single entity is what makes the dance so appealing."

Opinions vary as to the origin of the dance. Some say it developed in the early 1980s with the notorious takenoko-zoku subculture that danced the streets of Harajuku, one of Tokyo's major hubs for young people. Others say that the onomatopoeic name describes the hand motions that characterize the dance. In any event, the para-para first appeared in certain nightclubs in the latter half of the 1980s, and became trendy sometime around 1994 or 1995, when the hard-dancing all-female J-pop group MAX released the hit song "Tora Tora Tora." After that, however, R&B and techno became popular, and the para-para quickly went out of style.

The resurgence of the dance remains unexplained. But it seems that it all started in 1999, when J-pop singer Takuya Kimura, playing his "Bucky Kimura" alterego on a popular television program, began acting out a series of skits in which he and others around him begin dancing the para-para completely out of the blue. Soon after, para-para nights were scheduled at trendy clubs across the nation, beginning in Tokyo and Sapporo. And at the end of the year, a para-para championship event was held in Tokyo.

The phenomenon has affected society in unexpected ways. In the music industry, for example, Eurobeat albums have become mega-hits. On late-night TV, young pop stars and showbiz personalities try out the para-para; and recently there was a TV commercial in which a group of young women performed the dance. Even Tokyo Disneyland has succumbed to the craze: In its revues, Disney characters and stage performers break into the para-para when a Eurobeat version of "The Mickey Mouse March" is played. The audience joins in, and all dance in unison.

A Japanese Phenomenon
The para-para is most strongly embraced by young adults who never knew the dance when it was the rage about 10 years ago and who, for that matter, never thought to consider it "uncool" when it died out. Its aesthetic principles call to mind those of the summertime Bon dances. It is performed in the same manner by everyone: The DJ says the magic word--"Wasshoi!"--and everyone knows what to do. It is in fact much like a Japanese festival. And in keeping with the Japanese tradition of adapting disparate cultures to suit native tastes, the para-para incorporates elements of Japanese dance, hip-hop, and flamenco, regardless of how incompatible these styles may seem. In short, it is in every sense a Japanese phenomenon.

The para-para is the only Japanese style of dance to have become a craze in nightclubs. Its recent revival will probably last for some time. Even if it goes out of style, though, it will more than likely return given the right circumstances.

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Trends in JapanCopyright (c) 2000 Japan Information Network. Edited by Japan Echo Inc. based on domestic Japanese news sources. Articles presented here are offered for reference purposes and do not necessarily represent the policy or views of the Japanese Government.