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Young and Old Take to the Floor

June 14, 1999

Japan is enjoying its biggest dance boom ever. The twist and go-go of the 1950s and 1960s and the discos and clubs of the 1970s and 1980s were exclusively the preserve of young people, but this time, men and women of all ages are getting up on their feet and dancing.

Sparked by a Movie
Credit for igniting this boom probably goes to the popular 1996 Japanese movie Shall We Dance?, which depicts how an ordinary middle-aged man is gradually drawn into the world of dance after first visiting a ballroom dance studio to meet the beautiful instructor he had seen through the window. Thanks to this box-office hit, not only those of the protagonist's generation but also young people have taken to ballroom dancing, and the number of studios and competitors have dramatically increased. The film helped bring dance closer to the general public.

Ballroom dance has become more prominent on television, too. Competitions are sometimes aired on TV, and one program follows the trials and tribulations of a band of comedians who have seriously taken up the activity. Parents even enroll their children in ballroom dance classes now.

Ballet is also highly popular. Tamiyo Kusakari, one of Japan's leading prima ballerinas, leapt to stardom after appearing in the above-mentioned Shall We Dance? in the role of the young and attractive dance instructor. Performances by Tetsuya Kumakawa, until recently a principal male dancer at Britain's Royal Ballet, have been attracting attention from far and wide. And major ballet companies are coming in droves to perform in Japan. Those touring the country in 1999 include the Paris Opera Ballet, Pina Bausch with the Wuppertal Dance Theatre, and the American Ballet Theater.

Dancing the Recession Away
Many women in their twenties and thirties are even going beyond what they see as rigidly stylized genres to freer and more passionate forms, such as flamenco and tango; studios offering lessons in them are fully booked everywhere. It has been found that Japanese people, unlikely as it may seem, can possess an impressive amount of "Latin energy." Nearly 1,000 people flocked to a Brazilian concert held in Shibuya (a central neighborhood in Tokyo), for example, and danced to the spirited rhythm of the guitar and percussion. Almost any event related to Latin music, such as dance shows and bandonion (South American accordion) concerts, can expect a good turnout.

The appearance this spring of a children's song set to a tango rhythm, "Dango Sankyodai" (Three Dumpling Brothers), has further fueled the Latin fever. First appearing on an NHK (Japan Broadcasting Corporation) children's program in January 1999, the song was released as a CD single in March and subsequently took the country by storm--so much so that it became one of the best-selling singles ever in Japan.

Without going out for lessons, people can still enjoy dancing with computer games, available both in arcades and on game machines at home. Children and adults across Japan are grooving to the music, stepping out in the directions indicated by arrows that appear on the screen one after another. The fewer mistakes you make and the more accurately you stay on rhythm, the higher your score will be in those games.

The widespread dance boom is partially due to people's recognition that dancing benefits their health. There are also some experts who profess that Latin music and dance become popular during times of economic recession, because the cheerful rhythm clears away the dark clouds hanging over people's minds at such times.

Trends in JapanEdited 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.