There are two main types of Japanese traditional dance:
Odori, which originated in the Edo period, and
Mai, which originated in the western part of Japan.
Odori grew out of Kabuki drama and is more oriented toward male sentiments.
Mai is traditionally performed in Japanese rooms instead of on the stage. It was influenced by the Noh Drama.
A variation of the Mai style of Japanese dance is the Kyomai or Kyoto Style Dance. Kyomai developed in the 17th century Tokugawa cultural period. It is heavily influenced by the elegance and sophistication of the manners often associated with the Imperial Court in Kyoto.
Traditional Japanese Dance
Kabuki is a classical Japanese dance-drama. Kabuki theatre is known for the stylization of its drama and for the elaborate make-up worn by some of its performers.
The individual kanji characters, from left to right, mean sing, dance, and skill. Kabuki is therefore sometimes translated as "the art of singing and dancing". These are, however, ateji characters which do not reflect actual etymology. The kanji of 'skill' generally refers to a performer in kabuki theatre. Since the word kabuki is believed to derive from the verb kabuku, meaning "to lean" or "to be out of the ordinary", kabuki can be interpreted as "avant-garde" or "bizarre" theatre. The expression kabukimono referred originally to those who were bizarrely dressed and swaggered on a street.
The origin of the Noh Mai can be traced back to as far as the thirteenth century,. Noh Mai is a dance that is done to music that is made by flutes and small hand drums. At some points they dance to vocal and percussion music, these points are called kuse or kiri. Noh Mai dances are put together by a series of forms. (The Noh, 2008) Forms are patterns of body movements that are done elegantly and with beauty.
There are several types of Noh Mai dances. A type that is neither slow nor fast is called Chu No Mai. A female usually performs this type of dance. A slower type of dance is the Jo No Mai. A female does this dance as well and can dress up as either a ghost of a noble woman, a spirit or deity. A male's dance is Otoko Mai. The performer does not wear a mask in this dance and is portraying the character as being heroic. Another male dance is Kami Mai, where the dancer acts as though he is a deity. This is a very fast dance. The female version of this would be Kagura and can be performed in various ways. Gaku is a dance that is imitates music played by the imperial court and is usually done by the main character. These six types make up the Noh Mai dance and help give the dance its beauty.
Costumes are a huge part of Noh Mai. Sometimes a dance or play may start out very slowly, so the actors create very flamboyant costumes to keep the audience interested. They also dress to fit the region in which they represent, such as a bamboo hat worn during a play would represent country life. The most important part of the costume is the mask. The Noh Mai masks are thought to be the most artistic masks in Japan. The masks are only worn by the main characters. Also, the masks have neutral expressions so it is the job of the actor to bring the character to life.
Bon Odori is a dance performed during Obon. It was originally a dance to welcome the spirits of the dead. These dances and the music that accompanies them are different for every region of Japan. Usually, the bon dance involves people dancing around a yagura, a high wooden scaffold. The people move either counter clockwise or clockwise, away and towards the yagura. Sometimes they switch direction.
The movements and gestures in a bon dance often depict the history, work or geography of the region. For example, Tanko Bushi is a coal mining work song that originates from Miike Mine in Kyushu, and the movements in the dance depict digging, cart pushing and lantern hanging. Soran Bushi is a sea shanty, and the movements in the dance depict net dragging and luggage hoisting. Bon dances may employ the use of different utensils, such as fans, small towels and wooden hand clappers. For the Hanagasa Odori, the dancers use straw hats with flowers on them.
Nihon Buyo is different from most other traditional dances. It is intended for entertainment on stage. Nihon Buyo is a refined dance that has been improved throughout four centuries. There are four parts to Nihon Buyo, the most significant part being Kabuki Buyo. Nihon Buyo was created directly from Kabuki Buyo before it became theater. The second part of Nihon Buyo is Noh. Nihon Buyo takes a few key elements from Noh such as the circular movements and the tools that they incorporate in the dances. The third part of these dances comes from the folk dances. They took the spinning and jumping that is used in folk dances and has incorporated it in Nihon Buyo. The last part came from a mixture of European and American culture that is found in Japan today. Today, with the combination of these dances we have Nihon Buyo, a refined dance that has become an art form made for entertainment on stage.
The Sparrow dance, called Suzume Odori, is a dance based upon the fluttering movements of the Eurasian tree sparrow. It was first performed, improvised, by stonemasons who were constructing Sendai Castle for the daimyo Date Masamune. The emblem of the Date clan incorporates two tree sparrows. The Sparrow dance is now performed yearly in Sendai, Miyagi prefecture at the Aoba festival in mid-May. School children in Miyagi prefecture learn and perform the Sparrow dance, especially during the Obon Festival.
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