Each of us is familiar with the Western ballet and modern dance and we highly appreciate these arts, though the acquaintance with traditional Japanese dances is more than interesting. As the other forms of the Japanese art, Japanese dances have long accumulated a cultural diversity and an international experience, shaping foreign dance movements and setting them on traditional Japanese melodies.
There are many traditional Japanese dances, but one of the most common and famous is the Bon dance (Bon Odori in Japanese). People dance the Bon dance during the Bon Festival, which takes place annually in August in each location of Japan. Bon means welcoming ancestors' souls and holding memorial services for them. The practice has its roots in the Chinese Buddhist tradition, comprising a blend of Buddhist beliefs and ancestor worshiping. Traditionally, the Japanese hold the Bon dance at night, since many of them believe that their ancestors' souls come back during the night.
One of the most outstanding Japanese dances for its dynamic choreography and modernized rhythm is So-ran Bushi. Unlike many other traditional Japanese dances, and Bon Odori inclusive, that have a slow tempo and calm music, So-ran Bushi is reinterpreted for more modern times with electric guitar arrangements and rock influences.
As for more contemporary Japanese dances, they are also numerous and diverse. Yosakoi is a unique Japanese dance that started in the city of Kochi in 1954. This is a modern interpretation of Awa Odori, a traditional summer dance. The style combines traditional Japanese dance movements with modern music and is popular today all around Japan. There is a number of professional yosakoi schools and choreographed performances are usually accomplished by large teams. While many young Japanese specially train in yosakoi professional schools, yosakoi is also a popular event during the sports festivals in many schools of Japan.
For professional performances the dancers wear costumes, based on historical attire, popular and ethnic fashions. The major defining aspect of yosakoi dance is the use of naruko: small wooden clappers that each dancer holds in his hands. The city of Kochi, the motherland of the modern yosakoi dance, holds the original Yosakoi festival and competition every August since 1954. Over ten thousand dancers participate in the competition annually. In addition, the festivals and competitions of yosakoi are held today in over two hundred locations of Japan.
It is also interesting to mention Para Para, the Japanese form of a solo popular dance, which has existed in Japan since the 1970s and recently gained the popularity in the Western world. Some regard Para Para as a modern descendant of the traditional Bon Odori dance. Para Para has special preset movements for each song and everyone moves identically at once as in a kind of line dancing. Thus, dancers sometimes call themselves paralists. These Japanese dances are commonly performed to fast dynamic music like Eurobeat, but Para Para variations, such as TechPara danced to techno and TraPara danced to trance, are possible.
The varieties and styles of Japanese dances are many, while it is worth visiting at least one dance festival in Japan to fully appreciate the art.