by Martha Ogasawara

Did you know that there is square and round dancing in Japan?? Yes, really!! Can you imagine everyone dancing in Japanese? Is that beyond the scope of your imagination? Well, I thought I would take this opportunity to tell you a little more about what the dancing is like here in Japan-both the things that are the same and the things that are different.

First of all, let me tell you some of the things that are the same. Remember what I said about everyone dancing in Japanese? Well, I was just kidding. The language of square and round dancing is the same wherever you go. The cuers and callers all cue and call all in English (albeit they may have a Japanese accent). The dancers may not speak English (actually, neither do most of the callers or cuers, except to call and cue), but they can understand all of the necessary square dance terminology. Japanese dancers are known for being very proficient dancers, and this may be due partly to the fact that there was extra effort involved in learning how to dance in another language.

Another similarity is that square dancing is based on a system of clubs. There are over 250 square dance clubs in Japan, with about 8,000 members in the Japan Square Dance Association alone. And the number of dancers is steadily growing. The age of the dancers ranges from young children to people in their 70's, with probably the majority being in their 40 s and 50's. Some of the older clubs have been around for 50 years, so square and round dancing are not new developments by any means. However, there is a big difference in the structure of the clubs. There are no such things as couples and single clubs. In fact, the women out number the men by about 4 to 1. Then how does everyone get a chance to dance you may wonder? Simple, a lot of the women do the man's part. Many women can dance both parts, but some women only know the man's part. In any case, it's not considered a problem here. It is usual to change partners for every tip, and even married couples don t usually dance together more than once or twice per dance. Therefore, there are a lot of mixing and anyone can ask anyone else to dance (one of my favorite things about dancing here!).

Another difference is the way beginner classes are run. Most clubs hold a beginners class once a year and it is held on the normal club night. The majority of the clubs here dance at the Mainstream level. Everyone in the club helps to angel the new beginners until they graduate, at which point they are naturally absorbed into the club.

In general, round dancing is also part of the program for most square dance clubs. Beginners are taught round dancing during beginners class and Phase II~III level dances are included in the program at most dances and festivals. Each club, depending on its size (and they vary from 9 people to 300, with the average at probably about 25), will have several callers and cuers. Most callers and cuers are members of one club and very few of them get paid for their services. Most of the clubs are officer-run, and the callers and cuers will often be officers as well. Clubs meet once a week, and members generally pay monthly dues, instead of paying per dance. Community centers are the most frequent venues for weekly club dances.

In addition to the Mainstream clubs, there are quite a number of Advanced and Challenge level clubs as well. While some people dance only at this level, many people continue to belong to a MS club at the same time. The same is true for round dancing. There are many Phase IV~V level round dance clubs. The fact that many of the higher-level dancers continue to support the lower-level clubs is probably another reason why the overall level of dancing is good here.

Has this article helped pique your interest in dancing in Japan? Don't you think it would be a wonderful and exotic cultural experience to come and join a room full of Japanese dancers? Even though you might not speak the same language, it wouldn t matter as long as you were dancing together. Well, now we come to my ulterior motive in writing this article.

Every September, the All-Japan Square Dance Convention is held somewhere in Japan. This September 10-12 it will be held in Gifu City, right in the middle of the main island. There are expected to be about 1000 participants and there will be 3 full-time halls going on simultaneously ranging in level from Basic through C2. There will also be a full-time round dance hall. The dancing and accommodations will all be in the same hotel, so everything will be conveniently located under one roof. Doesn t it sound like the chance of a lifetime? If you re interested in finding out more, please write or e-mail the overseas publicity chairman (who just happens to be me - what a coincidence!!). For more information, write Martha Ogasawara, 9-3 Sakaue-cho, Tajimi-shi, Gifu-ken, Japan, 507-0804,

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