Disclosure: Dance Dispatches received free class admission to write an open and honest dance class review about our experience learning Nihon Buyo.
This article also contains affiliate links with Amazon. If you make a purchase from these links, Dance Dispatches will receive a small commission – at no extra cost to you.
When you travel to super high-tech Tokyo, you can take a step back in time to learn a traditional Japanese dance, called Nihon Buyo, with Grandma Shizuko. It is the same graceful dance that Japanese geisha famously perform while entertaining. Japan’s traditional dance form can borrow elements from Kabuki theatre or incorporate props, such as fans or parasols. When you visit Grandma Shizuko, who has been dancing for decades, you (and any other curious foreigners) will join her regular class of Japanese students to learn a routine.
Nihon Buyo Class Review
Trying On Japanese Traditional Clothing
Upon arrival at the studio space, you can select a smooth silken kimono to wear while dancing. No matter how long it is, or how vertically challenged you are, Grandma Shizuko will expertly rig you into the gorgeous garment. Just like a fairy godmother, she folded the fabric and wrapped a bunch of cords around my middle – and voilà! The kimono’s delicate hem was hoisted just above the floor.
Much to my embarrassment, Grandma Shizuko even patiently fitted the traditional tabi socks on my (not-so-pretty, once-a-dancer-always-a-dancer) feet. They have a seam between the big toe and the rest, like a foot version of a mitten, to allow for wearing Japanese geta (platform sandals). Happily, we all just practised in socks.
Learning Nihon Buyo: Our Japanese Fan Dance
Once all of the students are properly outfitted, Grandma Shizuko and her students demonstrate the choreography in a quick mini-showcase. When I visited at the end of April, the dance was inspired by sakura – the cherry blossom season. Our props included a stick with cherry blossoms, as well as a collapsible fan, and we were encouraged to imagine that we were dancing near the trees in full bloom. Grandma Shizuko also choreographed a poetic pantomime of drinking sake from our fans. She told us to think picture the liquid perfumed by pale pink cherry blossom petals, and I recalled the Japanese tradition of hanami – picnicking under the cherry trees.
You watch and try to mimic the dance in short segments with the music. (There are no counts to memorize, but you could place the choreography to counts if you really wanted to.) Little by little the dance builds, but there’s really no hope of memorizing all of the gestures in one class session.
The real joy is of moving evenly in unison (or, perhaps, slightly behind) the other dancers in a centuries-old tradition.
During break time, green tea is served along with snacks. I kneeled alongside the other dancers (until my calves fell asleep), at which point I tried to tuck my legs at my side without messing up the outfit, and sipped the warm, pleasantly grassy-flavoured drink. Another lady from China sat with us, so we chatted about travel and asked the others questions about Japanese culture while we ate our baked sweet potatoes. Then we were treated to a performance by our classmate, who expertly danced and spun a large patterned parasol as practice for an upcoming performance.
End of Class
To end class, you perform the full routine for a few more times with the group. You can film the dance to keep as a special travel memory. (It’s way cooler than buying a run-of-the-mill key ring, bottle opener or shot glass with emblazoned with ‘Tokyo’.) You can also take photos in the pretty pastel kimonos with your classmates, and the madam herself, Grandma Shizuko.
PS. Thank you very much to Kota for taking such lovely photos of class!
Nihon Buyo Class Summary
Level: All levels – although you will learn a lot of choreography, you can just watch the other dancers and follow along
Physical intensity: 1 / 5
Best moment: I have to cheat because there were many… Trying on a beautiful kimono was just the start, but I also loved chatting during the tea break and watching our classmate practice her dance routine – and taking photos at the end with the sweet Grandma Shizuko!
Most challenging moment: Opening my fan every time, despite extra tutelage
Three words to describe class: Delightful, gentle, measured
If You Learn Traditional Japanese Dance with Grandma Shizuko
You can book a dance class with Grandma Shizuko on AirBNB. Her neighbour, Kota, helps her to run her classes on the international platform. His listing is called ‘Learn to dance with a family matriarch‘, and available class dates are listed on the site.
Class times: Saturday, 2:00pm – 4:30pm
Location: Classes are held at a studio near Minowa Station in Tokyo.
Price: $39 USD
All information accurate and up-to-date at time of posting.
You can see a short montage from our Nihon Buyo class with Grandma Shizuko below. The entire routine was just over four minutes, but hopefully you can gain the essence of the traditional Japanese dance in this trimmed down version.
Music credit: Shogun by Doxent Zsigmond (c)
Copyright 2013 Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Noncommercial (3.0) license.
http://dig.ccmixter.org/files/doxent/43073 Ft: Rob Walker
Have you ever had the opportunity to see or to try Japanese dance? Tell us about your experiences in the comment section below!