MORE C/W DANCING IN JAPAN
by Martha Ogasawara & Hiro Suzuki (9/98)
As you may remember, in my last article I gave an update on the C/W dance scene in Nagoya and our dance group "Crazy Feet". However, our group is by no means the only group of C/W dancers in Japan. As you may expect, the largest number of dancers can be found in and around Tokyo. For this article, I've asked my good friend Hiro Suzuki, who happens to be one of the leaders of the C/W dance scene in Tokyo, to help me with information etc.. This article is a joint effort.
There are probably about 500 C/W dancers in and around the Tokyo area. It's hard to get an accurate number because there is no one governing organization or group that they all belong to. In fact, their styles of dancing, what they dance and where they dance tend to be quite diverse. However, they can roughly be divided into 4 different categories.
The groups that have been dancing the longest are those associated with live bands. Despite the fact that C/W music is not generally popular in Japan, there are a number of C/W bands and singers. Most of the music they perform is in English, although some of it may even be in Japanese. What they play ranges from classic numbers to the newer country/rock sound. Most bands have an instructor associated with them who gives lessons (they call them "lectures") before the band plays so that people can dance while the band performs. Generally, they only teach a couple of the older generic dances and use those same few dances to a variety of different songs. The emphasis tends to be more on the music than on the dancing.
There are also some pockets of dancing associated with the U.S. military bases. There are still several military bases around the Tokyo area and some of them have dancing to a C/W DJ once or twice a week. The dancers are personnel from the bases, plus Japanese dance fans who come for the dancing from outside of the base. The level and variety of dancing tends to fluctuate somewhat, depending on who's stationed there at the time. They have the big advantage of getting C/W acts from the U.S. when they come visit.
Perhaps the largest number of dancers are those who take classes at "culture schools". These culture schools are often sponsored by newspapers or TV stations and have a large variety of classes ranging from such traditional things as Japanese tea ceremony and flower arrangement, to things like English conversation and hula dancing. The classes are usually a set of 6-month weekly lessons and most of the students are women. There are currently 10 such C/W dance classes going on, so with an average of 20 students per class, that accounts for 200 of the dancers right there. Most of the people in these classes don't dance anywhere outside of class.
The other source of dancers is the Tokyo branch of "Crazy Feet". They meet once a month on Sundays. Every other month they bring in an instructor (usually Martha) to do workshops, and the other months they get together just to dance and review the dances they know. They do the latest line dances and the emphasis is on dancing. This month we learned the infamous "Dangerous". Many of the members do other kinds of dancing such as square or round dancing as well.
Until recently, there was really no place just to go and dance. There are a few places that have live C/W music, but the space for dancing tends to be minimal. However, starting this past February, there is finally a great place to go dancing. The first Friday evening of every month has been designated "American Pop Night" at the Omori Bellport, a huge atrium located near the Omori station. There is room for 300-400 dancers, and because the atrium is located in an open area between buildings, many passersby stop to watch and sometimes join in. Every month there is an average attendance of 100-150 people and the numbers are slowly growing. In the early part of the evening there is a dance lesson for beginners and dancing to a DJ. In the latter part of the evening, there is a live band. Despite the name, most of the music is C/W. The crowd is very mixed and the best part is that people from all of the above-mentioned groups attend. Everyone knows such classic dances as Electric Slide, Ski Bumpus and Slappin' Leather. One of the most popular newer dances is OOO!AAH!. Because the floor is big, there is plenty of room for multiple dances to be going on at one time. Many thanks go to Mr. Kurihara and the Omori Bellport Company, who had the vision to take a chance on such a little-known activity. The monthly dances that are held there are sure to go down as one of the major influences on the history of C/W dancing in Japan.
There are some other C/W dance groups scattered here and there throughout Japan. Hiro has a homepage on the Internet called "Happy Country Dancin'" (http://www.asahi-net.or.jp/~DB5H-SZK/) which gives most of the details. Unfortunately, this site is still mostly in Japanese. We're working on translating it into English (although I'm afraid our progress is not very fast).
So hopefully this gives you a better idea of what the C/W dance scene is like here in Japan. With any luck, we'll have more to tell you in a future article as it continues to grow and develop. And make sure and bring your boots and look us up if you ever make it to this neck of the world. We'd love to have you join us on the dance floor!!