IchiFuji-kai at Shofuso: Japanese Classical Dance

Learn how to wear kimono and dance gracefully while studying Nihon buyō (Japanese classical dance) at Shofuso! Dance classes are open to anyone, including youth ages 10 and up. In fact, no experience is necessary. Students learn different dances at their own pace. Remember – the more work you do at home, the faster you will learn!

Learning classical Japanese dance means much more than studying dance alone. Many different interests are included: music, poetry and theatre; textiles, kimono and dressing; fans and props; costumes, makeup and wigs; language and etiquette; and Japanese history. What are your interests?

The Class
Dance class begins at 1:00 pm and ends by 4:30 pm. By tradition, all classes are group classes, and include students with different levels of experience.

At the start of each class, students dress in kimono or yukata (cotton kimono), obi (sash) and tabi (special socks). Those attending a Nihon buyō “taster” class should wear leggings or gym shorts, a t-shirt, and white gym socks.

During class, students line up by seniority, then bow to the teacher. No mirrors are used. Beginning students take their lessons first by standing beside the teacher, or between the teacher and a senior student (to “sandwich” you) and moving as the teacher directs, generally following her movements. Following this, novice students dance at the back of the class, where they can watch and follow more advanced choreography. Writing down choreography is allowed, and following the movements of other lessons is encouraged!

From time to time, students perform at Shofuso or at other venues. Students will be asked to join, first as helpers and later as dancers, at the teachers’ discretion.

The Teacher
Helen Moss, whose performing name is Fujima Nishiki-no (藤間錦乃) has been teaching Sōke Fujima style dance at Shofuso for more than five years. Click here to read Moss’s bio. Dancer Yoshiko Furuse, who has studied Nihon buyō since 2010, is an assistant teacher.

The Semester
Classes are organized into semesters. The semester fee is $135 for members, and $150 for non-members.

Spring 2018 Semester
Fall 2018 Semester
 May 6  August 25
 May 20  September 16
 June 3  October 7
 June 17  October 21
 July 1  November 4
 July 15  November 18

The teacher comes from New York City, so sometimes weather conditions either delay or prevent her from coming. In that case, she will make every attempt to notify you. In the event that students are unable to make a class due to weather conditions, travel, or a medical emergency, they should contact Moss via email or phone.

Most students are adults, but children 10 and over are also welcome. Parents should fill out a photo release form and an emergency/medical form.

After the first semester, students are asked to purchase a dance fan and a cotton yukata/obi set. The teacher will make every effort to see that those are available for a reasonable price.

Additional Information
Please contact the teacher, Helen Moss, at helen.moss@gmail.com or at 718-793- 3117. For registration assistance, please contact the Shofuso staff at japanesehouse@japanphilly.org.

What is Classical Japanese Dance (Nihon buyō)?
Classical Japanese dance began around 1603, along with the first performances of the Kabuki theatre by its founder, Izumo no Okuni. In Japanese, it is also called Nihon buyō (日本舞踊) or nichibu (日舞). Even today, all Kabuki actors begin by studying dance when they are very young.

The school of Nihon buyō offered at Shofuso is the elegant Sōke Fujima style of dance. With a 300 year history, this style is still performed in the Kabuki theatre. The Grandmaster (Gosōke) of the Sōke Fujima ryu, Fujima Kanjuro VIII, choreographs for the Kabuki theatre.

Anyone can study Nihon buyō, and dancers can perform the role of any character, male or female. Men and women study both male and female styles. Male style is very open, with all the energy directed outward – the feet are turned out, and the elbows are held out and away from the body to suggest masculinity and strength. Female style is just the opposite, but equally strong – the feet are turned slightly inward with knees held closely together. Arms are carried closer to the body, and the movements themselves are smaller, softer, and more feminine.

In classical Japanese dance, the dancer interprets the poetry of the song at the same time as moving along with the music. If the words of the song say, “It was a very hot day,” a dancer might fan herself to show how hot it is, or if the words refer to a gentle breeze, the dancer’s movements might mimic the cool breeze. Sometimes dancers move or stamp rhythmically to the music, or stop momentarily in a pose.

A fan (osensu) helps interpret the poetry by representing many things and illustrating many moods. Fans can be used completely closed, with one rib open, or fully opened. The kimono can be either a leotard or a costume; even its sleeves are used in dance. Many small hand props, such as umbrellas (kasa) or hand towels (tenugui), enhance the meaning of the poetry, and the beauty of the scene.