Friday, 14 April 2006

Yosakoi Soran, Part 2

As I discussed in Yosakoi Soran, Part 1, I am a member of a dance club that performs 'Yosakoi Soran' dances. At the end of the post, I added a couple of links to Yosakoi websites. Those links had some information on the origins of the dance style, but I would like to speak a little on the matter myself.

Firstly, Yosakoi Soran as it is being performed in festivals all over Japan today, is not a traditional dance form. What happened was this: A university student from Hokkaido was visiting the south of Japan and happened accross the 'Yosakoi festival'. This festival, which has been held in a certain area every year for centuries (I believe) involves a dance called the Yosakoi dance. Although the Yosakoi dance is traditional, it is very energetic, whereas the traditional dances of most Japanese towns are Bon Odori style, which is not very energetic at all. The university student thought it would be fun to put a derivation of the Yosakoi dance (complete with wooden naruko castanets) to music derived from the Soran Bushi, an energetic festival music style native to Hokkaido. This combination was jazzed up with rock music elements and a group of Hokkaido university students made the first Yosakoi Soran team.

Since then more teams have been made, and festivals have started taking place in many places in Japan. The biggest festival is the one in Sapporo. For a dance team's routine to be accepted into one of the big festivals, it has to contain certain elements. The naruko (wooden clapper) of the southern Yosakoi festival must be used. The music, no matter how modern and rock-music-ified, must contain identifiable elements of the Soran Bushi music. Some teams have flag bearers, someone who stands at the back waving a huge flag with the team's name on it around in the air. Some teams have a caller, someone who is dressed up in the team's costume but who does not dance: they get to hold a microphone and introduce the team. Then they get to yell things like 'Yusho!' and ' Sore sore!' or, in some teams' cases, sing lyrics to the music. Teams who do not have a caller have someone who introduces the team in a big genki voice and then quickly puts the microphone down and runs to their dancing spot just before the music begins.

These are not strict requirements, and therefore there is a lot of variation between different teams' routines, and a lot of room for innovation. Each year, many teams come up with radically new interpretations of Yosakoi Soran: radical new costumes, radical new music, radical new dance moves. Saihoku Repputai, the team from Wakkanai I joined, likes to have the female members and the male members doing different routines. This year we are experimenting with a little bit of acting put into a bridge in the music. It is very embarassing. The other women and I have to kneel to the side and pretend to fix our collective makeup and hairdos while the men stand in the middle and pretend to smoke cigarettes. It's bit odd, but it is the first time our team has tried something like this.

Back to April last year:

I expressed my wish to join the Yosakoi team. (Yosakoi Soran is too long to say, so we say Yosakoi. Which is not really correct.) I started going to dance practice on Tuesday evenings. With Taiko on Monday, Eikaiwa on Wednesday, normal dance on Thursday and Japanese on Saturday, I was very busy.

For a long while we practiced the easy Yosakoi Soran dances that all teams practice and perform together for fun at the festivals. These include Yotchare and Ranbu. Kids often learn Yotchare for school festivals.

I found out that lack of Japanese abilitiy had caused more confusion on my part. What I had joined was not the dance team Saihoku Repputai I had seen perform in Sendai. I had joined the Kisakata team Kafuumai. A month or two after Kafuumai began practicing, about half the members also started practicing Saihoku Repputai, but they practiced on Monday night when I had Taiko practice, so I decided at first to learn only the Kafuumai dance.

It took quite a while for the teachers of Kafuumai to make last years dance, because Kafuumai at that stage was only a year old and so no one was very good yet. So after a leisurely six weeks of learning easy dances, we had four weeks to learn the more difficult festival dance unique to our team. The music for our routine was not so good because we did not have the money to pay a good composer and band to make it. Also, our costume was not so good. It was well-made but looked silly. But we all trundled off to the Akita Yaatose festival for the debut of Kafuumai '05.

It was a hot day, although another performance we did later was hotter. Our very first stage performance of the day met technical difficulties when the MD of our music played for about ten seconds and then died. Another MD was found, and we could dance. During practice the teachers of the club, who were at the very front, had spent too much time checking that we were dancing well and not enough time practicing themselves, so on that first performance of the day our front row made many obvious mistakes and cracked up laughing. We found a corner to practice in before the next performance.

The next performance was a parade (where the dancers, instead of standing in a square-ish shape and dancing in one area, form a long shape and move about 100m down a spectator-lined road). Before we started a festival official put a sticker on my back labelling me 'cute' which I wasn't. In the pink clothes, with several kg more fat and several kg less muscle than I have this year, I bore a strong resemblance to a pig. Why does Kafuumai have to wear pink?

That day we did two stage performances, two parades and two sessions of "Everyone in the middle, let's dance together! Come on kids! Come join the performers!" free dances. During the free dances we performed Yotchare and Ranbu, and then an encore or two. There were so many people dancing together (although only one or two spectators took up the offer to join in) that it was hard to find dancing room. Also, one performance of Yotchare was about three times as tiring as a performance of Kafuumai. Despite this, the free dances were fun.

Although the day had got off to a rocky start, and I was exhausted and boiled alive, all in all I had a good time.

(I will stop here. I'll write about the rest of last year's festival season, and how I eventually joined Saihoku Repputai, later.)

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