There are two types of Japanese traditional dance: Odori, which originated in the Edo period, and Mai, which originated in the western part of Japan. Odori grew out of Kabuki drama and is more oriented toward male sentiments. Mai is traditionally performed in Japanese rooms instead of on the stage. It was influenced by the Noh Drama.
A variation of the Mai style of Japanese dance is the Kyomai or Kyoto Style Dance. Kyomai developed in the 17th century Tokugawa cultural period. It is heavily influenced by the elegance and sophistication of the manners often associated with the Imperial Court in Kyoto.
Traditional Japanese dance
There are several types of traditional Japanese dance. These dances are created and mixed up from one to another yet all of them are unique in their own way. Some describe history and others are done entirely by men. The Four traditional dances today which are different from one another are Kabuki that became known in the 17th century, Noh Mai, Bon Festival which and a dance for the spirits, and Nihon Buyo which is created from a bit of all the dances.
The origin of the Noh Mai can be traced back to as far as the thirteenth century. Noh Mai is a dance that is done to music that is made by flutes and small hand drums. At some points they dance to vocal and percussion music, these points are called kuse or kiri. Noh Mai dances are put together by a series of forms. (The Noh, 2008) Forms are patterns of body movements that are done elegantly and with beauty.
There are several types of Noh Mai dances. A type that is neither slow nor fast is called Chu No Mai. A female usually performs this type of dance. A slower type of dance is the Jo No Mai. A female does this dance as well and can dress up as either a ghost of a noble woman, prostitute, a spirit or deity. A male’s dance is Otoko Mai. The performer does not wear a mask in this dance and is portraying the character as being heroic. Another male dance is Kami Mai, where the dancer acts as though he is a deity. This is a very fast dance. The female version of this would be Kagura and can be performed in various ways. Gaku is a dance that is imitates music played by the imperial court and is usually done by the main character. These six types make up the Noh Mai dance and help give the dance its beauty.
Costumes are a huge part of Noh Mai. Some times a dance or play may start out very slowly, so the actors create very flamboyant costumes to keep the audience interested. They also dress to fit the region in which they represent, such as a bamboo hat worn during a play would represent country life. The most important part of the costume is the mask. The Noh Mai masks are thought to be the most artistic masks in Japan. The masks are only worn by the main characters. (Ishii, 1994, pg. 43) Also, the masks have neutral expressions so it is the job of the actor to bring the character to life. (Pitt Rivers Museum)
Bon Odori is a dance performed during Obon. It is originally a dance to welcome the spirits of the dead. These dances and the music that accompanies them are different for every region of Japan. Usually, the bon dance involves people dancing around a yagura, which is a high wooden scaffold made of wood erected especially for this festival. During the dance the people that gathered around the yagura move either counter clockwise of clock wise, away and towards the yurgura. Some times they can switch direction in which they rotate around in the middle of the dance.
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