Shall We Dance - Prologue

Jean W. Williams jqw3827 at
Wed Nov 5 08:22:58 EST 1997

On Tue, 4 Nov 1997, Alan Makinen wrote:

> foreign
> viewers would understand how socially unconventional it would be for a
> Japanese to take up ballroom dancing

This is where I disagree.  It is not so much that ballroom dancing is
"unconventional" -- in fact it's pretty wildly popular among a certain
middle-aged set there.  NHK Channel 3 for a couple of years featured an
award-winning Australian couple coaching the finer points, competitions
are held all over Japan (I've attended one at a huge complex - it was
well-attended), and there are even clubs (such as the one where the older
teacher seeks to "launch" Sugiyama) which I have attended.

In my opinion, what would be "unconventional" about it would be if either
partner would pursue this hobby (or any hobby for that matter) with
his/her spouse.  Despite the Japanese government's encouragement of this
kind of "coupling" in order to make retirement go smoother, it is still
true that the majority of middle-aged and older couples in Japan live
separate lives. And that is how I interpreted the voiceover in the export
version of this film.

In my own neighborhood just outside Tokyo, there was a shop which sold,
among regular shoes, ballroom dance shoes.  So for me, the notion that
ballroom dance remains something somehow "exotic" in Japan is an
inaccurate one and it is not the message that the introductory scenes in
the film conveyed to me.

To see an example of the dance studio, just look up from the
Sobu sen in Tokyo at Ryogoku right across the tracks from the sumo
stadium. Every night when I went home I could see couples
twirling/swirling around around the 2nd or 3rd floor.  And it is in that
same neighborhood, Ryogoku, site of the very traditional sumo, that you
can go to a club where there is ballroom dancing nightly to . . . karaoke.
You will even see couples comprised of two middle-aged women in kimono
doing it.

Jean Williams
Dept. of Performance Studies
Tisch School of the Arts
New York University
jqw3827 at

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