Yesterday we met Japanese para para, a fabulous form of synchronized pop dance. Para para is the kind of dancing that is incredibly enjoyable to watch, but even more frantically fun to do. This video teaches us some Para Para dance moves — the very basics, and they’re wonderful. Don’t be shy, get up and try!
Japanese para para is AMAZING. The form of synchronized dancing emerged in Japanese clubs in the 1980’s, providing specific moves, mainly made with the arms, choreographed to frantic Euro-dance. Para Para has ebbed and flowed in popularity, alternating between “boom” and “glacial” periods, though in all periods “official” para para routines found favor among devoted “paralists” while routines choreographed by fans — nicknamed “maniac” — would make the rounds informally, especially outside of Japan where even the most committed dancers would be hard pressed to find a para para club. Purist paralist or no, you will absolutely enjoy — though you will perhaps be slightly confused by — “Night of Fire.” Let Shanandoo teach you some basic para para moves.
Bon Odori is a Japanese folk dance most often performed during the Obon “ancestor appreciation” holiday in the public square and danced in concentric circles around a raised wooden platform called a yagura. The dance developed several hundred years ago from a Buddhist chant to welcome the spirits of the ancestors. Bon odori is a public, participatory dance that is meant to attract young and old, both trained dancers and those who just want to celebrate.
“Ashibinaa” is a song that accompanies Bon Odori, a Japanese folk dance performed during Obon, a summertime festival which is a period for Japanese to appreciate their ancestors by returning to their hometowns and “visiting with” the spirits of those who have passed. Obon is sometimes called the Lantern Festival; at its beginning Japanese light chochin lanterns to guide the ancestors’ spirits from their graves to the family home and at the end family members use lanterns to lead the spirits back. Our Japanese bon odori dancing may not be so accurate, but we do get the chance to exclaim, “HAI!”
Japanese folk music encompasses four main types of songs: work songs, religious songs, songs used for gatherings such as weddings, festivals and funerals, and children’s songs. The tradition is strong throughout Japan, especially on the once-independent island of Okinawa, whose folk music differs from that on the mainland in several ways. For example, while mainland Japanese folk uses the shamisen, Okinawan folk music uses the shansin, as well as the sanba, which produce a clacking sound similar to castanets, as well a sharp form of whistling known as the “finger flute.”
Japanese Buddhist chanting may be the most ancient form of Japanese music, but orchestral court music, known as gagaku, is well over a thousand years old. A full gagaku performance encompasses three forms of art — Kuniburi no Utamai, featuring ancient Japanese songs played on harp and flute, instrumental performances that accompany Japanese dance, and Utamono, danced to Japenese folk songs and sung Chinese poems.
This week in our online class for kids we visit Japan, a country that deceives. On one hand Japan feels so close, so familiar, that American may easily assume we know much more about it than we actually do. So much Japanese culture has entered the world’s psyche–who among us hasn’t ever sung karaoke, eaten sushi, watched anime, done a karate chop or pranced around the living room our flabby belly hanging out, bouncing into our unsuspecting cousin Rosco like a sumo wrestler? On the other hand, what of these elements of Japanese art and culture do non-Japanese really appreciate, let alone fully understand? Just because we use Japanese DVD players, drive Japanese cars and have mastered Dance Dance Revolution, does that mean we truly know Japan…?
Hong Kong’s film industry started to produce martial arts movies as early as the 1938s, when the Cantonese language film “The Adorned Pavillion” included the martial art of wuxia, which emphasizes chivalrous and philosophical engagement. By the 1970s a Mandarin-based, grittier and more visually dramatic form of “kung fu” replaced it, and with it came astounding global popularity. In 1973 young martial arts movie star Bruce Lee electrified audiences with Enter the Dragon, which was the first ever English language, US-Hong Kong production. (Lee died soon thereafter, unexpectedly and mysteriously.) Multiply talented Jackie Chan (“actor, action choreographer, filmmaker, comedian, director, producer, martial artist, screenwriter, entrepreneur, singer and stunt performer,” says the entry about Chan on Wikipedia) became the next huge Hong Kong kung fu movie star, blending martial arts and comedic timing. Chan’s Hong Kong movies were usually joyful and engaging, toying with the camp that had defined the genre, such as the overused device of the star of the film fending off numerous attackers who come at him one by one. In 2000 Hong Kong (well, actually Taiwan) cinema soared back toward wuxia with Ang Lee’s elegant Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon. Is the scene in this video from Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon the best fight scene ever?
Hong Kong’s international music, “Cantopop,” fuses Cantonese-language music with Western styles such as jazz and rock. It increased in popularity throughout the ’70s when vocalist Roman Tam scored several hits with Cantopop TV theme tunes. In the 1980s, “the Golden Age of Cantopop,” Cantopop record sales boomed, performers like Danny Chan and Teresa Teng, former “Queen of Mandarin Songs,” became Cantopop stars, and Cantopop record companies signed musicians to lucrative contracts. This led to an era in the ’90s in which “Four Heavenly Kings” dominated Cantopop music — Andy Lau, Aaron Kowk, Leon Lai and Jacky Cheung. in this video you’ll see Roman Tam at his 1983 prime.
Naamyam is a traditional Cantonese form of improvised, performed poetry. A single vocal performer, perhaps accompanied by an instrument such as a guzheng (bridged zither), vehu (cocunt-shell bowed lute) or vangqin (hammered dulcimer) and percussion instruments called ban (wooden clappers), will sing an epic poetic song, often about lost love. The song may be short — a mere twenty minutes — or long — hundreds of thousands of verses with a performance lasting hundreds of hours. The Naamyam in this video? Just a tiny taste for less than two minutes.