On July 12 and 13, 2023, Kitakami Bunka Koryu Center Sakura Hall in Iwate Prefecture was filled with the feverish excitement of 1,000 children at each of three performances of ‘The Grasshopper and the Ant’, a work based on Aesop’s Fable ‘The Ant and the Grasshopper’. With its origins in the creative dance of namstrops and contemporary Hong Kong dance company Unlock Dancing Plaza, the work teaches children the importance of being rich in spirit and living a life full of joy, from the perspective of the grasshopper. Implemented as a 2023 Kitakami Youth Appreciation Project, 3rd and 4th grade students from all 14 elementary schools in the city participated in the performance as part of their ‘appreciation lessons’ (‘tokkatsu’ cultural activity).
|Group photo after appreciation lesson||Before start of appreciation lesson|
|’The Grasshopper and the Ant’, SOUSAKU-DANCE created by namstrops and Unlock Dancing Plaza||Curtain call|
Photos courtesy of Junnosuke Nishi
On July 13, we visited Kasamatsu Elementary School in Kitakami City to hold a SOUSAKU-DANCE workshop in which the children created a scene from ‘The Grasshopper and the Ant’. Twenty-nine 3rd and 4th grade students participated in the workshop, commenting afterwards that they “enjoyed not just seeing the work but being able to create their own dance.”
|Ong Yong Lock, Artistic Director of Unlock Dancing Plaza, working with the children||Tackling an assignment (dance work) for which there is no right answer in a creative, out-of-the-box manner through group teamwork|
|At this moment, I’m the star!||Outside adults (artists, etc.) untap the children’s abilities and talents|
Photos courtesy of Junnosuke Nishi
Ong Yong Lock from Hong Kong dance company Unlock Dancing Plaza, our partner in this project, said he was “delighted to have the privilege of witnessing this coming together of Japanese schools and schoolchildren and art.” Schools in Hong Kong have a School Culture Day when the children have the chance to watch an artistic performance free of charge, but SOUSAKU-DANCE in which everyone takes part in the creative process is not included in the P.E. curriculum.
In Japan, on the other hand, SOUSAKU-DANCE is included in the P.E. curriculum. SOUSAKU-DANCE is not dancing to a predetermined choreography; it is an activity where the children express themselves imaginatively though bodily movement alongside their peers. There is no right answer or competition, differences and individual personalities count, and children develop rich creativity. However, teachers seldom have any personal experience of dance or sense of its significance, nor do they have any links with artistic groups that they can call on for support, so even in Japanese schools it would be hard to say that SOUSAKU-DANCE is adequately practiced.
namstrops and its predecessor, NPO Miyazaki C-Dance Center, have been engaged in introducing distinctly Japanese SOUSAKU-DANCE to other countries since 2017. We are also working to pass on to Japan the knowledge we have gained from our overseas activities through the Project for Overseas Expansion of SHIN-SOUSAKU-DANCE that combines ‘appreciation lessons’ (‘tokkatsu’ cultural activity) with Japanese-style educational SOUSAKU-DANCE, an EDU-Port Japan Supported Project since 2023.
Inspired by Hong Kong’s School Culture Day, we aim to broaden the appeal of SOUSAKU-DANCE in Japan by providing creative dance in combination with ‘appreciation lessons’ which are positioned in ‘tokkatsu’ cultural activities as an opportunity for teachers and children in Japan to engage in dance and experience its dynamism and excitement.
We hope teachers in schools in Japan and in Japanese schools overseas will take up the subject of dance in their next ‘appreciation lesson’. We look forward to hearing from interested teachers.
We aim to contribute to a rich learning experience for children all over the world through sustained efforts to pass on what we have learned through practices in Japan to other countries and what we have learned through practices in other countries to Japan.
Akifumi Toyofuku, COO, namstrops