The pioneers of hip-hop on the streets of New York probably never imagined that their cutting-edge stylings would become part of the compulsory curriculum in Japanese junior high schools.
But for the bewildered teachers lining up for hip-hop lessons across Japan this spring that dream--or is it a nightmare?--has become a reality.
With the education ministry making dance compulsory in physical education classes for first- and second-year junior high school students from this fiscal year, more than 60 percent of schools have chosen to teach hip-hop and other contemporary dances.
And some of the teachers faced with the prospect of busting their moves in front of classes full of skeptical 12- to 14-year-olds are getting nervous.
“I have never danced hip-hop,” one teacher who had signed up for a free hip-hop lesson for teachers at the Avex artist academy in Tokyo’s Harajuku district said. “I can’t teach it unless I raise my skills.”
“I have no confidence as many students go to dance schools,” another said.
About 50 people participated in the session in late April run by the Japan Street Dance Association.
A female instructor wearing loose-fitting pants smiled as the music pounded.
“Now, kick step,” she said. “Quicker!”
Emi Asano, a 53-year-old health and physical education teacher at a school in Tokyo’s Setagaya Ward, was struggling to stay with the rhythm, watching the moves of those around her for clues.
It was the first time she had danced to hip-hop, but she said three or four students in each of her classes attended dance schools and were more than familiar with the style. “They are better than me,” she said.
Thirty minutes into the lesson and Asano, whose specialty is basketball, was pouring with sweat.
“You’ll look cool if you slouch forward and down,” the instructor advised.
“I had only danced slow-tempo stuff in the past,” Asano recalled. “(Hip-hop dance) is physically tough, and my dance is not perfect, but it’ll be good if I improve with the children.”
A 51-year-old teacher dancing next to Asano said she had started hip-hop classes last year ahead of the official change.
The street dance association also held free training sessions for teachers in Osaka and Nagoya in April, and is planning one or two lessons a month.
The Nippon Street Dance Studio Association, a separate organization, held its own free lessons for teachers in April and plans to offer sessions at 150 locations in all Japan’s prefectures through October.
It expects to attract 6,000 participants and is also considering sending out instructors in response to special requests from municipalities.
“This is a chance to promote dance,” an association official said. “We want teachers who aren’t so good at dancing to see the fun of it.”
In Tokyo’s Minato Ward, some PE teachers have been holding voluntary practice sessions on weekends with professional dancers, and Tokyo’s metropolitan board of education organized model classes at more than a dozen schools in fiscal 2010 and 2011 run by outside instructors.
An education ministry official said hip-hop and street dances were being favored by schools because of the styles’ popularity with children. According to an education ministry survey of public junior high schools across the country, 66 percent said they would be picking dance with contemporary rhythms this fiscal year. “Creative dance” was the next most popular style, at 49 percent, while folk dancing was chosen by 39 percent of institutions.
Japanese hip-hop has already traveled a good distance from the style’s roots in urban America. It looks as if the journey is just beginning.
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