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Oriental Dance in Japan

By Beto Sanchez

In the past few years, Oriental Dance has become very popular in Japan. For a long time, Japan has been a closed society and foreigners, as well as foreign dance, has been kept out of most people's daily life. But now, Japan is very interested in encountering anything not Japanese, food, drink, people, and currently Oriental Dance.

Oriental Dance (called Belly Dance here), made it's way over by way of foreign teachers about 7 years ago. In that time, and especially in the last two years, its popularity has soared. Before you would have seen only Westerners dancing, but there are a few Japanese dancers now that are excellent.

There are two main dance scenes in Japan - Tokyo and Osaka. In Tokyo, predominently the foreign dancers are popular. Mishaal and Eshe, are just a couple who are well known there. But the big stars of Tokyo are E-Chan and Milla. These two ladies have taken Tribal and fused it with Asian dance as well as their own dance fashion. They typically wear costumes that look part Middle Eastern and part Kimono for their shows. Their music is a fusion also. Together, this makes for a very interesting show.

For the Osaka scene, (with which I am more familiar) Japanese dancers are more prevalent. One foreign dancer/teacher named Armita from the U.S. is excellent and her students are very good. The best known stars of Osaka are The Sahara Queens, Lisa Li and Maya Amamiya. Besides dancing in many shows, including the well known Habibi shows all over Japan, these two can be found teaching at Li's school "The Lisa Culture Salon" where they not only offer belly dance, but other forms like Salsa and Hip Hop as well as several languages. Li was born in China and started learning Oriental dance while still a teenager. She continues to take classes because she feels she can always learn more. Recently, she had taken lessons with the famous Reyna Alcala in New York City.

Amamiya had trained as a dancer for Japanese TV which included Oriental. She also continues to learn, but brings her knowledge of stage presence to the Queens show. These two dancers have done more television and magazine stories than most others in Japan.

They also have some very promising students as well. Lia Nakasuji is an assistant instructor at Li's school. She has fused Rock and Hip Hop with belly dance which gives her dance a very unique look. Nakasuji and her "Sexual Chocolate" dancers have done many shows including background dancing for bELyVIS! The belly dancing Elvis impersonator.

Japan has many international events which always have belly dancing by one or more groups. As already mentioned, the Habibi shows are very popular and bring dancers from other countries (Tito of Egypt, the male dancer is coming this November) as well as the best dancers from Japan. Bob, the Egyptian producer, makes sure all of his shows are very professional and have the best musicians that Japan can provide. The most well know is Freddie Tandarich, an American from Tucson, Arizona who can play anything with strings. If there is live music you can bet Freddie is playing it. There are quite a few talented drummers who seem to rotate every show. Most of the dancers get additional income dancing at the numerous Middle Eastern restaurants across Japan (there are many).

One disturbing trend is tied to Japanese culture. Japanese believe they can learn a little bit about something and improve it. This accounts for the explosion of Japanese belly dance teachers. Most of them have only a years worth of training and then are running out to start a class. Still, there are many fine dancers here and we all look forward to see what exciting things the future of Oriental Dance in Japan holds.