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Kabuki Tap Dancer?

“Have you seen the video of the tap dancing kabuki actor?” asked my American friend living in Japan. For real?? I asked.  “I’ll send you a link.”

“Tap dancing kabuki actor” felt like an oxymoron for my mental inventory of a tap dancer.  My Western frame of reference include the following masters of the art:  The Nicholas Brothers, Gene Kelly, Sammy Davis Jr., Bill “Bojangles” Robinson, MIchelle Dorrance,etc.  Nary a one even slightly resembles a Kabuki actor.  Nor are they trying~!

Kabuki Video Performance

Here is the video in question. The Japanese music that accompanies the dancer does not resemble the jazz music that generally accompanies American tappers. Another distinction is the “music” that accompanies the Kabuki dancer is at one with the moves performed by the actor. The geta shoes worn by the actor in the video serve as props for the movement and as instruments of percussion.  The closest move I noticed that was a direct tap take-off was the cramp roll.  This cool move looked greatly exaggerated and barely recognizable when done wearing geta!

Kabuki performance vs. tap dance performance

This masterful Kabuki performance was designed to be humorous.  All the nuance and expertise a gifted Kabuki actor has at his command is seamlessly used . The actor struggles valiantly to convince the viewer and himself that his obvious inebriation affects his dance ability only slightly. The viewer is definitely in on the joke.  This display is in marked contrast to that of a gifted  Western tap dancer whose tap performances  are made to make the complex tap combinations look easy to perform.  Both Kabuki and Western tap performance are designed to entertain.  Both do so, but differently.  American tap goes for bravado and physical performance.  Japanese Kabuki explores the inner foibles of our humanity.  It’s a sophisticated internal exploration that has universal recognition.

It’s always interesting to see how one culture borrows from another; each trying to make sense of our place in a very complicated world!



Dianne Vapnek

In an attempt to slow life's quickening pace, I'm writing to share my personal perspective on the aging process, its dilemmas, the humorous self-deception, the insights and the adventure of it all. I spent the bulk of my time in beautiful Santa Barbara, CA, but manage to get to NYC a few times times a year. I've been a dancer/dance teacher and dance supporter almost all my life. For the past20years, I help create and produce a month-long creative residency in Santa Barbara for contemporary American choreographers and their dancers. It's been incredibly gratifying. This year, I decided it's time to retire! Big change. I also now spend several weeks a year in Kyoto Japan, residing for several weeks in the spring and the fall. I've been magnetically attracted to Japan for many years. Now I live out a dream to live there part-time.

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