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AUG 2005
Issue 063

Dance machines

Osaka is second only to New York in the hip-hop world — or so says the promo blurb put out by Osaka city. Down on the streets, if the boast isn't true, it isn't for lack of trying. KS meets some of the amateur kids and some of the pros that make the Kansai street dance scene.


“Don't hold back … cause you woke up in the mornin', with the mission to move, so I make it harder … don't hold back …”

Tomomi Asaba and Ai Ueoka are moving now, and fighter jets have not flown in formations as tight. Shoulders sway in unison, dip in, out, move low as two eighteen-year-old fists dart, swing, punch concrete in a breakneck series of moves that actually look even more difficult than they probably are.

“If you think about it, so many people do, be cool man, look smarter ... don't hold back ... and you shouldn't even care, 'bout those losers in the air, and their crooked stares ...”

The avant-garde, mirrored clearing that makes up the side entrance of Namba's OCAT building is littered with boomboxes, hastily-cast aside school books, canvas bags, mix CDs and amateur dancers limbering up for a long night ahead. A phalanx of high school girls strut to house music in the lower-right; a salaryman with loosened necktie and cigarette squats and watches the girls; a breakdancer looks up from a leg stretch to watch the man watch the girls.

No one, save for the mirror in front of them, is watching Asaba and Ueoka.

“Don't hold back ... cause there's a party over here, so you might as well be here, where the people care ... don't ho —”

The boom box roaring in front of them is flicked off; Asaba drags a striped Polo sleeve across her brow as she is joined by Ueoka and another dancer friend, 19-year-old Norio Kitano. “Four years ago, I was really into sports; I kind of fell into [dancing], and I've been doing it since then,” she says. “I just like dancing, really. I like to practice.

I practice four hours a day! That doesn't really leave a lot of time for studying, but” — laughing now, as Ueoka and Kitano nod in agreement — “like I said, I like dancing.

“And I'm here, I guess, because this is the best way to see lots of different styles, lots of different moves,” continues Asaba, who, along with Ueoka, is a member of a five-girl dance troupe called Booooin. (Think of a really elongated pronunciation of “coin.”) “If you want to learn, it's good to see what the other people are doing.”

It is 8 o'clock at night, and at OCAT, and in subway stations, and on deserted street corners, and in dimly-lit parking garages, and in near-emptied convenience store lots, hundreds of Kansai high school-ers, university students and part-time workers have taken to the streets to breakdance, freestyle and pop and lock as if their lives depended on it. Here now is what the Other People Are Doing, a movement ushered in from the streets of the US and adopted by acolytes who worship with the reverence of the truly converted. (Or, depending on your level of cynicism, the truly young.)

Foreigners agog at just how adept the “shy Japanese” are at the dexterous displays of hip-grinding that are taken for granted back home illustrate another point: while culture shock certainly entails seeing things never found back in Britain or the States (silver lipsticked yamamba girls in Pikachu costumes, for example), there is a also a level of astonishment to be found in moving 3,000 miles and discovering that the fashions, the music and the dance steps are exactly the same.

Street dancing has taken hold in Japan. For how long, though, is a topic of considerable debate — particularly because a lot of the dance steps are exactly the same.

“Hip-hop in Japan has already passed the tipping point beyond being 'just another fad' and has already become part of the cultural fabric, though I expect assertions to the contrary to continue for at least a few more years,” Ian Condry, Assistant Professor of Japanese Cultural Studies at MIT, asserts via e-mail.

“By early 1984, [the] first Japanese breakdancers began in Yoyogi Park -— between Shibuya and Harajuku in Tokyo — inspired in part by the US film Wild Style, which was shown in Japan in 1983. Given that hip-hop dance teams have continued to expand and develop over those 20 years demonstrates that this is more than a passing fad.”

Though Condry casually notes that mainstream media outlets may just be biding their time before they “move on to the next hot thing,” he states that the true practitioners aren't going away any time soon. “To the people doing hip-hop dance,” he says, “it forms at the very least a stage in their lives, and for some an ongoing career. Either way, it will likely influence the way they approach the world for years to come, and possibly, in some ways, for their whole lives.”

So back to OCAT.

“I dance because I have a dream: I wanna be number one. I wanna be the number one dancer in the world,” says 22-year-old breakdancer Shimpo 'Big Phill' Yasukuni. “First, the number one guy in Osaka, and then, the number one guy in the world.”

Shimpo, who tours the Kansai “battle circuit” with his group, the 4th Dimensional Life Crew, describes a tumultuous four years on the scene — “I battle every month. Two years ago, I used to win all the time, but these days, not so often” — but asserts reflexively that things have been on an upward tick since he started in 2001.

“I used to watch the breakdancers on TV in my mother's room — Sam from TRF, and guys like that. I used to think 'He's really cool!' And I'd practice, and practice — three hours, most days — in front of a mirror in the room. ”

Years of practice and time on the circuit have left Shimpo lean, toned and wiry (with impressive rows of calluses on his palms), confident enough to declare his plans for world domination to total strangers, yet, perhaps not strangely, pessimistic enough to come a hair's breadth away from pro-claiming doom on the sport he loves most.

“Everyone [practicing at OCAT now] likes hip-hop,” says Yasukuni, with more than a hint of exasperation in his voice. “All they're trying to do is be cool. It's like, hip-hop in Japan, they gotta have a form — like, a textbook or something. 'Hip-hop has to be like this;' 'Dancing has to be like that.' They all watch the same [music] videos, and they think the videos are cool. And they all practice the same moves and the same basic techniques; they see a move they think is cool, pretty soon, every-one will be doing it.

“Like, they don't really feel it, right?” he continues. “I look at a lot of the people out here, and I don't feel anything. Just people trying to be part of the scene, trying to be cool.”

Irony, pacing close behind, checks Yasukuni momentarily. He stares into the distance. “Well, yeah,” Yasukuni says with a chuckle. “I guess I used to be one of them, too.”

The filching of ideas by one or another culture, of course, nothing new; hip-hop music itself, of course, has borrowed liberally from everything from fusion jazz to drum and bass to Hindi pop over the years. Still, for the sake of growth and movement (and, perhaps, a rather strong sense of inner pride), many local dancers express a fervent desire to start leaning away from strictly American hip-hop culture.

“A lot of us learned from watching videos and stuff on TV,” Asaba says. “That's true. A lot of people see the videos on TV — B2K, Beyoncé, or who-ever, and are really influenced by them. But then, in the future, you see always seem them reaching out and trying new things.”

“They adopt some of the ideas,” Kitano murmurs. “They learn a lot from the videos, and that kind of hurts originality. But, in a few years, I think Japan will start developing its own unique style. That's the thing that's really going to keep dance in Japan popular.”

Others echo the sentiment.

“In five years — if hip-hop dance does grow in Japan in five years — then people have to start their own styles instead copying what's already been done,” Yasu-kuni says. “I went to America for vacation and saw the breakdancers on Hollywood Boulevard. They don't just practice moves they learned on TV; they're out there, trying new stuff! And if [Japanese dancers] are real about it like they are, innovating and trying new things, then even in five years, most of the people you see here tonight will still be around. Otherwise, you know, they'll get married, have kids, find jobs, turn into salarymen.

“Two years, I pretty much stopped dancing because I had a girlfriend. We broke up; I started dancing again,” Yasukuni says.

“It's not a fad for me; I wanna turn pro, be the best in the world. I can't live without dancing in my life. It's everything to me.”

Text: Jeff Lo • Photos: Taka Kataoka

Scene Survivors

“Sometimes I ask myself, 'Is there a hiphop scene in Japan?'... (In dancing) There was this incredible interest, almost infatuation, and it soared, then it peaked, and then it disappeared . Boom! Just like that.” DJ Krush famously recounted the rapid rise and death of the previous dance scene in Japan for The Bomb. After this nearly fatal blow the scene retreated underground and was perceived dead by the mainstream press.
Years passed and slowly passionate individuals began to resuscitate the remnants. Now it has grown to the point that it has the potential for the first time to move internati-onally. One company has acted as a catalyst for this unprecedented growth and currently dominates the scene more than any other, Angel Dust HIgh Performance (ADHIP).

According to popular belief the 'Angel Dust' in the title is a thinly disguised drugs reference. In fact it is an abbreviation of the Angel Dust Breakers Crew, an important Osakan breakdance/bboy crew that was established in the mid-80s. The 80s was an important time for dancers, especially breakdancers. For the first time the dance had moved out of its underground, ghetto roots and was being accepted. Spearheaded by the Rock Steady Crew, streetdancing reached the cinema and international attention. It wasn't long before over saturation resulted in an inevitable backlash against the culture. Few dancers survived the sudden change of fates. The Angel Dust Breakers front man Machine Harada, and a local DJ called Tee were two of the notable ones.

Their first event was very small in scale, a team dance competition called Dance Delight that took place in club Antenna. The event attracted 12 teams, a reasonable attendance for a new event. Encouraged by this DJ Tee and Machine organized a further two events that year. As the events became larger, the company ADHIP was formed. Using their own money and various sponsors (Including much later the international giants Virgin, Technics and Panasonic) they introduced a monthly magazine and regular dance events to Osaka, branching out from team competitions into solo and freestyle events. From these humble origins ADHIP has become the only company that solely makes its income from street dance promotion and events in the world.

The growth of ADHIP can best be judged by looking at its flagship event, Dance Delight. Using the official entrance statistics the success of the company is revealed. In 1992 the event was only held in Osaka. Three events were held a year attracting an average of 16 teams to each event. In comparison, this year three events were held: Osaka, Tokyo and Japan. The Japan Dance Delight further subdivided into five events (North, South, East, West and Center). One hundred and fifteen teams took part in the Osaka and Tokyo events and Japan Dance Delight boasted 193 teams.

Unlike America where dancers can earn respect by dancing in open circles and nightclubs, most dancers in Japan earn a reputation by winning competitions. Dance Delight and other ADHIP events have been a vital way of proving the advantages of each school's individual style. Winners have come from a wide variety of backgrounds. Recent winners have encompassed everything from the angular 'popping' to the energetic 'freestyle' dance styles. The vast majority of winners have made careers off their victories. Some are even able to make a living by winning the huge prizes some events offer (Previous prizes have been worth over ¥170,000).

Finally the future of the dance scene looks stable. Dance Delight is now so big you could see Dance Delight TV on satellite, watch Dance Delight videos (There are currently over 20), go to an ADHIP night out, read the free or subscription magazine, meet international dancers sponsored by ADHIP, or enter an event. When asked about the future DJ Tee simply smiled, “Do an event every month and ... do so many other events.” Simple as that.

Text: Matthew Coslet

:: Online Articles


Dance machines
Kansai street dancers


Fatal beauty
The canyons of Arizona


One piece or two?
Summer beachwear style guide


Solar flair
Cirque du Soleil — Alegria 2


DJ John
The rhythm in the heart of Osaka

:: Listings


Up to date cinema listings guide so you always know what's on, where and when!

:: ART

Best exhibitions + listings


Best events + listings


Best gigs + listings


Parties not to miss + listings

:: Also in this month's mag


Green Earth
Vegetarian and vegan cuisine, Honmachi


Snacks Romana
IL Bar, Kitahama


A summer survival kit
Keeping ahead of the heat


New releases and top ten paperback books


Reel reviews of the silver screen +
Short Shorts Film Festival, Osaka


Net security on the cheap
Keep the worms out of your PC


Domestic and international news


Yes, the cool people already know. For those who need a little help, however, a (very) basic primer on a few of the more popular dance styles:

The origins (depending on whom you ask, either James Brown, Brazilian Capoeira artists or bored New York teens) are lost to the mists of time, though breaking itself is characterized by high-energy athleticism, dazzling acrobatics and light-ning-fast, leg-swinging “floor work.” Popularized by: Hollywood film (Breakin', Breakin' 2, You Got Served), a million street dancers worldwide and, in one interminable physics-defying moment in 1983, Michael Jackson.

Mix of styles aggressively blendered together into diamond-sharp, tightly-choreographed arrays of arm swings, head bobs and hip thrusts. Works well solo, but much better in a group. Popularized by: flesh-baring pop stars, USJ dance squads and, unsettlingly enough, Mario (Dance Dance Revolution Mario Mix).

Pop and Lock:
Not as flashy as breakdancing, but no less dramatic; muscle control — tensing, flexing and freezing joints in time to the rhythm — is key for poppers and lockers. (Technically, two different styles, though nowadays grouped in with one another.) It just looks cool. Popularized by: Every single R&B singer in the world.

There may be no better chance this year to see an array of street dance styles than at the OCAT Dance Championship 2005. The seventh-annual event features dancers from various ages, sexes and disciplines mixing it up for cash money and, of course, bragging rights.

The festivities run at OCAT every Sunday in August; best of all, it's free.
August 7th (12 pm): Break Dance Battle
(Preliminary and Final)
August 14th (2 pm): Stage Battle: Hip-Hop, Rock, Lock, Pop and House, etc. (Preliminary)
August 21st (2 pm): Stage Battle: Hip-Hop, Rock, Lock, Pop and House, etc. (Preliminary)
August 28th (2 pm): Stage Battle: Hip-Hop, Rock, Lock, Pop and House, etc. (Final)
Pont Hiroba at OCAT (Osaka City Air Terminal)
1-4-1 Minatomachi, Naniwa-ward, Osaka
Getting there: Namba Station on Subway lines (Midosuji, Yotsubashi, Senichimae) or Kintetsu Nara line or JR Yamatoji line.
Tel: 06-6635-3102