IJay Espinoza: Doshisha University "soul2soul" Streetdance Circle

Being in soul2soul has been quite an experience. It’s interesting how, despite language barriers, mutual passions can bring people together. I’m pretty sure that thought has been published somewhere. It’s sounds too cliché to not be written somewhere. However, that doesn’t make it any less true. During my first time at a soul2soul rehearsal, I felt like I was back in America. People were being loud and crazy, which I’m quite used to during dance rehearsals. This may simply be a case of Japanese students interacting in a comfortable environment, rather than a performer thing because up to this point most of the interactions I had experienced with native Japanese people had been mediated by KCJS. Thus, those students were probably acting more “proper” to make socially acceptable first impressions.

As for actual practice norms, I found them to be quite different. First of all, as mentioned in my previous blog, the idea of streetdance and hip-hop dancing is different here than in America. In America, the two words are interchangeable and distinct styles are categorized as simply sub-genres of hip-hop/streetdance. In Japan, however, the genres are much more segregated with the term hip-hop encompassing its own separate genre, a genre that consists of moves that don’t fit into the other more defined styles. Therefore, practice is never held as a complete collective, but rather as smaller factions, in which all hone in on one specific style. This is different from what I’m used with my dance groups back home, where we’d cycle through different styles based on the interests of the group and the styles in which the current group members were particularly proficient.

The senpai-kohai relationship was also very interesting to witness. It would always be really clear when a senpai was nearby, for it was difficult not to notice the people around you essentially dropping what they were doing, so to speak, to greet a senpai with a full “ohayou gozaimasu” and a very prominent bow. It was also interesting how, many times, I would be greeted the same way, especially since I wasn’t really quite uchi to the many of the members who greeted me that way as well.

Moving from soto to uchi, I’ve noticed, is far more difficult than I expected. I don’t fully feel that I have quite achieved that yet either. I feel like this has a lot to do with the disadvantages of being the new guy, especially among people who practice together over ten hours a week, as well as the language barrier which sort of enhances the difficulty of breaking the uchi barrier. I found myself at times unable to fully express my feelings in Japanese in an effective manner. The experience made me appreciate the extensive command I have over the English language. My vocabulary may not be as impressive as a typical English major, but it is definitely preferable to the frustrations of being simply unable to say what you mean or feel in the most appropriate manner. It also made me much more sympathetic to non-native English speakers.

Come performance time, I found that soul2soul was virtually exactly like my groups back home. Members would sit in the audience and cheer on their friends, and afterwards celebrate with picture-taking and a night out together. Even though I was not able to become as uchi as I had hoped with the group, I found that performing with them really made me feel like I was a part of something. Perhaps I had gotten farther into the uchi sphere than I had thought.

6 thoughts on “IJay Espinoza: Doshisha University "soul2soul" Streetdance Circle

  1. It’s really interesting to hear your comparison of the dance groups in the States versus Japan. At times, when language barriers became an obstacle, did you find that you could communicate through dance and movement instead? Do you think your approach to dance will be different when you return to the States? Are there any takeaways/teaching methods/dance styles from your soul2soul experience that you would like to bring to your group at Stanford?

    Finally, Ijay, you totally rocked the soul2soul performance at Doshisha’s Matsuri! It made me feel proud to be a 外人 and a KCJS student! I wanted to be like “Yeah, we may be 外人, but we foreigners can bring it too!”

    • With the language barrier, yes, it definitely helped that I could simply mimic movements when my Japanese proficiency was lacking. It was also nice because although humor and sarcasm is difficult to convey in Japanese, I could still convey it through dance, which also made things more interesting.

      As for teaching styles I will probably leave them behind when I go back home. Basics are important for freestyling but the group I’m in is more end of the quarter performance oriented. I think I will do some freestyling workshops when I get back though, and I will definitely be giving my group some locking choreography.

      And thanks! I’m glad I could represent my fellow 外人 well haha!

  2. I second the props for the Doshisha Festival performance. (I SEE YOU SOLO!)

    As far as cultural comparison goes, I think it’s really interesting that on the one hand the group seemed very similar to performance groups in the US (loud and crazy at practices, celebrating after performances), but it still also embodied the strict senpai-kouhai and uchi-soto structural dynamics.

    Do you feel that as a foreigner(留学生)that the group would never pull you into uchi? Or do you think that given enough time you would gradually make the total switch?

    • I think that given enough time, and more language proficiency I could have definitely managed it. I was starting to get hugs from certain people on a constant basis. Had I gone to all three rehearsal times in the week I might I have managed it by the end of the quarter.

      At the same time I was also working against the barrier of long-formed friendships so who knows. Maybe if I had struck up my own project in the group instead of trying to pick up a new style I might have had more luck, but I’m glad I managed to pick up locking, so no regrets.

      And thanks for the shoutout too!^^

  3. The senpai/kouhai relationship is one I haven’t experienced yet in Japan. Even though you said that the soul2soul members were more relaxed and less formal than the Japanese students you have met through KCJS, did you think your interactions with them were easier or more challenging because of the senpai/kouhai and uchi/soto dynamics?

    (By the way, another “nice job” for your performance!)

    • The uchi/soto dynamics definitely dampered my efforts to connect with the group, but I think those exist anywhere. I think the main reasons connecting was so difficult were the language barrier and the less proactive personalities of the people in the locking group I was in, particularly the guys. I made much better friends with a group of poppers, but since we weren’t working on the same thing I couldn’t hang out with them as much.

      As for senpai/kohai it was both helpful and detrimental. With people not considered senpai it opened up more opportunities for me to talk to them, since they would at time feel obligated to be welcoming to me even if I hadn’t talked to that particular person yet.

      With the other senpai in the group it was not helpful at all. There was this atmosphere that they were untouchables so it made it difficult to even talk to any of them unless they talked to you first, unfortunately.