Mary Wilson: Doshisha's Kpop Dance Circle 'Ash'

For my CIP I joined Doshisha’s kpop dance circle called “Ash”. I had wanted to join Kyoto University’s Toppogi kpop dance club but they became unable to respond to my messages once I arrived in Japan. Luckily, Keiko Toda of KCJS helped me connect with Ash very quickly and they accepted me into their club as their first ever study abroad student member.

During my fall semester, our main purpose was preparing for the Eve festival at the end of November. Near the beginning of the semester, the leaders of the 170+ member circle made a group chat for those of us interested in participating in Eve and separated us into more Line chats based on who wanted to perform what songs. 

I was recruited into two songs (Drunk-Dazed by Enhypen and 2 Baddies by NCT 127) because a member dropped from each, but I was also able to join Say My Name by Ateez. 

The dance practices at the beginning were very different from what I was used to in the United States. First, the practice times were irregular, and for two dances I had an オール連 which was an overnight practice from 11pm to 6am, for blocking formations and cleaning up choreo. So that was a bit rough on the body, but the leaders gave us plenty of breaks during each practice so even those weren’t too bad. During practices, rather than one person using a computer or drawn formations and directing people, everyone would watch the dance on their phone and move accordingly. 

One thing I noticed consistently was that, while we were working on choreo by ourselves with the mirror or going through it all together, nobody would want to stand in the middle or in the front, and everyone would generally try to just stay in the very back of the room and to the sides, even to the point of getting into each other’s way or blocking people in the mirror. I’m not certain what the reason for this is, but I did notice it consistently happening, moreso with women. 

Linguistically, I learned a lot of words used in dancing, and learned that it’s very difficult to communicate or understand song titles, idol’s names, and group names in a foreign language, which led to a lot of embarrassing miscommunications.

I also learned that you really need to try hard to talk to people, because in most cases they will not approach you first. So you will have to consistently reach far out of your comfort zone to make friends. 

My advice for joining a dance circle, especially a kpop one:

  • Bring indoor shoes to practice
  • Have your part memorized before the first practice
  • Have a full water bottle and a sweat towel
  • Make sure you download your dance practice video and have a good charge on your phone, especially the first few practices
  • Know how to say idol’s names, group names, and song titles in Japanese
  • さび=chorus ふり=choreo ふり(が)はいってる?=have you memorized the choreo (possibly also includes formations) いちばい・いちで=normal/1x speed いちから(やろう)= let’s go from the top

I’ve had a great time despite the hiccups, but I definitely wish I had had the confidence to try talking to people more!

Elizabeth Smith: Nihon Buyou and Ballet


This semester, I have continued with both of my CIP activities: Ballet and Nihon Buyou. Unlike last semester, when I was primarily focused on acclimating into a new environment, I started this semester feeling comfortable with both of my CIPs. This allowed me to delve deeper into both communitiesscreen-shot-2017-03-31-at-19-57-45

In Nihon Buyou, I am now able to pick up on details that largely escaped me at the beginning. This is in part because my language skills have improved dramatically. Last semester was essentially survival mode: I was only focused on understanding the gist of what my teacher had to say, and had little room to pick up on details or nuance. This semester, I know her better and am more familiar with the repertory that I am studying. This has allowed me to learn more about the history of Nihon Buyou, its links to the Kabuki tradition, and the different schools. For example, both last semester and this semester, my teacher has given me tickets to see Nihon Buyou performed in Pontocho. (This semester, I got to see her dance with her sister!) Compared to last semester I was much more aware of the context what I was seeing, and was able to ask better questions afterwards.

In terms of ballet, I feel like I have become a much more involved member of the community. Last semester, due to a minor injury and the process of adjusting to life in a foreign country, I typically went home right after classes. This semester, because I was more comfortable with life in Kyoto and my injury has healed, I have started staying to wear pointe shoes for an extra half hour after one of my two classes every week. This has given me a better opportunity to get to know the other girls much better. Whereas girls that dance together for several days in a week in America tend to become very close, I at first thought that the atmosphere at K.Classic ballet was much less social. However, spending more time around the girls, I’ve realized that while the dressing room is too small to talk much before and after class, they do have a strong community. They have been incredibly inclusive towards me as well! For example, when one of the girls brought Valentines’ chocolate for everyone, she included me as well! Additionally, girls who I was once intimidated to speak to have approached me to start conversations about my pointe shoes or my training in the US. Little gestures like these have made me increasingly like I have become part of a community.

Elizabeth Smith: Dancing- Ballet and Nihon Buyou

For my CIP, I’ve taken ballet classes at K.Classic Ballet, and private lessons in Nihon Buyou- classical Japanese dance. It has definitely been a highlight of my time in Japan!

I had no idea how much ballet would make Kyoto feel like home. Throughout my life, ballet has followed me everywhere I’ve gone- I’ve been dancing seriously since I was about eight, helped direct my college’s ballet company, and have also studied a ballet academy in Paris. Ballet classes are remarkably similar all over the world- so enrolling at K.Classic ballet felt less like being the “new kid,” and more like re-joining a community where I’ve always belonged. Additionally, I’m so lucky to have found such an inspiring place to take class- several students from the school have placed in internationally-known competitions, and last week, the class was visited by a recent alumni- who is now dancing professionally at American Ballet Theatre!

Being in the ballet studio has really helped me learn to pick up on small social cues and cultural differences. The atmosphere in most good ballet schools (anywhere in the world) ranges from disciplined to strict, and K.Classic Ballet is no different. On my first day, I remember the teacher making a speech to her students (in somewhat difficult to understand Kansai-ben) about the importance of working hard, and not wasting valuable time in the studio. As the semester has passed, I’ve noticed that the students here seem to define hard work differently than I have in the U.S. At home, there are often clear times when it is and is not appropriate to practice on the sides of the floor, (for example, when the teacher is working with another student, it is considered polite to stop dancing and watch.) Here, the students spend a much larger percentage of the time practicing on their own. They are constantly tweaking their technique and working to apply corrections, through repetition in every free moment, especially at times when in my past experience, it would be customary to be still and observant. Additionally, when Sensei gives her students a correction, I’ve noticed that in comparison with most American teachers, she leaves about twice as long for students to practice applying it. In order to fit in, I’ve had to carefully pick up on these different cues, and adjust my working style to match the other students.

Nihon Buyou has also been an incredible experience. I originally started Nihon Buyou in the U.S., when I was about four, and continued until I was about twelve. I had the opportunity to take it up again over the summer in Hokkaido, and was lucky that my sensei from then was able to put me in touch with a sensei in Kyoto. I absolutely adore my sensei here- she is one of the warmest, most understanding people that I’ve met. She spends a lot of time making sure that I understand the technical vocabulary that she uses, but has a sense of humor when things become confusing or difficult. Furthermore, something that has surprised me about Nihon Buyou here is the slight emphasis on developing a personal relationship with the teacher. In every lesson, the two of us start and end the lesson with a cup of tea, where we discuss everything from my host sister’s undoukais to her recent trip to Tokyo. I’ve taken private lessons in ballet before, and music as well, and although I’ve always gotten to know my teachers very well, there has never been an established time to stop and pause and talk with each other.  For me, especially with the occasional language barrier, taking time to drink tea together has helped me to better communicate with my teacher during the lessons themselves.

Overall, dancing in Kyoto has enriched my experience in two ways. Ballet has helped me find a place where a shared interest has helped me find a sense of belonging, while Nihon Buyou has helped me make the most of my time by helping me learn something that is incredibly difficult to pursue in the U.S. I’m incredibly grateful for the experiences I’ve had this semester, and can’t wait to see what the next will bring!