Some medical experts claim a glass of wine is good for your heart, others believe chocolate is an excellent alternative to Prozac, but something they all tend to agree on is that adequate exercise is vital to a healthy life. However, if your idea of working out is a spot of intensive window-shopping you might consider the latest exercise craze hitting Tokyo: dance.
|Raymond Pare’s dance classes are a fun way to get in shape.|
First there was the film “Shall We Dance?” which had aspiring ballroom belles rushing to learn how to fox trot their way to romance. Then Konami took dance to the game arcades, and had Shibuya girls literally risking life and limb to stomp on the flashing lights of the Dance Dance Revolution platforms — in their platform shoes.
Last week Namco tapped into the Para Para dance trend to launch “Ai no Para Para Daisakusen.” For this arcade game, you don’t have to tap buttons or stomp on lights, but simply memorize and repeat the dance sequence demonstrated by the animated character on the screen. The game’s software can be programmed for different dance sequences, and themes such as aerobics and traditional Japanese dance are coming soon.
Sounds silly? It is, but there is an alternative — Raymond Pare’s traditional and contemporary West African dance classes. Pare’s classes have “all people of all ages — from 5 to 50 — and from all kinds of professions” bopping to the drum beats of West Africa in Shinjuku.
His wife’s job initially brought him to Tokyo but after agreeing to take part in an African cultural program for his local ward office, he was bowled over by the enthusiasm for his dance workshop. It was only a matter of time before the dance instructor from Burkina Faso (he has received formal training in both modern and traditional West African dance) put together classes to “bring these art forms to Japan.”
There is a rich history of dance in Burkina Faso, located in the heart of Francophone West Africa. According to Pare, all sorts of seasonal changes and important events in the calendar are marked by music and dance.
Traditional dance is also a key part of funerals, weddings and various traditional rituals. Its choreography is diverse. Dances can consist of performers forming a circle or pairing up, or be constructed in such a way that the spotlight falls on each dancer one by one. And as traditional dances rely on live drumming Pare will sometimes draft in an expat African friend to demonstrate his/her skills.
Besides enthusiasm, the only requirement for Pare’s students is comfortable clothing, “something you can move in — not jeans.” And for those who want to add an authentic touch, Pare provides African attire.
Pare is slightly amazed at the response West African dance has received in Japan, but as he says himself: “It’s a great form of expression, great exercise and a way to learn about Africa.” In fact, while you catch your breath after each strenuous session, Pare takes time to chat about his country and answer questions about Africa in general.
Although Tokyo plays host to a considerable African expat community, the Burkina Faso ambassador once claimed you could count the visitors from his country on the fingers of one hand. Take up African dance and you can meet one!