A new education rule that kicked in this year has created a fresh challenge for gym teachers across the nation: how to teach hip-hop.
Thanks to teaching guidelines revised in 2008, dancing joined martial arts as a compulsory subject for junior high school students this month.
Hip-hop and jazz dance has grown popular with teenagers across the country, thanks to the synchronized dancing of pop idol groups Exile and South Korea’s Girls Generation.
But for gym teachers, most of whom never learned how to teach dance, let alone dance themselves, the change is a major headache.
Here are some basic questions and answers on mandatory dance lessons in school.
Why was dancing made compulsory?
The new classes were set in motion by the government of former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who had the Fundamental Law of Education revised in December 2006.
The then ruling Liberal Democratic Party amended the law to state that one of the goals of education is to foster “respect for (Japan’s) traditions and culture, and love of the country and (the students’) hometowns.”
Because of Abe’s revisions, judo and other martial arts also became compulsory for gym class.
As for dancing, the ministry came up with a plan to introduce it at around the same time to expose students to a greater variety of exercise.
Dancing will not only allow students to exercise more fully by using their entire bodies, it will also encourage communication among those dancing in groups — when they will supposedly learn how to express themselves and teach classmates how to bust a move.
How many hours of dance must schools teach?
The education ministry has left this up to each school. Junior high schools must devote 105 hours of class time to physical education each year.
Are students only going to learn hip-hop?
Schools have been given three options: folk dance, creative dance and “dance with modern rhythm,” which includes hip-hop.
Although most teachers and students are more familiar with folk dances, which are commonly performed at sports events, or creative dancing, 623 of the 940 schools polled nationwide are set on modern dance, according to a survey conducted by the education ministry in March.
The ministry recommends hip-hop as an example of modern dance, but one of its officials said that does not mean schools necessarily have to choose hip-hop. Teachers are free to pick any type of dance as long as it is modern, the official said.
A ministry panel “at first considered including samba as an example of modern dance, but chose hip-hop instead because it thought Brazilian dance moves might be too difficult for students,” the official added.
Folk dance includes both Japanese and foreign dances. As examples, the ministry suggests dances performed at the famous “Gujo Odori” summer festival in Gifu Prefecture, dating from the 18th century, and the Bon festival dances that accompany “Tanko Bushi,” a song about coal mining in Mitsui, Fukuoka Prefecture. The Czech Republic’s Doudlebska Polka and America’s Oklahoma Mixer also come highly recommended.
Do gym teachers know how to teach dancing?
Not really. Many of them, especially the men, appear to be struggling because this role has usually been the domain of women. The men usually teach martial arts.
Starting this month, however, male and female P.E. teachers will have to teach both.
After the amendments in 2008, the ministry gave schools a four-year grace period so teachers would have sufficient time to prepare. Prefectural education boards, for example, have been holding special dance sessions for gym teachers.
Are any private organizations supporting dance lessons?
Some private groups are providing teachers free assistance to help them cope.
Osaka-based Nippon Street Dance Studio Association will offer free dance lessons for junior high school gym teachers from April 14 to October at 150 venues nationwide. The programs were designed in collaboration with Nagoya University and Ritsumeikan University in Kyoto.
“We want teachers and students to learn how fun dancing can be,” said Kenichi Yoshida, a spokesman for the association.
The organization started sending dance instructors to teach hip-hop in primary and junior high schools last year, and the feedback has been positive, Yoshida said.
Beginning this summer, the association will also start issuing a “street dance certification” to grade dances.
Meanwhile, the talent agency Vision Factory Inc., which is known for managing Okinawan pop idol Namie Amuro, launched a website in March with videos of professional dancers teaching simple dance techniques so teachers and students can learn for free. The company uploads a 3 to 5 minute video featuring famous dancers every day.
Are companies looking to cash in on the classes?
In a word, yes. Retailers that sell sports wear are especially hoping the now mandatory classes boost sales.
Retail giant Aeon Co. Ltd. began selling new dance outfits for teenagers in late March, with the assistance of Narumiya International Co. Ltd., a manufacturer of clothes for babies and young teenage girls.
Supermarket operator Ito-Yokado Co. also launched a new line of casual dance wear for primary and junior high school students last month, seeking to tap street dance’s growing popularity among teenagers.
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