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Sunday, April 15, 2012


A step in the right direction

Junior high school students will be dancing up a storm under new guidelines from the education ministry that require dancing, along with martial arts, as compulsory subjects at schools this year. These new subjects will be required for all Japanese middle school students from this spring.

The changes do not come without controversy. After it was discovered that in 28 years through fiscal 2010, 114 students died and 275 others suffered serious physical injury from judo classes and activities, the introduction of martial arts classes was given scrutiny. Without adequate preparation and the proper training of physical education teachers who teach judo, learning martial arts cannot be done safely. Dance, too, takes preparation, though it is less likely to cause injuries to anything other than pride.

Learning about pride, though, is part of developing self-confidence and body awareness. The new guidelines recognize people have different ways of learning. Reading and listening are essential, but so are moving around and doing things. Not everything fits on a multiple choice exam form. The introduction of dance will give students with natural "kinetic" skills a chance to shine, and those without, a chance to develop.

Learning dance is also a good way to improve social and presentation skills. Working with others and performing in front of others are important life skills. Many older Japanese struggling with salsa lessons or ballroom dance contests surely wish they had been taught how to shake their hips and wiggle their shoulders to the beat, and company employees of all kinds surely wish they felt calm and self-assured when giving speeches or presentations, too.

Interestingly, most schools have chosen the most popular forms of dance: hip-hop, jazz dance or other "street" styles. That may be a concession to students' obsession with commercial pop music groups, but it is also an awareness that contemporary dance is full of emotion and excitement. Dance involves more than just putting your feet in the right place or following set choreography: Dance is about expressing yourself.

Dancing is an excellent complement to the many other educational demands on students. Relieving the stress of studying for exams, not to mention of just being a teenager, for an hour on the dance floor in the middle of the day, can only be beneficial. Now that the policy of yutori kyoiku, relaxed education, has been phased out, the new policy of dansu kyoiku, dance education, is a step in the right direction.

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