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Wednesday, Dec. 21, 2011

Children's dance lessons see surge in popularity


With junior high schools preparing to introduce compulsory dance lessons next year, a growing number of children have been enrolled in dance classes at fitness clubs.

Avex Planning & Development, a unit of record label and entertainment company Avex Group Holdings Inc., has been taking advantage of this demand, staging an annual dance event for children enrolled in its Dance Masters lessons offered at various fitness clubs nationwide.

Last year's event was held at Saitama Super Arena, one of the largest event complexes in the Tokyo area. Groups of children performed to hip-hop and other fast-tempo tunes, seeking to emulate the dance moves of pop stars.

Avex first tied up with fitness clubs to offer dance lessons several years ago. But back then, many parents had negative perceptions of the trend. A common stereotype included images of young people in loose-fitting clothes practicing dance steps to the accompaniment of loud music near train stations and public spaces.

Avex, however, has managed to overcome these negative perceptions.

"We provided packaged, easy-to-follow lessons that kids could take up as an after-school activity and aimed to offer assurances with the Avex brand," Avex official Hiroshi Kamata said.

Avex has many of the country's top artists in its fold, including Namie Amuro, Ayumi Hamasaki, Exile and Kumi Koda.

In the past seven years, 130 fitness clubs have signed up with Avex, while the number of students has grown twelvefold to 12,000. Of these, 70 percent are elementary school students.

In junior high, students will be taking up one of several dancing styles — creative, folk or modern (including rock and hip-hop) — to be offered as part of physical education classes.

"Introducing hip-hop to the school curriculum is remarkable," Kamata said. "I would think more children will have an interest (in dancing) as a result of school lessons."

Small local dance schools are also experiencing some changes.

Kids Dance Club Betty's, which has been giving lessons to children 3 years and older, said it has seen enrollment numbers steadily increase over the past several years.

Ryoko Hirasawa, who runs the club, said, "People who grew up with dance music by Namie Amuro and others have become parents and many of them apparently want their children to learn."

While girls are predominant, "we have some boys whose parents say they want to see their kids dance hip-hop like Exile (an all-male group)," she said. The club has also received some inquiries recently from junior high school students.

Other businesses are hoping to cash in on the growing number of young dancers. Pioneer Corp. has started selling audio equipment dedicated to playing street dance music. And some shoemakers are now offering dance shoes for kids.

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