Culture

Getting Started with Street Dance in Japan

A comprehensive list of dance schools to check out across the country.

By 7 min read

Few countries have taken to street dance quite like Japan. Almost everywhere you go there are hip-hoppers practicing their moves in front of any reflective surface they can find, breaking crews doing fast-spinning performances to entranced crowds at shopping malls and even TV shows and magazines aimed specifically at the dance community.

Following Japan’s success at the 2018 Youth Olympic Games in Buenos Aires, Argentina —  which, for the first time, awarded medals in competitive breaking to Saitama’s RamuBgirl Ram” Kawai (Gold) and Osaka’s Shigeyuki “Shigekix” Nakarai (Bronze) — the scene looks set to explode. Unfortunately for visitors to Japan, even with this success it can be notoriously difficult to access for people that don’t speak the language.

Even though websites like DanceDeets are doing their best to make the activity more accessible, events are often posted on private forums or found via flyers handed out only to those in the know. For new dancers — and even experienced non-pros — the most accessible way to learn about this fascinating subculture is by taking a class at a studio.

Nationwide studios

While he is not such a big name internationally, model and dancer Sam (yes, he’s cool enough to be mononymous) is one of the biggest names in the Japanese street dance scene. As part of his mission to bring dance to these isles, he has studios all over Japan. His studio, Soul and Motion, has branches in Tokyo, central Osaka and Yao. It’s the place to go for dance kids with dreams of stardom in their eyes as there are auditions to join various pop bands as backup dancers held at the studio.

The same company’s ballroom dancing equivalent is Arthur Murray studios. This is mostly for partner dancing with an emphasis on the classic forms such as foxtrot, swing and the Latin dances. The studio has branches in most major cities.

Kids shouldn’t feel left out either as Avex Dance Master (Japanese) is a chain of studios designed to get little feet and heads moving. There are branches in Fukuoka, Nagoya, Osaka and Tokyo.

Local studios

One of the interesting things about the dance scene in Japan is that each area has its own studios, often focused around a famous dancer or team from that area. Of course, the following studios are only a selection of the ones on offer, but should give dancers a good place to start.

Kansai

One of the things that makes the Osaka scene unique is its street dance speciality CAT Music College, a learning establishment specifically focused on helping students become professional street dancers — often by feeding its funkiest students into places like Universal Studios Japan and Disneyland. Currently, CAT Music College offers a two-year course in performing, body conditioning and training to be professional dance instructors. It also offers classes in music engineering and performance. If you want to check out their moves, the school is associated with an annual event called Dance Delight.

A lot of the dancers who teach the classes at CAT also teach at the Shinsaibashi studio, Alley Oop. The course are run by world-class talents — with a price and membership fees to match. If you want to study with international champions, take advanced classes and participate in workshops with visiting guests then this is the place to go.

One of the notable schools for visitors and people who haven’t decided what genre they want to study yet are the sister schools of Studio Ash (central Osaka), Studio Ash Kyoto, Studio Cool (north Osaka) and Rental Studio Togano. These schools have no annual fees, plenty of classes for absolute beginners, let students take classes as and when they want, and have discounts for tickets bought in bulk.

For new dancers — and even experienced non-pros — the best way to get into the subculture is by taking a class at a studio.

For the wannabe b-boys and b-girls, Osaka has its own breaking studio with the awesome name Mortal Combat Academy made by the Japanese national champion team of the same name. The city also has the similarly awesome named Gun Smoke Breakers studio.

Nagoya

Nagoya also has a big dance scene lead by Studio Nexx, which offers classes in just about every genre out there. Its closest rival is Pineapple, a studio that has multiple branches and is a good place for dancers that want to experiment with a range of styles as they have the classes to match.

In Nagoya, the Nagoya School of Music (Japanese) is another specialist school for dancers, the local equivalent to the more professionally-geared CAT Music College. The school offers up to three-year courses in every dance genre under the sun.

If the idea of taking a lot of classes appeals to your kids, but you baulk at the thought of signing up two to three years of their life, Studio Kids Zoo (they named it, not me… ) has plenty of classes geared solely to kids. There is also an all-ages version of the studio for funky elder dancers.

One of the more fascinating Nagoya-only studios is One Way (Japanese), a space with a lot of krump classes. Krump is an aggressive dance style from the U.S. that entered into the public consciousness with the movie Rize.

Tokyo

In Tokyo, dancers are spoiled for choice. For those who would like to try as many genres as possible, the best choice is Noa Dance School (Japanese), which has a large choice of classes with reasonable fees. While Noa Dance School’s curricula is heavy on the street dance side of things, dancers more interested in performing and stage work will appreciate En Dance Studio near Shibuya. The school offers a schedule heavy in hip-hop and jazz classes, but with a few other genres sprinkled in.

Another big company is Zeal Studios (Japanese) with locations in Kawaguchi, Shinjuku, Tokyo and Yokohama. It focuses more on courses and monthly fees, which may or may not appeal to people depending on how serious you are.

For those that would like to see how far they can go, Steps Arts (Japanese) studio offers up to two-year courses to cover the skills to achieve your dreams whether they be a dance vocalist or theme park dancer.

For fans of the famous Australia Ballet School — one of that country’s most well-known dance institutions — will be happy to know that it has opened a branch in Tokyo, ABC Family (Japanese). This is joined by its American equivalent, Broadway Dance Studio (Japanese), which offers a variety of performance-focused lessons including multiple flavors of jazz dance (including such rarities as Latin jazz). Architanz is also similar with a syllabus rich in ballet.

If this all sounds a bit too serious, Waaaps (Japanese) studio may be just the ticket. Designed to put the fun back into dancing, it offers classes with a relaxed vibe and a “fight night”-style battle event called Drink or Die.

Okinawa

People interested in performing should check out Footloose Studios with classes in jazz, ballet and hip-hop for performing. For the urban dance styles, Studio 123 (Japanese) deserves a mention simply for the diversity of its classes. As well as covering popular genres like hip-hop and jazz, it also includes some less-common genres including breaking, K-pop dancing and punking.

Key terms

English Japanese Romaji
Enrollment fee 入会金 にゅうかいきん Nyuukaikin
Annual fee 年会費 ねんかいひ Nenkaihi
Trial lesson fee 体験 たいけんレッスン Taiken reson
Lesson fee レッスン料金 りょうきん Reson ryoukin
(4) classes ticket かいレッスンチケット Yon-kai reson chiketto
Novice/Beginner 初級 しょきゅう Shokyuu
Intermediate 中級 ちゅうきゅう Chuukyuu
Advanced 上級 じょうきゅう Joukyuu

Of course, this is just a small selection of the vast world of dance and dance schools available. We didn’t have the space to cover emerging scenes in places as diverse as Kanazawa, Chiba, Hirosaki and many, many others. Let us know if you have any recommendations for places we missed!

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