Masaki Iwana: Master Class and performance

Masaki Iwana

[…] as long as butoh is a kind of expression, we must have the ability and responsibility to ‘edit’ those inner elements. I have no interest in those who see butoh as a kind of exotic spectacle of strange movements and bizarre gestures and who want to ‘learn’ it by some sort of rote process. Butoh is an ineffable kind of behavior produced by the body itself, possessing neither name nor form.

All infomrations on Masaki Iwana are best read on his website and in his book. Here an extract of his writing direcly from

About our dance

First I would like to speak about what kind of training one should pursue, because dance is “a realization of one’s dream through the body”, one must first know one’s body very well. When I say ‘the body’, I mean a total body that includes all levels – the bio-skeletal body, the spirit, and intuition.

Dance is not movement in itself, but it is greatly related with movement. Therefore, one must know the functions of movements. I often compare the body with a building. The function of the body, like the ones of the building, has

  1. ‘strength’
  2. ‘flexibility’ and on top of them rests
  3. ‘balance’

If these three work well together, it becomes movement, and the movement can have a relationship with dance.

Before entering the dance training, we train the body which is the valuable instrument of dance. This training is for flexibility and core strength – using stretching – and power and balance training. These exercises have a single aim – by training the lower-body (the base of our body), we prepare the body so that the upper body can relax.

Now about the dance training. In order to let the body function entirely, I made about five fundamental dances. These are truly fundamental movements that one can encounter in daily life. For example, to walk, to rise up (to stand), to crouch, to roll on the floor, and to turn. These are the first lessons. If one cannot perform well these fundamentals, the shortcomings show during the dance.

Next, let us think of requirements for the movement to become dance. Movement alone does not become dance – the requirement for the dance is that one feeds such things as one’s own dreams, memories, and desires into the movement. For this reason, sometimes, not to move (to be in stillness) becomes also dance. I am speaking ahead of myself, but let us say that dance is “a work of making the mental imagination into a concrete picture through the body”. We must be able to draw various pictures with our bodies.

The lessons in order to achieve this might be, for example, to dance a story-like subject (for instance, to dance an old pregnant salmon climbing against the rapid), or to dance a sensory subject (to dance the ‘sensation of peeling off’), or to dance a material (texture) not limited by movement or form (to dance ‘fragrance’, to dance ‘stagnation’), or to dance an intuition that is impossible to dance to (to dance ‘a prostitute named ruin’ or ‘to fish silence’ etc.)

Lastly, it is necessary to to do a training of improvisation. In order to free one’s mind and body, improvisation is an absolutely necessary training. However, improvisation is not about doing whatever you want to do, like it is generally understood. Improvisation is a work of precisely choosing actions from moment to moment by preparing as many sensory and perceptive antennae as possible. In a sense, if our antennae grows more numerous as a result of training, an action that might happen by chance comes nearer to necessity (nature).

Now, finally, I would like to speak about two very important points.

1. Firstly, unlike dancers of traditional or classical dance, we are in a sense amateurs. By ‘in a sense’ means, if we judge from the view point of defined aesthetic models and technical levels. A “professional” dancer will immediately drop out of the framework of these models and levels if he/she misses one day of training – so they cannot dare to miss the training.

Of course, for us also, lessons are valuable – however, because there are no defined measures and levels, in this sense we can stay amateurs. However, if one thinks that one can then dance very easily, it is the contrary. It is incredibly difficult. The reason why it is difficult is because the reason to dance does not exist in technique and levels, but it exists within one’s self.

It may be difficult to understand, but I would like to replace the word “self” by the word “concreteness”. For example, even if one follows the procedure that we learned somewhere, if it is not something extremely high level, it is not one’s own, and one will not win against a high level professional. Also, it is possible to dance to music, but if the rhythm of the dance is not properly good enough, it cannot pass as a performance.

As I just gave the examples, if the learned dance procedure or dancing to music is not crystalized technically, it is only a borrowed dance – it is to say that it is not concrete. Then, what could one do? One is to find within oneself something concrete, something that will not be questioned in terms of technique (victory, defeat, or merits by competition do not exist in our dance) and dance it richly or desperately. This is the meaning to dance or, in other words, to dance one’s body. If you are not convinced by this, please verify it by dancing.

2. Now, secondly, there are some people who say that they dance to heal themselves. At the beginning, this is allowable, but if one does it to the end, it is a problem. The reason is, our dance cannot be done alone. It always requires someone looking on, a witness. To put it simply, it is a performance (exchange with audience), and if I may use my favourite words, one needs a resolution to be on show. It means that half is for healing oneself, and the other half for healing and giving joy – and if fortunate, to touch the hearts of – others. If one forgets this, the dance becomes a selfish act that is only to satisfy oneself.

A dance of the content as I described above is not easy to appeal socially to become famous or to make a lot of money. This is because society likes to create frameworks and models, and to create superiority within that framework. Society puts a price on the dance as a commodity.

Therefore, ones who aspire to our kind of dance must have a great resolution and courage to not care at all about not being famous or to be outside of the assessments and competitions. If still you would like to try our kind of dance, please visit me one day.