Ethnomusicologist and dancer Tomie Hahn delves into the process of immersing oneself and incorporating the cultural knowledge of the nihon buyo, the traditional Japanese dance form in her book Sensational Knowledge Embodying Culture Through Japanese Dance (Wesleyan University Press). A student of Japanese dance since the age of four and a performer, as well as an associate professor in the arts department at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, NY, Ms. Hahn explores the identity of the dance through culture, a teacher’s wisdom and the body and how that experience transformed her own identity.
More than just another how-to book, Ms. Hahn reveals in a very personal way in which dance and music of a community are reflected outward to define that community and how that nuanced cultural tradition defines the dancer. Examining the sensory way in which minute details of culture, music and dance are passed from teacher to student, Hahn is a veritable font of information about the personal journey of learning and understanding the nihon buyo. Personalizing this journey with details like the chimes that welcome her as she enters the dance studio to shoes lined up by other dancers to the changing into the yukata, or cotton kimono worn for dance practice, Ms. Hahn makes the exploration intimate and culls a curiosity out of the reader.
Beyond the personal, there is plenty that’s practical in Ms. Hahn’s book. With a DVD companion illustrating movements from the book, Sensational Knowledge also offers the categories of Japanese dance, choreography and musical notations, a glossary of terms, terms for symbolic movements and detailed descriptions of body positioning. Ms. Hahn embellishes the book with photos and tips on not only how a movement is executed but the imagery behind the movement.
In revealing the finer points of nihon buyo through her own dance experience, Ms. Hahn offers up a greater lesson and that is the very essence of the dancer within the dance and how the dancer absorbs the creative process of a culture.
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