“At ﬁrst glance, ‘butoh pedagogy’ may seem to be an amorphous concept, as there are nearly as many teaching methods and aesthetic styles as there are practitioners in this increasingly global community.” – Tonya Calamoneri5
Teachers are everywhere from the plants to animals to all the artificial phenomena. If we learn to resonate with or embody the vast degree of life differentiations, we will automatically invoke butoh. Before Hijikata, what was there? How did Hijikata found butoh? We should all be in this creator state, the state of Hijikata founding something we today call butoh.
Being around like minds, of course, tends to help. But where are they?
“What attracted me so strongly to butoh, both performing it for the ﬁrst time and then in subsequent workshops, was the process of experiential learning and freedom of exploration with the body as its locus.” – Katherine Adamenko7
Generally, people are exposed to butoh through international workshops ranging from 1 day to 1 month. Durations can last from 1 hour to 12 hours (Diego Piñón of Mexico has done 12 hour classes). Butoh workshops can take place inside and/or outside. They generally begin with some form of warm-up which can borrow from Noguchi Taiso, yoga, qi-gong, meditation, theatre game, or any form of nurturing and/or body-awakening practice.
Music is sometimes used (sometimes live), but not always. Rhizome Lee used no music. Valentin Tszin in one workshop used a metronome sound.*
Depending on the guide, the range or combination between improvisation and form/choreography will vary. Kazuo Ohno gravitated towards pure improvisation, whereas Tatsumi Hijikata was a stickler on form based off his butoh-fu.
Merging Life With Butoh
“When I was in Asbestos- kan, I was immersed in butoh all day. The distinction between the usual and the unusual disappeared, and everything completely mixed together. There was even butoh in eating a meal.” – Kobayashi Saga¹
The short stints of butoh workshops however were not how butoh began. Tatsumi Hijikata’s Asbestos Studio was a serious investment of time. Kayo Mikami mentions that the daily stance of devoting one’s life to butoh and dropping out of society was the first step to approaching butoh.²
Yearly Butoh Study Programs
Aula Nostra (3 seasons) of Madrid, Spain is the only multi-seasonal butoh study facility in the world open to the public.
This program is the only sort of Asbestos Studio reincarnation currently.
Seasonal Butoh Study Programs
Increasing the Demographic
The main demographics that take butoh laboratories or workshops are generally young to middle-aged adults, theatre/dance practitioners, and body workers. However, butoh has the capacity to spread freely to other demographics:
To name a few, Ikko Tamura (of Dairakudakan),9 Yukio Suzuki,10 Yumi Umiumare,11 and Julie Becton Gillum12 have all devised personal methods for teaching children butoh.
Ikko Tamaru9 and TO-EN Butoh Company13 have systems for teaching seniors butoh.
The differently abled
Natsu Nakajima14 and Gio have devised systems for teaching the differently abled. Gio engaged in a “Wheelchair Butoh” project in Hungary for one week in 2015 and also in 2019.15
Vangeline16 and Vanessa Skantze** devised systems for teaching butoh to inmates.
It is recommend to follow the principles of trauma-informed guiding in order to ensure a safe enough space for participants to practice in. Fallot and Harris’ five principles include: (1) ensuring safety; (2) establishing trustworthiness; (3) maximizing choice; (4) maximizing collaboration; (5) prioritizing collaboration.8
The guiding method of Shadowbody butoh attempts to approach non-hierarchy. This certainly is different from how Tatsumi Hijikata taught, which was totalitarian in a way.4 Everyone had to specifically follow his butoh-fu.
In non-hierarchical guiding, everyone is a co-creator or co-creator in training. This is why Rhizome Lee did not use the term “teacher” but instead “midwife.” A butoh midwife is a holder of space, facilitating the passage of others’ latent infinite creative potential. Akaji Maro of Dairakudakan also makes use of the term in a similar way.³ Eventually everyone becomes a midwife, helping facilitate a complicated multi-rhizomic network of co-creators.
The distinction between teacher and non-teacher is blurred. Everyone is an administudent and captrainee.
Recommended is for educators to be open to the possibility of collaborative guiding. This will open up the educators to new guiding possibilities and possibly address any shortcomings or points to strengthen.
On January 17th, 2022 at Tiyatro Medresesi in Sirince, Turkey, 4 of us butoh guides experimented in collaborative guiding/supporting. Monday thru Thurday for 6 weeks, we held classes guided by one guide at a time, but on Friday, the class was guided by 4 guides. This not only provoked much change in the class, but also provoked much imagination and inspiration, and is a less hierarchical system than only having 1 guide. On top of that, the performative element of guiding was accentuated as we had to really listen to each other and transition from one guide to another.
Important: Guides should want to wholeheartedly work together, and this means supporting each others’ classes. Documenting is nice but actually giving one’s heart and spirit like the other participants is the least one can expect in a guide to guide collaboration. If this is not possible, one may need to reconsider their situation due to questions regarding genuine embodied interest.
Opening & Closing Circle
Group circles bring togetherness and belonging. It is recommended to begin and end in a circle.
Class = Performance
The class is encouraged to double as a performance itself. Everybody involved is both performer and audience (perfobserver and spectactor). The transitions from one theme to the next are to be paid attention to. There is no time for not keeping active or not being in medimotion.
The unexpected is to be integrated. This is utilizing the concept “yes, and” into the research space.
When the guide delivers a concept with examples, eventually the space is opened for the others to generate their own example of the concept in mind.
Have some sort of signalling device or two such as a singing bowl, bell, or claves to mark clear beginnings, endings, or other cues. It is also recommended to give participants enough time to “find an ending” before engaging an ending signal.
Pauses in silence (1 minute, 2 minutes or more) are recommended such as after a signal or times when the guide feels the partitioner may need to process.
No talking at breaks. This keeps the process going. Also recommended is to keep comments for the end of class (or during the closing circle).
High Energy/Low Energy Balance
In order to hit upon the entire spectrum that butoh has to offer, both types of exercises should be used: (1) high energy/impact/athletics/taking the body to the limits or yang and (2) more meditation/slow flow or yin exercises. Sometimes, of course, there is a vague distinction between these two types of exercises, but the important part is not neglecting either spectrum.
Incorporating ritual in some fashion is a recommend facet of butoh to look into. Diego Piñón’s classes and several educators who have studied under him sometimes have a strong ritual element (sometimes object-rich) to them.
Performance Rehearsals & Transition Rehearsals
If the class is performance based, rehearsals (including dress rehearsals) are recommended. If there is more than one performance, it is also recommended to rehearse the transitions. With a transition rehearsal, have everybody perform the first and last 10 or 20 seconds of their piece so that they have to transition to the next piece. The transition itself from one piece to another is a very important liminal performance.***
Laboratories are explorative spaces where nobody is guiding in particular. Everybody works together to explore a particular theme. This can be a rewarding experience for everybody involved.****
Private sessions (of one hour or more) are recommended during an intensive that has more than one guide. For instance, if there are three guides, then 2 guides can be on private sessions while the other guides are with the rest of the group.***
Both before and after performance are sensitive times and the facilitator or guide should give plenty of space and respect for the process. Patience and understanding is to be increased during these times.
Engaging in a butoh jam (with or without music) is an important part of the learning process because the participants can finally let loose without the pressure of the learning environment. See the butoh jam page for more.
Incorporating the tenants of performance art into at least some part of the workshop or classes can be valuable. A highly recommended book on performance art pedogogy is the following: Exercises for Rebel Artists: Radical Performance Pedagogy by Gómez-Peña, Guillermo. For more information on performance art and butoh intersections, see the performance art page.
If you are guiding something you learned from somebody else, try giving credit.
Just like in any performance, the guide should at all times show a high degree of attention, confidence, humility, and presence. The guide should be enthusiastic. The guide should enjoy that they are guiding.
The voice should project out so that everybody can hear clearly, yet should at the same time be relaxed. Observe successful public speakers. Fluctuations of tone and emphasis of words are highly recommended. Speaking should be treated as if it were music. Words can also be dragged out to sound more like a chant or drone, facilitating meditative, relaxed, or even trance-like states in the participants.
Liz Lerman’s Critical Response is a method of giving and receiving feedback, and can be used for butoh.* Her following steps are as follows:
Step 1. Statements of MeaningResponders state what was meaningful, evocative, interesting, exciting, and/or striking in the work they have just witnessed.
Step 2. Artist as QuestionerThe artist asks questions about the work. In answering, responders stay on topic with the question and may express opinions in direct response to the artist’s questions.
Step 3. Neutral Questions
Responders ask neutral questions about the work, and the artist responds. Questions are neutral when they do not have an opinion couched in them.This step is one of the most fundamental, challenging, and misunderstood steps of Critical Response Process.
Step 4. Opinion TimeResponders state opinions, given permission from the artist; the artist has the option to say no.17
Note: It is recommended to give a time limit, especially if there is more than one performer going through the process because if the process is too long, it can (from personal experience) lead to brain drain. One is encouraged also to edit the critical response process, to create your own form, e.g. feedback to include poetry and drawing response.
Collaborations With Other Disciplines
Collaborations with fields or practitioners outside of the butoh label can inspire everybody involved and can breed new creations and perspectives. For instance, there was a 3-teacher collaboration in the country of Georgia at the Gomarduli retreat space. Kiori Kawai focused on contact improvisation and Concetta Cariello focused on contemporary dance. The blend of butoh with these 2 other disciplines coalesced in multifaceted ending performances.
What other types of artistic fields, or even seemingly non-artistic fields can butoh collaborate with?
Creativity is often formed out of the necessity of making two unlike things work together. Such is the concept behind homospatial thinking which is “actively conceiving two or more discrete entities occupying the same space, a conception leading to the articulation of new identities.”18
How to Start Offering Classes
Butoh classes are already so hard to come by that whoever feels they have butoh to share should go ahead and share it. If one has gained a good amount of butoh exposure, consider holding a space to guide.
A key principle in this manual emphasizes no butoh gatekeepers. Another principle encourages accessibility. It is highly discouraged to see fellow butoh artists in the same location with a mindset rooted in competition, rivalry, or greed. Of course, no butohist will admit to it, but there have been instances. Given the relatively small size of the butoh community, it is highly beneficial for the collective progress of butoh practitioners to prioritize collaboration over competition. By fostering a collaborative mindset, we can enhance the overall growth and development of butoh as a whole.
Patience & Dedication
One thing to note is that it takes patience and dedication to generate attendance for a butoh class. At first, those who actually attend the class may be composed of only friends. Don’t get discouraged. Depending on where one lives, it might take 1 year to generate a class with 6 or more regular participants.
Frequency of Classes
One may begin first with offering a class once weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly until one sees momentum. The ideal is to work up to having 2 and even up to 5 day per week classes where the classes turn into a full-fledged course. Classes are encouraged to run a minimum of 2 hours, and ideally 3 or more. It takes time to enter and butoh can be the antithesis to the fast Instagram sort of contemporary life.
One can brainstorm who the target audience is such as: (1) dancers from contemporary or contact improv; (2) theatre people; (3) martial artists; (4) yoga/tai chi people; (5) people with disabilities; (6) seniors; (7) artists in general; (8) psychologists (due to shadow work).
Butoh is the most flexible with space than most any artistic field. A studio is encouraged, but that is not a dealbreaker. Parks and even personal homes with a good size living room can work. If the weather permits, outside, especially in nature, works well with butoh. Here are some examples of spaces/places where shadowbody butoh has been guided: (1) various space in Suomenlinna Fortress in Helsinki; (2) a butoh photography exhibition of David Joshua Jennings in New Orleans; (3) a small public park in Mexico City; (4) a living room apartment in Istanbul.
If going the route of the studio, one must take cost into account, and so one must have a system of pre-registration in place to at least know there will be enough attendance to actually break even with the cost of the space. Some spaces may work out a deal such as taking a percentage of the earnings: 20% is good, 30% is just okay, and anything more, reconsider the space.
One is not going to earn a living from guiding butoh, not by any stretch of the imagination. If one breaks even from the cost of holding the space, that is already a good start. That being said, a super rare few have possibly made it their main source of income such as Yumiko Yoshioka or Yuko Kaseki, and they have gained that privilege from their decades of contribution to butoh.
This is probably the bane of existence to all artists, but something that we have to live with. The best type of promotion appears to comes from word of mouth. Other forms of promotion include: (1) social media; (2) booking seminars or talks on butoh; (3) performing butoh and ending with a Q&A that makes people aware of one’s classes; (4) posting physical flyers in cafes, restaurants, or wherever there is a bulletin board; (5) collaborating with already established artists; (6) facilitating a special event with a known butoh artist.
Virtual Classes From Others
Though some of us feel very strongly about keeping things face-to-face/LIVE, we cannot neglect the virtual resource of classes coming from zoom or YouTube.
There is no specific website to find the zoom classes. One has to either follow butoh aritsts via Facebook or Instagram or join one of the various butoh Facebook groups of which these are the most popular: (1) Butoh Group #1; (2) Butoh Group #2; (3) Butoh Group #3; (4) Welcome Butoh; (5) Butoh Dancers Around the World.
Outside of the Shadowbody channel, here are some other virtual classes on YouTube:
The following are from her YouTube series entitled How To Improve Butoh
Semimaru (Sankai Juku)