In the process of creating an indigenous form of modern dance, Japanese Butoh founders discovered a universal poetry of the body. Rather than transcending the human condition, Butoh asks us to descend into it–down into the turbulence, awkwardness and uncertainty of life–and from there, deep in the thick of things, we discover our own healing and capacity to love unconditionally.
The seeds of Butoh were planted in the late 1950s when Tatsumi Hijikata, considered to be its principal founder, began his quest to create a distinct, indigenous form of modern dance in Japan. Hijikata’s interest was to let movement emerge spontaneously (without a predetermined plan) from within the body, rather than imposing different styles on it from the outside, as is often the case in Western or classical forms of dance. Butoh emerged as an improvisational dance form that allowed each individual’s body to speak for itself with the spirit and soul as the guide, completely bypassing conscious or rational thought. For Japan, a culture in which individual expression was traditionally de-valued, this concept became an excitingly novel idea, and soon exploded in the Japanese experimental dance scene. Butoh spread quickly to the West and is now practiced worldwide, as it continues to open endless avenues of personal expression for people of any race, age or physical ability.
Since its inception, Butoh has become a flexible medium for educating and healing both the individual and the collective through the vehicle of the body. It teaches us to listen and respond to our deepest impulses, and in this way, we may begin to experience ourselves and each other in an extraordinarily direct and truthful way. Since Butoh starts with our common ground—the human body in its present state—it is accessible to people of all walks of life, from the artist seeking his or her own creative voice, to a wheelchair-bound individual who desires to feel whole despite a handicap. Through its many methods, Butoh helps us to penetrate the mystery of life—and perhaps most importantly, it is a direct way in to our own hearts, a place to discover (or perhaps recover) our own capacity to express, to love and to heal.
Butoh improvisation has been an integral part of Lani's teaching and dance-making for over 25 years. Please go here to read Lani's article "In Process: Embodying Buddhist Wisdom Through Butoh", published in the 2014 Eastwest Somatics Newsletter.