Imagine that your body is filling with water. It begins at your feet, rises to your knees, and gets faster until your body is completely filled. Imagine slowly releasing all the water and allowing your body to fill again. Pause for a moment. Then imagine a wave of water rippling up through your body, flooding into every space and washing back from the edges that it finds.
Through these simple exercises, a butoh dancer enters into the journey of traversing their own inner landscape – finding the inner language of their own body. The discovery of one’s individual internal language is the beginning of the dance. From that discovery the butoh dance arises, generated by the body rather than imposed upon it.
Yumi Umiumare is Australia’s only Japanese butoh dancer. Originally a member of the seminal butoh company DaiRakudakan in Tokyo, she travelled to Australia to perform in the Melbourne International Festival in 1991, and has danced, workshopped and taught butoh ever since.
Recently Yumi has developed butoh cabaret, a unique, expressive and fun variation of the traditional form, which is accessible to audiences. Her new work, DasSHOKU Hora!!, premiered in Australia in November 2005.
Butoh began as a post-World War II, radical Japanese dance movement, motivated by a desire for free political and cultural expression. Yumi holds some of these themes in her work, transposing them onto a modern landscape where she explores her own cultural confusion as a Japanese person living in the west. Her butoh cabaret style brings colour, costume, comedy and character to her audience in a fusion of traditional and modern dance.
Complete freedom of expression is the heart of butoh, and for Yumi’s students, connecting with their own bodies is the beginning of the journey through imagination, visualisation and, eventually, movement. Exercises are based initially on isolating a part of the body and connecting with it.
In Yumi’s classes, participants may imagination water on the knees, fish swimming around inside the body or insects crawling on skin – all exercises which highlight sensation and bring each person home to their own physical experience.
In butoh, the dancer is coexistent with space, not in opposition to it. Traditionally, the spirit of butoh is the spirit of the ancestors. In the modern form, it is the spirit of invisible space. “We are not moving ourselves, but are moved,” Yumi explains. “We are carried by our shadow, the space behind us, and the space all around. It is the invisible spirit of the body. We do not think of body and space separately, it is all one.”
The dance movements of butoh range from perfectly still poses to elegant glides to extremely frantic, stomping movements. The movements are grounding for participants – physically, mentally and emotionally – and lend themselves to complete emotional expression. Butoh will get you moving, creating, and expressing, and touch you at every level.

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