In his study of dance in Asia during the early part of the century, Shawn made the statement that Asians, like him, seemed to believe in gods who dance (Shawn 4). While this was not an acceptable image of God in the United States at that time, it was a primary image in many parts of Asia. In Japan, for example, the rising of the sun had been saved because Ume performed a dance and lured the goddess Amaterasu out of her cave (Shawn 4). Thus, in Japan, dance is considered to have a sacred, divine, origin.
Until very recently, dance in Japan has been a formal, rather than informal and social, occupation. Dance has also been aligned with theater in the form of Noh and kabuki. It is one of the classical art forms of Japan and has been at the center of the Japanese aesthetic for centuries. According to Shawn, dance is to Japan what opera is to the Italian people (Shawn 19). It is understood and appreciated by all, not just the elites.
Japanese dance began with religious dance, primarily from the Shinto tradition. Shinto is still a primary religion in Japan, although possibly more associated with rural, than urban areas. It provides the central myth of Japanese culture, since the sun goddess Amaterasu is considered the descendant of all the people of the land, and the emperor is considered as her direct descendant. Within Shinto, the dance of Ume is an important part of ritual, and dancing itself, in other forms, is a primary activity of Shinto priestesses and priests.
This origin is important to recognize, because modernday dance in Japan continues in a direct line from those earlier religious foundations. Although dance forms such as Noh are labelled as theatrical dance, they are also linked to sacred dance and populated with supernatural creatures.
In addition, as noted earlier, dance in Japan is primarily theatrical, rather than popular and informal. In general, dance is not separated from theater, but dance is ...