butoh/itto GooSayTen

















Proceedings from the 36th Annual Conference of American Dance Therapy Association.
On Oct.11-14, 2001,Raleigh, NC, U.S.A.

Mind-Body Learning by Butoh Dance Method

by Toshiharu Kasai, MA and Mika Takeuchi

Presentation Description

Butoh dance, a radical dance form originated by Tatsumi Hijikata in the 1950s in Japan, has been more than a performing art. The presenter, a Butoh dancer and psychologist, has studied and performed Butoh dance since 1988 and has found Butoh dance a practical way to explore and cultivate the deeper layers of the mind-body.

Once called "Ankoku Butoh," dark and black dance, Butoh pays great attention to the least attended aspects of the mind-body. Tremors, tics, jerks, facial or bodily distortions, falling down, or any other involuntary movements are appreciated as ways to explore and liberate the mind-body. They are used as keys to examine the unconscious mind, not by verbalization, but by experiencing the very reactions or movements that are often prohibited or suppressed under the social norm of movements in each culture.

In order to elicit and accept these autonomous reactions and movements, it is decisively important to rear bodily perception, proprioceptive sensitivity. Relaxation lies in the core of the presenter's method and is introduced by using several "body-untying" exercises. Deep relaxation, a state of mind-body "re-setting" induced by both the relaxation exercises and breath exercises, allows individuals to perceive their mind-body habits clearly and gives an impetus to self-correcting reactions and movements. These are the starting point of a Butoh dance, a self-exploring process.


The Butoh Dance Method for psychosomatic exploration was pioneered by the present author in the 1990s under the deep influences of two distinguished psychosomatic methods in Japan, Noguchi Taiso (physical exercise) and Takeuchi Lesson. The former was pioneered by Michizo Noguchi in the 1970s and gives individuals an utterly different notion of their bodies as well as a unique training system; "The human body is a kind of a water bag in which bones and muscles and viscera are floating... Muscles exist not for resisting and governing the gravity. Muscles are the ears for listening to the words of God - Gravity." Butoh dancers and troupes have been using his ideas and exercises as one of the key factors to deepen their mind-body entity.

The latter, Takeuchi Lesson, has been developed by Toshiharu Takeuchi since the 1970s. Takeuchi utilized Noguchi Taiso and integrated it with his long struggle about how to utter words as a deafened person. He was one of the famous drama directors and started his Lesson mainly for actors, but his lesson became widely acknowledged by psychologists as an effective existential method for human growth (Kasai, 1999).

Psychological experiments done by the present author have shown that people are not good at releasing tension from their bodies (Kasai, 1994; Kasai, 1996; Kasai & Zaluchyonova, 1996). Years of practice about how to release bodily tension by using the notions and exercises in Noguchi Taiso and Takeuchi Lesson yielded an idea of "de-conditioning of the socially conditioned mind-body" and "mind-body de-socialization". The mind-body has been socially conditioned by the significant others so as to react unconsciously and/or automatically to other people or given social situations. Liberating someone from these predisposed reaction patterns or relativizing them could be an extremely difficult task.

The author has found through Butoh dance trainings and performances that people, mainly performers and often the audience, became liberated from the fixed and confined state of being and obtained free energy for psychosomatic further growth. As described in the paper by Kasai (1999), "One of the interesting things ... is that Butoh has an aspect of 'body archaeology,' digging out something buried deep in the body", forgotten or socially suppressed things, either good or bad, sometimes come up to the mind-body during the phases of Butoh Dance Method. Induced and relived are such emotions as classical anger against parents and other significant others, sorrow for the lost, desperation, and nostalgia for the good old days with vivid images, etc. The Butoh Dance Method, in essence, is a practical way for individuals to explore and relativize pre-established reaction patterns concerning the meanings of their own bodies, society, and existence.

Three phases of the Butoh Dance Method are as follows:

1) Playfulness:
Pleasant and playful exercises make the energy flow in mind-body free among participants, which determines readiness for the next phase. Also, playfulness itself serves as a good excuse or refuge during the confrontation phase.

2) Relaxation:
Relaxation exercises with breathing training sometimes invite a deep relaxation, a mind-body "resetting" experience, and allow people to go into the deep layer of the unconscious. The exercises may include the experience of "amae", a soft mutual dependency with the other people, and the experience of being accepted and allowed to be as you are. Another set of exercises for enhancing the bodily perception and proprioceptive perception are introduced at this phase only when the participant reaches the level of enjoying the minute movements, a couple of millimeter ones.

3) Confrontation:
"Intentional distortion of parts of body sometimes induces further distortions, fixation, or thrust in the face, arm, trunk, leg, etc. As the movements of this type are not seen and persuaded in other body-oriented systems, body distortion may be a characteristic of Butoh that directly faces the dark side (suppressed factors) of our mind-body". (Kasai, 1999)

The three phases can occur in this sequence or one exercise may contain these factors at the same time. Usually the consciousness level of each participant determines what occurs (Kasai, 2000). If the person's ego barrier is loosened to some extent and he/she is ready for experiencing of what has been alien and suppressed within his/her mind-body, a simple exercise can open up the third phase at once.

Some Butoh dance exercises dare to push participants to the verge of social-physical-mental breakdown and try to convert their mind-body structure in a short time. However, confrontation is sometimes not only hard and painful but also can be very much destructive to the mind-body entity. The method presented in this workshop is based on the growth model from the humanistic point of view, mainly because Phase 1 or Phase 2 alone have been found very effective for mind-body exploration and its fermentation. The third phase naturally follows and unfolds when the time is ripe.


Kasai, T. (1994). The psychological strategies in arm relaxation. The Japanese Journal of Humanistic Psychology, 12, (2), 212-219. (with English abstract) Kasai, T. (1996) The reconfirmed difficulty of the arm relaxation task. Japanese Journal of Hypnosis, 41, (1-2), 34-40. (with English abstract)
Kasai, T. (1999) A Butoh Dance Method for psychosomatic exploration. Memoirs of the Hokkaido Institute of Technology, 27, 309-316.
Kasai, T. (2000) A note on Butoh body. Memoirs of the Hokkaido Institute of Technology, 28, 353-360.
Kasai, T. & Zaluchyonova, E. A. (1996) An experimental study of the difficulty in the arm relaxation task. The Japanese Journal of Humanistic Psychology, 14, (2), 195-202. (with English abstract)

The authors have performed Butoh dance, have held workshops of this method in several countries (U.S.A., Germany, Poland, Ukraine, Russian, and Japan), and have given "relaxation" and "dance therapy" sessions for daycare programs at a mental hospital in Sapporo, Japan, since 1999.

Some of the papers above are available by e-mail at http://www.ne.jp/asahi/butoh/itto/


Toshiharu Kasai, MA, is a PhD candidate. While studying and teaching the mind-body relationship as a research psychologist at a college, he conducted workshops of the Butoh Dance Method and has performed as a Butoh Dancer "Itto Morita" since 1988 in seven countries.

Mika Takeuchi is a Butoh Dancer of "GooSayTen" performing in Japan, Jordan, United States, Germany, Poland, and Canada. Mika teaches relaxation methods and conducts dance/movement therapy based on the Butoh Dance Method for the day care programs of a mental health clinic.

Proceedings from the36th Annual Conference of American Dance Therapy Association
On Oct.11-14, 2001, at Sheraton Capital Center Hotel, Raleigh, North Carolina, U.S.A.

The workshop/presentation was 2 hours with 30 participants of ADTA members.

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