Ballet popularity in Japan growing by leaps and bounds

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Feb. 27, 2012)

Japan is becoming a significant presence in the world of ballet, a recent survey shows, buoyed by a large number of aspiring dancers who benefit from close attention at small schools.

The talents of Japanese ballet dancers came under the global spotlight most recently when 17-year-old Madoka Sugai won the prestigious Prix de Lausanne dance competition for young dancers earlier this month.

According to a survey by Showa Academia Musicae, a Kawasaki-based music university, more than 400,000 people are expected to take ballet lessons throughout the country this year.

Most ballet schools are small–the average number of students is fewer than 60–but the limited size of the classes allows ballet dancers to receive more personalized instruction.

In the survey, a research team led by Kumi Koyama, a professor at the music university’s junior college, and Toyo University Prof. Bin Umino found there were 4,630 ballet schools across the nation after examining data from ballet groups and stores selling ballet goods last year.

According to a questionnaire sent to ballet schools, the team estimated the number of students to be more than 400,000. About 70 percent of the schools are privately run and 80 percent have fewer than 100 students.

Forty-nine percent of the ballet schools send their students to competitions, while 28 percent were established no earlier than in 2001.

In Europe, it is common for aspiring professionals to receive specialized education at national and public ballet schools. In contrast, ballet instruction in Japan has been provided mainly at small private ballet schools.

Koyama said the number of people studying ballet in Japan was much larger than in many other countries.

“I think the number of ballet students has increased because [internationally known] dancers like Tetsuya Kumakawa and Miyako Yoshida, who were active overseas, are now performing in Japan,” she said.