By SARAH GOH
Seikyoumae dancers dancing. Photo by author.
If you have ever been to Komaba campus before, you may have noticed people dancing in front of the cafeteria and bookshop. Among Todai students, these people are known as Seikyoumae dancers – Seikyou refers to the co-operative that runs the school cafeteria and bookshop, and the suffix mae means in front of – so that would translate literally to ‘dancers in front of the cafeteria and bookshop.’ Now you may be wondering – who and why are these people dancing in our school? Well, I happen to be one of them so let me introduce you to this unique group on campus.
Seikyoumae dancers mainly come from three dance circles, namely Wish, Boiled and FreeD. Each of the dance circles have their own distinctive features. For instance, FreeD specialises in jazz dance while Wish and Boiled specialise in street dance. The three dance circles stage various showcases throughout the year and perform at school festivals. You may have realised that the average Seikyoumae dancer is somewhat different from the average Todai student. Seikyoumae dancers tend to be more stylish and wild in their dressing and hairstyles compared to the studious and bookish Todai students. Aside from the fact that dancers are just naturally trendier, this is because some of them come from other universities. In particular, Wish and Boiled recruit students from other universities and they probably constitute more than half of the members.
As for the choice of location, Seikyoumae may not seem like an appropriate place to dance. Given that it is open-air and on gravel floor, it certainly is not the most ideal for dancing. Practice has to be cancelled on rainy or snowy days and we sometimes have to sweep away clumps of fallen leaves in the fall. So why continue dancing there? The most important reason would be cost. Unlike renting a studio in town, dancing at Seikyoumae obviously does not cost money. Since university students are perpetually lacking money, this is a huge draw. Another key factor would be the glass panels that line the Seikyou building. They are somewhat reflective, particularly when it gets dark, so we use them as a substitute for mirrors. Moreover, convenience is also a big factor. While it is possible to rent the studios inside the Seikyou building for free, this has to be done about a month in advance and in true Japanese fashion, requires a degree of administrative procedure. Especially when performances draw near, dancers may spontaneously decide they want to squeeze in some practice on a particular day. All they have to do is go down to Seikyoumae and dance to their heart’s content.
However, dancing at Seikyoumae is not entirely free of rules and restrictions. We have to keep clear of the entrances and exits to the cafeteria and bookshop. On occasions when the space has gotten too packed to the point of obstructing traffic, we have been chased away by angry Seikyou employees before. As such, the three circles usually stagger practice on different days and timings to prevent overcrowding. The only exception would be on Sundays when the Seikyou does not operate. You would be able to catch dancers from all three circles occupying the entire space. While one may envision epic dance battles among the three circles to decide who would dance where, relations between the various circles are quite peaceful. As a general rule, whoever comes earlier gets first pick, but over time the different circles gravitate towards different areas, working out quite a harmonious arrangement.
Perhaps what is most striking about Seikyoumae dancers is that they are able to dance freely despite the constant public gaze and lack the inhibition which so permeates the rest of Japanese society. In reality, most of us Seikyoumae dancers do start off feeling rather self-conscious. But as time passes, we gradually get used to the curious stares from passersby. In fact, the more we focus on our dancing, the less conscious we become of the public attention. One can also think of this as good training for dancing in front of a crowd. All in all, the Seikyoumae dancers add an interesting twist to campus life and show a creative and unrestrained side of students which we do not encounter every day.