Holidays, weekends
and after school for children

How do children spend their after school, weekend
and holiday time in this town?
Do children spend their spare time with the adults in Kamiyama?

Episode 1

Family dance class

September 10, 2021 release

Let’s meet Chie Nakagawa, a founder of parenting group “WakuWaku” and Hirotaka Watanabe, a professional dancer who is working for the Foodhub Project.

We heard about the family dance lesson they started this year. We paid a visit to meet them in the gymnasium of Agawa's former elementary school.

We would really like to learn how to dance, wouldn’t you?

Please tell us about yourself and your connection with Kamiyama.

Chie I’m from Komatsushima (a city located on the east coast of Tokushima). I was raised in an environment surrounded by rice paddies, at the foot of a mountain. After I got married, my husband and I started a business in the city but it didn’t feel right at all. I at least needed to have a place to live in the countryside. We found a nice place in Kamiyama, so we moved here.

Hirotaka I was born in Kanagawa prefecture. This is my 7th year in Kamiyama. What led me here was a friend of mine who worked for Monosus (a company that opened a satellite office in Kamiyama in 2017). I was curious about Kamiyama when I saw his posts about how interesting it was.

Just around the same time, I found out that Engawa (another satellite office set up by Plat Ease from Tokyo) was offering vocational training so I decided to take part. In the meantime, the Foodhub was launched and they asked me “You’re free now, right? Help us out.” And here I am.

How did you start with family dance class?

Chie When we had our third child, I started a parenting circle called “WakuWaku”. We took children for hiking in Oawayama mountain to cook lunch over an open fire and play in nature.

But as the children got older, more and more of them started joining other kinds of activities so WakuWaku had to take on different forms.

I always loved dancing. I had so much fun dancing together with my daughter while watching YouTube. It was just perfect when she was little. But after she started elementary school, we both really wanted to learn how to dance more seriously.

After searching online for dance classes, I could only find places in Tokushima and Komatsushima city but the other member in WakuWaku wanted to find a way to learn dancing closer to home. We heard about a dancer who worked at the Foodhub (later we found out it was Hirotaka) but we were not sure who this person was so we hesitated to ask. This dance class idea had been in my head for a while so I was hoping to connect with him somehow.

And, just like that, one day Hirotaka turned up at the bento shop where I work in Sanagouchi village. So immediately, without any hesitation, I told him that I’d love to learn to dance!

Hirotaka When we first talked, I thought she and her daughter meant to join the dance class I was doing for teachers at Jinryo elementary school.

I didn’t imagine this was going to be such a popular class. As it turned out, so many people came! I was surprised!

How many people came for the first lesson?

Chie I organized two trial lessons and each time approximately 20 people joined. I didn’t expect it to be this popular either. But I feel that everyone there was desperate to do some exercise.

How did you advertise?

Chie I sent a group message to the WakuWaku circle asking if anyone is interested. A lot of them gave positive responses saying, “I’d love to.”, “Oh me too!” and “Me too!”. So, we all started together.

We only had two lessons before March this year. We had to stay put because of coronavirus. So, it was from April we started having the lesson regularly.

We want to have fun and get some exercises

How is it going so far?

Hirotaka It’s quite hard to teach both adults and kids at the same time. For instance, the steps. Each person learns at their own speed and repeating the same moves is ok but I just worry if it’s too boring or that they are losing interest. So, I just cram all kinds of moves into one lesson. I let them try both the easy ones and the harder ones, so again, I worry if it’s too confusing for them. Anyhow, I’m happy as long as they all enjoy dancing.

Chie I’m enjoying it! I don’t think anyone who comes to the lesson is after a sort of strict lesson that you need to follow exact steps, do you? Basically, we all just want to have fun and do some exercise.

Many of us think it’s important to show kids that we adults are enjoying what we do. So hopefully this then sends a message and inspires our kids.

Was there anything particularly memorable?

Chie Before, we tried to copy Hirotaka but for the last lesson we wanted to follow our instincts and move our body. The kids were hesitant at first because they’re usually asked to play by-the-book at school. But as they watched us dance, I could see their emotions rising up inside them.

Hirotaka When I saw this kid crying in frustration because she couldn’t move how she wanted, I was impressed. She is amazing. Seeing that made me feel like there is more I can do. It was inspiring.

-Tell us about the dance class at Jinryo elementary school.

Hirotaka Originally, I was asked to give lessons for an after school activity club organized by the board of education in Kamiyama. When the lesson was over and I was cleaning up, a teacher from Jinryo elementary school spoke to me saying he used to breakdance. And suddenly he started spinning!

Then, other teachers joined us – they wanted to get some exercise together. Also, two brothers who came to the after-school class were interested in learning more. This is how I started the new class at Jinryo elementary school at the end of last year. Those teachers, the two brothers and their family are now regular members.

-I heard that the skill level of the participants is fairly high.

Hirotaka We have quite intensive lesson in Jinryo. We practice for about 2 hours every time. They are getting better and better at it. I sometime try to bring the same dance moves to the Agawa class. Last time, I built a lesson around all the complicated moves.

Chie Well, actually two of us managed to get it. This woman who has some dance experience, she did great. Seeing that encouraged me to do my best! If none of us could do it, we might have felt like oh well it’s too difficult, but seeing them dancing made us want to achieve it.

Hirotaka I think it’s very natural for everyone to want to improve their skills.

Expressing yourself in front of people gives you strength

How would you like to carry on with this project?

Chie I’d like it if everyone was able to let it all hang out and think things through together in order to keep this place as open as possible. I want to give everyone a voice and work on this together. And I hope to keep going with the class as long as we can.

I can’t imagine what it’s going to be like in the future but I want to have a good time for sure.

TOEC* has greatly influenced my life. This is a place where both adults and children are appreciated and valued as they are. We are encouraged to be true to ourselves. When there is nothing holding you back, it’s easy to realize what really excites you. It’s so simple.

So, when I first started WakuWaku, I want it to be a place where we can strive for excitement. I also exchanged some ideas with my friends. I hope for everyone to have a great time and get some fun exercise.

Hirotaka As children grow up, they will have so much overflowing energy. I was the same. When I was in middle school, I was bored and feeling irritable so I fought these negative emotions and used them as the driving force for my breakdancing. Breaking stopped me turning to delinquency. It is brilliant to be able to accept our differences and respect each other through dancing.

A cypher in breaking is when dancers form a circle and take turns to enter the middle and dance. Expressing yourself in front of people gives you strength and you will be able to do things you cannot do alone. I’d like to create that kind of opportunity for people.

The other day, I noticed that I have taught more than 100 people so far since moving to Kamiyama. I still wonder about my teaching though.

Eventually it would be great to see all the adults and kids together dancing freely on the streets of Kamiyama as a part of everyday life.

Is there any space left in the dance class? Can anyone join the class?

Chie At the moment the class is full unfortunately because we try to keep enough distance between us in the gymnasium.

Perhaps it’s possible to get in touch with Hirotaka to set up a new class if anybody’s interested?

Hirotaka Probably it’s a good idea. In fact, I never paid for any dance lessons except just once in 10 years of dancing. Until that time I just watched tons of videos and learned with friends from my hometown.

Right now, I charge per lesson. But the really good thing about dancing is you can do it anywhere and you don’t need to spend money. Turn the music on, put on your shoes and you are ready. In those boring days I thought it was so cool. We can have so much fun for free.

Nowadays it’s easy to find the information you want. You can find many great dance videos online. So, we should dig in and share them with friends. It would be fun.

When the coronavirus pandemic is over, dance competitions will reopen and we can reconnect with old friends and make new friends from all over Japan. Your world will expand from home to a school dance circle, and then to a whole other new world. You can meet your role model or someone who inspired you. I’m thrilled for kids.

Interview: June 4, 2021


*Nonprofit organization nature school TOEC
TOEC is an alternative school that operate on principles of freedom and individuality. Located in Anan, Tokushima.

Interviewer: Chigusa Akiyama,
Text: Itsumodoori
Photography: Nao Kondo, Masataka Namazu, Masahiko Kanemura
Production cooperation: Eri Itoi, Yoshiaki Nishimura
Planning and production: Kamiyama Tsunagu Corporation