Formed by contemporary dancers Aisa Shirai and KEKE, the duo explores the streets of Japan (mainly in the wider Tokyo area), letting the places’ shapes and rhythms influence the choreography, which is almost improvised on-site.
Read on to discover the origins of their project and dance styles, the hidden messages it conveys, and get conquered by the spirit of “moyayoshi!”
The Origins of the “Moyayoshi” Dance
Rather than expressing our feelings or purpose, we wanted to represent our bodies as things influenced by their surroundings.
When people hear the word “dance,” I think most of them picture dancing at events, festivals, or on stages. What made you choose the unusual form of dancing on the street and posting it on SNS?
Aisa: Our dance genre is contemporary dance, which can be seen in many forms, but is mostly performed on stage. Aguyoshi was born in 2016, and during the first two years, we made art to be performed on stage too. We started walking and dancing in the streets as part of research and learning. With time, that aspect became the main one.
A theater is a closed space, and the audience tends to be a little nervous as they watch the performance. We wanted to create stage dances that would make the people feel more relaxed as if they were in the open air. However, that proved difficult, and we ended up thinking that dancing outside in an open space from the start was an easier way to give shape to our ideas and to express them to people.
Posting our dance on social media seemed like a good way to make sure our audience is relaxed when they watch us. Dancing on stage is also great, but posting short videos of our dance on social media matches our dance style better.
Depending on the viewer, your dance style can be seen as surreal, poetic, or funny. How did you arrive at Aguyoshi’s “Moyayoshi” style, which generates such feelings?
KEKE: Even in the art we created originally in theaters, rather than expressing our feelings or purpose, we wanted to represent our bodies as things influenced by their surroundings. However, when performing in a theater, the surroundings during rehearsals and during the performance are different. The dancers’ sensations change a lot once the audience is in the room.
Aisa: Also, the people who come to see dance tend to expect dancers to perform impressive tricks. On the opposite, we wanted to express “weak” bodies, the kind that would sway under the breeze.
In the streets, the surroundings change each time, and we can fully express how it affects us. Through our dance moves, we want to show what is fun about each place. So, when people watch our videos and find it strange or poetic, it comes directly from the dance’s environment.
KEKE: Our dance is influenced by the history of Japanese contemporary dance. We understand that moyayoshi does not come from nowhere, and we are performing this way because of the people who preceded us. We are bringing our new take on it.
Aisa: I also learned ballet, so there is an influence from Western dance too.
Performing in the Streets
We have always been able to dance everywhere. It is like the city has no limits.
How do you decide which dance to perform when you go on-site?
Aisa: First, I would like to say that we do not perform in places with famous sceneries or monuments. They are unremarkable places, but fun and intriguing in their own ways. First, when we find such a place, we set up our camera on a tripod and choose what is going to be featured in the frame. We choose the angle depending on, for example, we want to express the street’s straight line, the curve that is behind, or the jagged features of the scenery.
From there, we decide the movements to insist on these features. We follow the environment’s shapes or move in the same rhythm as elements that move. It all depends on what we would like to show.
On their YouTube account, Aguyoshi shows how things work behind the scenes.
Do people passing by sometimes look intrigued by what you do or ask you questions?
Aisa: Not really. We dance in places where there are not so many people, and do not stay long. Maybe five minutes maximum. So, there is no time for people to gather around us.
People have become used to YouTubers, so by seeing our camera, they understand we are doing something like that.
KEKE: We have not gotten any bad experiences so far.
Among the places you have danced in, is there one that was more difficult than others?
Aisa: To be honest, I think there was none! We have always been able to dance everywhere. It is like the city has no limits.
On the contrary, there is also no place that felt especially fantastic. All cities have a mix of fun and difficult locations. It is our natural observation from going to more than 50 places.
The Message behind Moyayoshi
In your videos, I noticed a recurring movement in which one of you is dragging the other. Where does this idea come from?
Aisa: We call this move “junrei” [pilgrimage], and we have included it in our dance since the beginning of our activities. The idea is to express the difference in landscapes by doing the same move in different places. If the ground is a slope, or if it is not smooth, the speed or the visuals of the move will be affected. As we follow a street or a path, its shape is also put under the spotlight.
When we do this move, we are very careful of making it look like someone is carrying an object.
Do the white shirts and beige slacks you usually wear have a specific meaning?
Aisa: Our main costume is a white parka, and in summer, we wear a white shirt instead. The reason for this is that it does not stand out too much, and while it is easy to spot on screen, it blends well with sceneries.
In Tokyo and the Kanto area, it is quite rare to see the pure white color, which is also one of the reasons we chose it.
Through your dance, what do you want to convey the most about the streets of Japan?
Aisa: Although we walk the streets of the area we live in on a daily basis when we go to the station or to work, we tend to no longer notice the little fun or interesting elements that are around us. For example, the traffic lights, the strange shape of some trees, bollard poles, tiny alleys, etc. When you look at them carefully, you can find out that they are more interesting than they seemed at first. That is one of our messages.
However, to do so, you need to use your body in a way that is different from usual. Using your body in new ways is a good way to make fun discoveries.
KEKE: We organize workshops in which we make people experience moyayoshi, and a lot of people tell us that their sensations have changed after it. The moves are not the moves you would choose to do in your everyday life.
If you notice an interesting place on your way to school or to work, you are just going to look at it, not use your body to interact with it. However, if you do so, the way you consider the place will change drastically. From there, the way you view the city and things in general will change too, and it is very fun. That is what we want to express.
Aisa: And it is something you can do even inside your house. This different approach to our everyday life environment is really fun.
I think I had a similar experience recently. A few months ago, I adopted a cat, and I read it was a good idea to lie on the floor at “cat-level” to understand how the cat perceives its environment. When I did so, I felt like my house was a different place.
Aisa: In a similar way, people who participate in our workshops say that they feel like children playing. When we were kids, we looked at things wondering which places and trees we could climb or not. I think our way of viewing the world was very different and it is a way to remember it.
Have you been influenced by any of the workshop participants’ impressions or ideas?
Aisa: When kids participated in our workshop, we were told later that they kept practicing moyayoshi by themselves at home and in the street. They also made a video with their teachers and sent it to us. We were extremely happy to see that they made the dance their own and were having fun with it.
We, along with the participants, realized that in moyayoshi, there are no people “good at it” or “bad at it.” It is accessible to all.
We realized a couple of things during a workshop in which we focused on following the objects’ shape. Although we are dancers, if you tell us to dance in an empty place, we do feel a bit of pressure. Similarly, it is difficult to ask people to choose a pose and stop moving, especially if they have no experience in dancing. They will tremble or feel nervous.
But if there are objects and an environment, all of these get easier. Many participants even told us that they felt more relaxed and released. I think it is true for us, too. We realized that there was a meditative aspect to our dance.
Moyayoshi around the World?
Would you like to dance “Moyayoshi” overseas someday? Are there any cities outside of Japan that you would like to dance in?
Aisa: Yes, because we would like to dance in as many places as possible. However, we are not looking to dance in famous places, but rather in “normal” cities and places where people live. We have many followers from other countries on our Instagram account and we would love to dance near where they live.
To follow the logic of our dance, rather than choosing where to go by ourselves, it would be fun to rely on chance to choose where to go, like throwing a dart on a map and traveling where it lands.
Do you have a final message for our readers?
Aisa: We do not have the intention of becoming “big” and will just keep publishing short videos on our accounts. If you follow us, our short dance videos can become a small part of your everyday life. If you like weird things, follow us!
KEKE: Use us for a small break!
Aisa: We hope you will laugh watching us.
Just One Step
It is probably because Japan is not my home country, but I love Japanese streets where there is nothing really special, and I love to notice details about them. Children’s slides in the nearby park, unusually shaped post boxes, old phone booths, the paw print of a cat who walked on fresh cement. People like illustrator Shinji Tsuchimochi and Aguyoshi have a real talent in bringing the poetry of mundane towns to our attention.
After my talk with Aguyoshi, I thought about what they told me every time I went outside. I looked at the parks and street features around me and imagined myself following their shape and wondered how it would feel. However, I could not find the courage to give it a try, too worried about what the passersby would think. All it would require is just a single step…
And then, I wondered. As a child, I would play around and climb and jump and roll on the floor, and I would not care about such things. When exactly did I lose that spirit? Why did I lose it? It seems to me that a long time ago, shapes looked more alive, colors looked more vivid, and even sounds resonated differently. Could “moyayoshi” help me feel that way again?
I look at the tiny wall next to the park’s entrance and picture myself laying on it. Then I notice the lady on the bench staring at me, staring at the wall.
Maybe I will try tomorrow.