Butoh – Death of the circus

How many years did I struggle in circus classes to contort my body into the exact pose of the teacher, their teacher and their teacher? Feet must point, shoulders down, fingers closed like mittens….

I always wanted to move in abandon like an aerial banshee whirling and skimming the floor. Did you ever climb a tree as a kid? Did you ever do it with poise and and a straight spine? Would it have made any difference to your triumph reaching the top?

I don’t remember how, it was last year the idea came, but I found Butoh.

I won’t give you too much background on this form of modern dance from post war Japan as you can find lots. But what I can say is that my first views of performances made me squirm and want to look away. Ghostly vacant bodies contorted moved as though possessed. With anything in life you do not like it is best to dig and discover why.


I found that these ‘beings’ painted white displayed truths in movement that were beyond anything I could put in the frame of dance. Curiosity led me to craving the want to dance my own dance, find my own body’s way both on the ground and with aerial.

Why must my legs be straight on trapeze? Why can’t I droop my arms or suck my thumb? Because that isn’t ‘circus’

Aerial dance (and even burlesque) was always about movement and expression to me. Being high up, doing big tricks are things I was never concerned with. If I can hang by one leg it is amazing but what does it Say?

I have been told my aerial silks are my big sticking plaster; my way of escaping the world.


Plasters only cover up wounds. To me aerial dance is more of a voice. Forgive this for sounding quite hippyish but unlike a plaster, when I dance it is more like all the outer layers of me have peeled off and you are seeing my happy blissful soul spin and balance and swing. It is connecting with that kid climbing a tree again.

This is how I came to Butoh; needing to explore and find my own voice and language with my tatty trapeze.

Last night I took a long journey to rainy quiet Oxford and attended my first class. With any class in any subject there is always a bit of me that wants to leg it and find a Starbucks thinking I will be terrible.

Having not danced, other than in my low silks at home, and still not exactly knowing what Butoh is I found the class brilliantly welcoming as though I had been there many times. It was quite a challenge, especially just letting go and trying to relax and be aware of my body.

Any fears of feeling selfconcious vanished and I have no idea if what I did was Butoh or if I was just making odd poses but it was really fascinating to explore. It made me realise how much we move about often totally unaware of what our body is doing.

My balance is very shaky and yet I kept having the urge to put myself in folded, unbalanced positions.

I am full of questions

How do I know I am doing Butoh and not just doing what I’ve watched on Youtube?
It is often described as not moving but being moved. Why am I lifting my arm, tipping over?

My big question and I guess what I want to gain is how would my body dance if it was only just born in the body I currently have, and had never seen dance, had nothing to go by? How would it move?

Below are my two favourite performances I’ve seen so far.

butoh Solo

butoh dance


3 thoughts on “Butoh – Death of the circus

  1. Sara

    i like the 2 women at 5 mins into this film, lovely dresses too! the music can make it more scary than necessary i think…

    i s’pose anyone cd try it, even like me without a supple body, cd do it seated etc….

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