Geisha and Maiko – Japanese Classical Dance

I used to be involved in a Japanese dance troupe in New York city. Most people aren’t familiar with the dance style, and describing it as akin to kabuki still drew blank looks. Below is a link to a clip of Geiko Miehina playing shamisen and Maiko Fukunae dancing. Miehina is a full-fledged geisha, while Fukunae is an apprentice, which shows in her clothing and hairstyle. Mai means dance, and maiko, woman of dance (the “gei” in geisha, or geiko in Kyoto dialect, means art). See a photograph of Fukunae’s omisedashi (start of business, or first day as a maiko) below.

Within the dance, there is a correct place for your feet, your head, your hands, and even your eyes – at all times. There are breathless golden moments in which you do not move, or breathe. The body of the dancer frames images that the song brings forth, views of mountains, shy looks, the power of goddesses, the joking of street minstrels, rain on an afternoon. The fan is precisely managed in the hand, the lead weights in the guards assist in righting it when the fan is tossed in the air. Your thumbs are tucked against your palm, hands curving into an elegant shape. You learn not only to place your feet for the dance, but also to use your feet to maneuver the trailing hem of your kimono. Observe her crouch, never are her knees locked – try it for a minute or two, and then try to walk while maintaining that crouch, knees always pressed together. Not only does the dancer’s body have to be strong to excel at the dance, the maiko must also gracefully carry the weight of 30-40 extra pounds of clothing, much of it concentrated in the densely woven obi dangling from her shoulder blades.

Click here for the video: Maiko dance

Fukunae’s omisedashi, or “first day of business.” This ceremonious day is the first time she appears as a maiko and is generally a big media event. Her clothing, hairstyle, and hair ornaments are worn specifically for this day. As a new apprentice, only her lower lip is painted red. Photo credit: geisha-licious.tumblr.com.

About Becky Fifield

Becky Fifield is a cultural heritage professional with 25 years experience in institutions large and small. She is currently Head of Collection Management for the Special Collections of the New York Public Library. An advocate for preventive conservation, Ms. Fifield is a Professional Associate of the American Institute for Conservation, Chair of the AIC Collection Care Network, and former Chair of Alliance for Response NYC. She is also a scholar of 18th century female unfree labor and dress. There's a bit of pun in the title The Still Room, delineating a quiet space brimming with the ingredients of memory, where consideration, analysis, and wordcraft can take place. Ms. Fifield’s interests include museum practice, dress history, historic preservation, transit, social and women’s history, food, current events, geneaology, roadtrips, and considerations on general sense of place. Becky and her husband, Dr. V, live in the Hudson Valley.