Para Para (パラパラ?, "Para-Para" or "ParaPara") is a synchronized dance that originated in Japan. Unlike most club dancing and rave dancing there are specific synchronized movements for each song much like line dancing.
Para Para is said to have existed since the early 1980s when European countries started selling Italo disco and Euro disco, and in the mid-to late 1970s, new wave and synthpop music in Japan. However, it did not achieve much popularity outside Japan until the late '90s. Para Para is strongly associated with Eurobeat. Dave Rodgers, a Eurobeat artist, has described Para Para as the only way to dance to Eurobeat, which is usually "so fast."
Para Para as a dance is also strongly associated with Gyaru and the Gyaru lifestyle, however not all Gyaru engage in Para Para dancing and the popularity of the dance has fallen over the years.
Para Para dancing consists of mostly arm movements; very little lower body movement is involved save for perhaps moving one's hips or stepping in place (although a few routines require more detailed leg motions). It has been speculated that it is a descendant of the traditional Bon Odori dance, however, there is no known link.
One view of the origin of ParaPara is that it started in the early 1980s when men working in the VIP room in clubs would choreograph dances to impress women. Another is that it developed from the Takenoko-zoku subculture that danced the streets of Harajuku. A third and final view is that the name is derived from an onomatopoeic characterization of the hands movements.
The dances are performed to fast, upbeat music such as Eurobeat and Eurodance. Fans of Para Para dancing often call themselves "paralists." ParaPara's history is largely described by the community and historians as times of growth or "booms" in which ParaPara's popularity increase over time, while a glacial period describes a decrease.
Some variants of Para Para dancing are TechPara (danced to hyper techno) and TraPara (danced to trance). This is also known as Torapara due to the word trance being written as toransu (トランス?) in Japanese.
There are people who make their own parapara routines to their favorite Eurobeat songs. These Parapara routines are called Oripara. Oripara is typically a reserved word for routines that are not made by famous parapara choreographers or taught at parapara club events.
Official Vs Maniac
The term "official" in the parapara world describes routines made by certain clubs/choreography groups in Japan. A non-exhaustive list of official club events are Starfire, SEF, 9LoveJ, and Twinstar. These routines are danced and learned by most people in the community. In a response to official routines, people have made their own in Japan called "maniac" routines. This movement started in the late 1990s with clubs like Hibiya Radio City and Tottori Eleven choreographing their own routines. In addition to the club events mentioned, other famous maniac club events that existed were Medusa, Area, Joy, AXOS, Bless, and TMD. As of 2008, club events in Japan have not choreographed many maniac routines and this movement has basically stopped. However, some official club events like Starfire and SEF still go on today. Some paralists prefer maniac to official routines, though, and continue to have small events like Ravenous that play songs that have maniac dances to them.
ParaPara Club Events
In any given week, there are multiple ParaPara events in Japan. A typical ParaPara club event begins the first 30 minutes by playing either Italo disco, dance, or other genres besides Eurobeat. Usually there are not many people during the first 30 minutes, so this is why it is done. After the first 20 or 30 minutes, depending on the number of people in the club, danceable music starts. Depending on the event, the first danceable songs played are different. For example, if one was at an event where the DJs played only Eurobeat songs from the 1990s, then the first songs would be from 1990-1991. If one were at a more official/modern event like SEF or StarFire, the songs would probably start around 1998-1999, when the 3rd ParaPara boom began. In most events, the songs have some sort of progression by year released, continuing until the end of the club event.
Some events play whatever they feel like and may start playing songs from 2006, for example. There are some events that play Techno as well as Eurobeat. In these events, there are rarely people who dance both ParaPara and TechPara. Most people sit out one or the other, depending on what routines they know. At most club events, there is a lesson (講習会?) where new ParaPara routines are taught. This is a very important part of a club event because, without club lessons, there might not be new ParaPara routines. A lesson is usually taught in 15 or 20 minutes. During a lesson, the new routine is danced first with music. After that, with the help of a commentator to give counts, the dancer slowly dances each part of the routine to help people learn it without music. After this is done, the routine is danced for a final time with music. After the lesson, there are two or three more sets of songs played until the event ends.
Club videos are an important part of ParaPara, but their importance has changed over the years. The first-known ParaPara club video to be released was released by Avex Trax as a promotional VHS on March 21, 1994 called ParaPara Kyouten 0 (パラパラ教典 0?). After that, many club videos were released as people were not able to film lessons in the 1990s. They became highly desirable commodities to some people because lessons were almost impossible to find before 2004-2005 and many dancers perform routines.
These videos are not sold commercially and are generally only distributed at only one event, which makes them extremely rare and impossible for foreigners to see. Because of these reasons, random people began to sell club videos, mainly DVD copies, online on auction websites like Yahoo! Auctions Japan and Mobaku.jp. A full series of SEF Gold for example would usually sell for about 5,000 yen while a much longer series like Xenon would sell for 9,000 yen or more. As of 2010, with the decline of ParaPara, this has basically stopped. However, a project that began on March 9, 2013 on YouTube called ParaPara Open Source Project has attempted to solve the problem of the rarity of club videos by uploading them to the public. Club videos released since 2009 have become less and less important as some people have begun to upload lessons mainly to video-sharing websites like YouTube. Because of this, club events like StarFire have at least one routine on a club video that has never been taught as a lesson. In the 2010s, club videos are not released as much anymore with new DVDs only being distributed by StarFire and SEF every 5–6 months. This is a sharp difference from 1994-1995 when there over 100 club videos released across Japan in only two years.
A refilm is a home-made, usually non-profit video in which dancers film themselves dancing parapara routines. The routines usually come from commercial or club videos, but some have been known to film their own routines, which is a phenomenon called "oripara." These videos have not played a big part in the Japanese parapara community, possibly for copyright reasons, but they are very big part of the international parapara community since there are no large parapara events outside Japan. The two general purposes of a refilm are to highlight a rare routine or to show the public ones' skills. With the advent of YouTube, refilms have become more visible internationally to even non-paralists.
The dance style of Para Para has long become associated with Gyaru, however it is not a dance done by all Gyaru, and not all Para Para dancers are Gyaru. The popularity of the dance has fallen but the Gyaru Circle Black Diamond still frquently perform Para Para at events and perform Para Para at their Ganguro cafe in Shibuya.
The dance style is also often performed at Gyaru-related events all around the world due to its strong assiociation with the style.