Michio Ito Gestures

Michio Ito as a young man.

Repertory Dance Theatre is proud to be the US repository for the works of Michio Ito (1892 – 1961). Twice, RDT has worked with Ito master teachers from Japan learning Ito’s technique, style, and choreography.

Mary Jean Cowell is an Ito scholar who received an MA in Dance from the University of Illinois and a Ph.D. in Japanese Literature and Theatre from Columbia University.  She is the author of East and West in the Work of Michio Ito and Michio Ito in Hollywood:  Modes and Ironies of Ethnicity.

The following information about the Ito Gesture Series is taken from documents and writing provided by Ms. Cowell.

The Ito Gesture Series

Michio Ito began teaching in New York City in 1919, at least six years before Martha Graham began to develop and teach her own technique.

The central component of Ito’s method is two sequences of ten arm gestures called A and B, masculine and feminine.  This is not about defining restrictive gender-appropriate movement but about the idea of balance.  The two sequences relate to yin-yang, the East Asian concept of a balance of contrasting elements in the universe and in each individual.  Ito expected his students, whether male or female, to master both the A and B sequences and he freely combined gestures from both sequences in his choreography.  Ito characterized the A sequence as strong, sharp, assertive, direct, with breathing integrated so that the dancer inhales on 1, 3, 5 and so on, while exhaling on 2, 4, 6, 8, 10.  All positions were defined more softly in the B series, in keeping with its assumed feminine character, and the dancer reverses the breathing, exhaling on the odd numbers, inhaling on the even.  Beginning students also learn a specific style of walking which is the same for both A and B.

In studying the Ito method, the dancer first learns the gestures in their basic order at an even, slow pace, one gesture and one step to every four beats.  The required slow transfer of weight through the feet and the sustained arm gestures are Ito’s approach to developing continuity of movement and control of energy.  Just as beginning ballet students go from simple steps and rhythms at the barre to more difficult variations, the Ito student progresses from the basics to more complex exercises.  For example, the gestures may be done in different rhythmic patterns, may be done in backward sequence, may be done with the sequence reordered 1,3, 5, 7, 9, 10, 8, 6, etc.  More advanced exercises also develop coordination, as when the right arm moves through the sequence 4 counts ahead of the left, or when R arm moves through the A sequence while the L arm simultaneously executes the B sequence.

In his choreography, Ito freely combined gestures from both sequences.  And of course, other movements were added to these gestures, depending upon the specific musical accompaniment and expressive intent of a dance.  But like ballet training, the Ito method prepares the dancer for the style and carriage typical of the choreography to be performed.

Click HERE to learn the Ito A-type gestures.

Click HERE to learn the Ito B-type gestures.

Be sure to take a look at the Selected Ito Works in the RDT digital library. These works show Ito’s gestures through his choreography.

Skip to content