Dancers from the Beijing Dance Academy’s (BDA) are known worldwide to deliver beautiful performances. Usually the audience watches them dance in a theater, where the crafts of lighting, staging, costumes and makeup create a magical atmosphere. But this time students at Pasadena City College (PCC) had the chance to see them dancing in a more intimate setting. They watched them perform on campus on their own dancing floor.
Last Wednesday, eight Chinese dancers, four girls and four boys all between the ages of 18 and 21, landed at LAX from Seattle where they danced, and drove directly to PCC to perform a 40-minute show in room W203.
They are from one of the world’s leading institutions of dance education worldwide.
“This is such an extraordinary event for us at PCC,” associate professor Cheryl Banks-Smith from the Dance Department at PCC said. “It’s wonderful.”
Gao Du entered the room first. He works in the department of Chinese ethnic and folk dance at the BDA and trains artists in traditional Chinese culture. He introduced the audience to the show, explaining how the academy works. It is a competitive school, only 60 students out of roughly ten thousand who audition are accepted each year. And it is big: there are 600 teachers, 2,000 students and 44 studios.
He spoke in Chinese to his PCC crowd, but while his words needed to be translated, his movements didn’t. He showed the differences between the Mongolian and the Tibetan styles of dance. These are unperceivable to an untrained eye, but Du persisted demonstrating; Mongolians dancers move their shoulders much more than Tibetan.
Students at BDA also learn about the culture and the history of each dance.
“We have 56 different ethnic groups in China,” Du said. “All with different religion beliefs and ways of expressing themselves.”
One by one the dancers performed a different folk dance. There was a Korean, o Mongolian and a Tibetan. Some were innovative, other classical and all of the dancers were dancing wearing traditional costumes and using props such as sticks, drums or handkerchiefs.
“I loved it,” PCC student Yunchen Liu said. “It reminds me of my training in Chinese dance when I was little and I wish that with dances like this everybody can see the beauty of my homeland China.”
Recently there has been a political effort from the government of China to bring Chinese traditional culture to the world. Exporting culture is a way of using soft power, the one that wins “the hearts and minds” of the people, to influence international relations.
But nobody was interested in the topic. It was all about dance.
Having the show in a dance studio and not in a theatre allowed the audience to have a different experience. There was no lighting or makeup, but because PCC students were so close to the dancers, they could see their facial expressions, their fatigue and their irregular breathing from close-up. For dance lovers, it’s a great opportunity.
For dancers too this was an opportunity.
“It’s our first time in California,” dancer Jia Si Yue said. “We are performing on Sunday in Arcadia and then we’ll go back to China on Tuesday.” Back to training.
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