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Introduction to Chinese Classical Dance

Let’s Dance!

Sometimes words are simply not enough. Ancient Chinese chose dance as the art form to pay respect to Heaven and the divine, appreciate the universe and life, and praise kindness and virtue.

Characteristics of Chinese Classical Dance

Emphasis on Spirit: Half of the emphasis is not on the human surface but on the spirit of the subject, its allure, and the inner meanings. This is the reason that Chinese culture is considered to be semi-divine. Every dance and every dancer has different allure. Two dancers with the same movements will come across totally differently.

Rich techniques: It has incorporated dance elements of folk operas, and techniques in ballet, Chinese operas, Chinese martial art forms, creating a unique system.

Encompassing: able to portray any character in any nationality.

History of Chinese Classical Dance

Chinese dance dates back over 5,000 years to the Royal Court dances of the semi-divine culture of the Zhou, Tang, and Song Dynasties, where the character of the nation was expressed through dance, incorporating movements influenced by folk stories, historic figures and classic myths and legends, and expressing society’s respect for morality, compassion, loyalty, wisdom, and trustworthiness.

For centuries classical Chinese dance was passed down mostly among the common people. After 1919, however, dedicated artists believed that they had a responsibility to systematically document Chinese dance—that was the beginning of the formal teaching of classical Chinese dance. To develop and rejuvenate folk dance, the artists learned from dance elements of folk operas, and incorporated techniques in ballet training and Chinese martial art forms, creating a unique system of classical Chinese dance.

How to Appreciate Chinese Classical Dance

Chinese dance requires the dancers to undergo strict physical training. Actions and movements called “body techniques” need to be accurate and precise, and every action, movement and look needs to follow the preset rules of Chinese dance. For example, a single dance movement from one part of the body should lead to the movement of the entire body, as all movements are interrelated. Any movements of hands, eyes, and feet have to follow the movement of the whole body. This takes extreme precision and control.

More importantly, a dancer's spiritual realm will be reflected in his or her performance so the dancer must have good mental cultivation to be able to "let the movements be lead by spirit.” Therefore, the performers not only need to solidly master the techniques of Chinese dance, but also perfect their moral character and willpower in order to portray the fundamental inner meaning of the Chinese culture imparted by the divine.

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