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Home > East Asia > 

Chinese Dance
Divine Performing Arts
12/5/2008

Classical Chinese dance is a distinctive art form with a remarkably rich history. With roots reaching back millennia and stretching across the diverse peoples and regions of China, classical Chinese dance is not merely a rich aesthetic tradition, but also a fascinating window into the cultural heritage of China and its people.

History

Chinese dance dates back as far as Chinese civilization itself, appearing as early as the first written records of China some three millennia ago. Confucius himself praised it for its embodiment of order and humanity. In its earliest incarnations it was often a celebratory form of the common people as well as a highly-formalized, ritualized art at the imperial court. Later it came to assume additional contours when it appeared in theatrical productions.

It wasnt until 1919, however, that artists began to self-consciously study, document, and systematize Chinese dance and its many varieties. The system that is today Chinese dance thus reflects many influences, ranging from folk dance to folk opera, imperial ritual, martial arts, and even ballet. Its immense diversity of forms gives it an incredible expressive capacity a flexibility well suited for depicting a culture so steeped in stories, legends, and heroic personages.

Characteristics

One unique feature of classical Chinese dance is its lending of emphasis to not only the beauty of movement, but also the expression of substance. That is, great value has long been attributed to the performers ability to convey the subtler, underlying meanings and inner realm of a piece. Both form and spirit are celebrated, and the resultant aesthetic is one both inside and out.

The vocabulary of movement and technique that Chinese dance boasts is extraordinarily diverse. Superb control of the body extends far beyond flexibility and balance to include extremely demanding leaps and dives, spins, and tumbling. An accomplished dancer, male or female, is expected to master all of these.

Training

A program of rigorous physical training is thus entailed by Chinese dance. Prescribed rules and conventions of the art dictate that each action or movement be executed with a certain accuracy and precision. Dancers are taught to emphasize in particular fluidity of movement a movement originating in any one part of the body must be harmoniously integrated with, and extend to, the entirety of the body. From the eyes to the feet, each movement demands precision and control, and is expected to additionally, in story-based dance, convey the traits or qualities of the personage being portrayed.

One of the defining aspects of Chinese dance is the incorporation of inner spirit into a performance. Dancers not only must master the techniques, but also learn to infuse a certain state of mind and inner quality into a piece, giving the surface presentation a deeper resonance. Training in classical Chinese dance thus dictates both outward precision of movement and inward cultivation of mind.

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