Modern dance amateurs go with the "Flow"

A modern dance performance called "Flow," staged as part of the first Hangzhou International Dance Week earlier this month, was a hit with audiences and showcased amateur dancers.

A modern dance performance called “Flow,” staged as part of the first Hangzhou International Dance Week earlier this month, was a hit with audiences and also a chance to showcase amateur dancers in the city.

In one event held at the Jiangnan Bronze House museum, the audience followed the dancers from room to room in what felt like a museum tour guided by artists.

“The difficult part was not to be distracted by the audience and to keep focused on the dance,” said a dancer named Xu Xiaolei.

He was one of the three amateurs in the “X unit” of International Dance Week. The group gave six performances in six different public locations.

“I think anyone can dance,” said Elane Dong, director of the event. “We included a unit for amateurs because we didn’t want this festival to be only about professionals.” 

Xu, 34, was working as a counselor in an employer assistance program when he saw a video online about Japanese “butoh,” a form of dance theater that encompasses a diverse range of activities and techniques. He quit his job and used his savings to study the dance form.

Dancers rehearse for the show "Flow," which was staged during the first Hangzhou International Dance Week

“Before that, I felt that my mind and my body were disconnected,” he said. “I thought too much and did too little.”

After attending classes in dance and dance improvisation for two years, he began performing in front of audiences. Last year he started a “dance jam” in western Hangzhou to attract others interested in dance improvisation.

The group meets once a week and newcomers are welcome.

Xu said he doesn’t want to become a professional. In fact, he has become fascinated by some of connections between dance and psychology.

“My ‘butoh’ teacher used to tell me that dancing is finding your own identity,” he said. “My psychology background, which I used in counseling, is also an important part of me.”

One dance week performance entitled “Improvisation” was held in the entrance hall of Zhejiang Library. The dance moved up and down staircases, and the performance features unrehearsed improvisations.

Another amateur dancer is named Li Mudie. Before Dance Week, she had attended only one dance workshop at Zhejiang Art Museum. As a stage rookie, everything was a new experience for her.

“We actually made mistakes,” said Li. “But the result was good, the audience didn’t notice and everybody had fun.”

Xiaoling, another amateur, partnered Xu Xiaolei in both “Flow” and “Improvisation.” She said she wasn’t happy with the latter performance.

“We could have developed the piece better,” she said.

Xu Xiaoling is an architect-turned-educator who now runs a company offering parenting skills. Prior to Dance Week, she was in Guangzhou, Guangdong Province, attending a contemporary dance training camp as the only amateur participant.

Mother of a five-year-old, she said she has faced a lot of pitfalls in pursuing her interest in dance. In high school dance groups, she was often singled out as the one out-of-step. The same frustration followed her to the training camp.

“I wanted to be as good as the professional dancers,” she said. “But my body didn’t follow my desire. I am just not good enough.”

She was finally helped when at another workshop, where the facilitator told participants to close their eyes and hold another person’s arm as carefully as if it were a toy.

“I felt more relaxed and my ability to connect with others was greater,” Xiaoling told Shanghai Daily.

“I love hugging people,” she said. “But in the Chinese context, you feel a bit shy about that.”

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