Wednesday, June 19

Lotus in Bloom


Dance club looks to increase awareness of Chinese culture

When it comes to the issue of misconceptions of Chinese culture
and dance, Josephine Louie, artistic director of “Lotus
Steps, 2004,” recounts the time when the bare midriff of a
child dancer performing in the show was brought into question.

“The mother came up to me and asked, “˜Do we need to
show bellies of the girls? That’s really flashy.’ I
told her that’s the way (dancers in the Dai tribe) dressed.
They’re more free-spirited, and (their costumes) show much
more skin,” said Louie. “China has 56 minority tribes
that we can identify that can be categorized in to seven
categories. It shares a commonality with America; China is a
melting pot too.”

Teaching audiences about China’s multi-cultural make-up is
a vital part of “Lotus Steps, 2004,” a showcase of 15
regional dance styles, which will be performed by dancers from
UCLA’s Chinese Cultural Dance Club on April 27 at Royce
Hall.

“China is a diversity within a diversity; people
aren’t aware of that,” said Louie, one of the founders
of the club. “When CCDC used to get invitations, the first
thing they say is that they want to see lion dance or fan dance.
That’s the scope of understanding of what Chinese cultural
dance is. We have so much more to share.”

The club invited the Philadelphia AME Choir, an African American
gospel group, to perform “Handful of Earth,” a song
about the immigration experience, in Mandarin Chinese, pulling out
all the stops for its first show at Royce.

This year’s Royce performance represents the culmination
of the club’s six-year climb to prominence. With five members
in 1998, it has now ballooned to a 68-member organization.

“We were not an official student group (in 1998), just a
group of people who liked to get together and dance,” said
Louie. “We were out in Lot 6 all the time. We didn’t
have access to facilities, so we were dancing in hallways and
parking lots.”

From the very beginning, club members were determined to one day
dance on the Royce stage, a goal inspired by apathetic audiences at
their early shows six years ago.

“The first ever performance was out in Bruin Plaza
““ “˜An Afternoon With CCDC.’ Afterward, when
they showed me the video tape, I thought “˜For so much work,
you guys deserve more than just dancing on a stage with passing
traffic. If you really want to do a performance on an annual basis,
then let’s make that our goal,’” said Louie.

But first, the club had to step up its dance quality. With
Louie’s demanding approach to instruction, the dancers
improved to a level where their subsequent performances succeeded
in attracting more experienced dancers. This snowball effect
““ better performances leading to better dancers, and so on
““ has helped the club build a strong reputation.

“The odd thing is that most of the newcomers this year
were experienced dancers. We now attract people who are experienced
in dance, whereas two years ago we attracted people who
didn’t know dance at all. People who see our show now tend to
think that we’re on a more professional level,” said
production manager Theresa Chen, a UCLA graduate.

Despite the emphasis on producing a performance worthy of Royce,
Chen makes it clear that the club is very open to newcomers and
dance beginners.

“We always tell people at the beginning of the year that
there’s no dance experience necessary,” said Chen.
“The only thing required is that they share the love for
Chinese dance. We start training in September so throughout the
year they’re learning various dance techniques. They can come
in without knowing anything and be able to perform in Royce Hall at
the end.”

In fact, the club currently has almost no veteran dancers and
lacks anyone from World Arts and Cultures.

“We have a lot of engineer majors,” said Louie.
“If you’re willing to learn, we’re willing to
teach. A lot of times, I actually get more accomplishment from
somebody, who is completed discombobulated when they come in,
walking out so much better.”

“I felt awkward and embarrassed in the beginning solely
because I had never danced in my whole life, but Josephine was very
nice and encouraging. She didn’t make us feel out of place
and taught (the beginners) with a tremendous amount of
patience,” said dancer Winnie Aoieong, a fourth-year
economics and mathematics applied science student.

Now that the club has made it to Royce, the next logical step is
to stay there. Louie also plans to spread Chinese heritage
throughout the community ““ something she believes is not
pursued aggressively enough.

“(CCDC) puts up a Chinese culture show, and Chinese people
come and watch it and nobody else knows about it,” said
Louie. “Over time, the Chinese people don’t appreciate
it because they’ve seen it too many times, and other people
still don’t know what we do. We want to have more outreach in
the community.”

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