Chinese Classical Dance: A Unique Culture

August 29, 2008 Updated: October 1, 2015

Miranda Zhou-Galati, finalist in the junior female division of the 2008 NTDTV International Chinese Classical Dance Competition.  (Bing Dai/The Epoch Times)
Miranda Zhou-Galati, finalist in the junior female division of the 2008 NTDTV International Chinese Classical Dance Competition. (Bing Dai/The Epoch Times)
NEW YORK—The Second Annual International Chinese Classical Dance Competition sets out to revive the authentic and beautiful traditional dances of China in their purest forms. Lasting from August 22-24, the contest has presented the world with a new era of Chinese Classical Dance.

During the competition, an individual routine and a set of required movements were performed by each contestant. Moves such as leaps, turns, and flips, as well as control and tumbling techniques, or, "blanket fundamentals," were all integrated in the contestants’ dance routines. Their dances incorporated the essence of Chinese culture, displaying the splendor of 5,000 years of history.

“Chinese classical dance is an entity of the Chinese culture,” said Yi Cao, one of the judges. “It’s different from ballet, Chinese opera, martial arts, and the modern dances seen nowadays in mainland China. Chinese classical dance is based on the aesthetic values of traditional Chinese culture and, essentially, they are dances that carry classical qualities. Chinese opera and Chinese classical dance are different types of arts. In some ways, they are connected, but they are two different systems. "

Cao then offered a simple example on the differences between Chinese classical dance and other types of Chinese dances. “In Chinese classical dance, when dancer sway their long sleeves, it works as an extension of the body,” said Cao. “The overall body figure can appear more open and spectacular or it may also imply a different historical setting. On the other hand, in other types of Chinese dances, dancers may twirl and play with their sleeves as props to demonstrate techniques.”

While scoring each contestant, the judges kept in mind that the essence of Chinese classical dance goes beyond techniques and skill, and is deeply embedded in traditional culture. Instead of focusing on surface elements, the dancers should use their techniques to convey the deeper feelings of the characters they portray.

“Similar movement from Chinese classical dance and from other types of dances (such as in Chinese opera) can give people different feelings,” said Xiu Guo, a contest judge. “Techniques alone are not enough. Everything in Chinese classical dance is linked with cultural elements.”

When asked whether people of other ethnicities can master Chinese classical dance, Guo said, “Anyone can learn Chinese classical dance, and anybody can master the movements. However, the key is that the person must understand the Chinese culture very well.”

“In the beginning, it may be hard for westerners,” said Vina Lee, another judge. “Due to distinct cultural elements, the impression of a westerner lifting a leg, raising an arm, and even the gazing of the eyes may differ from that of an easterner.”

One of the finalists from Junior Female division, Miranda Zhou-Galati, is of mixed ethnicity with family from the West. When asked how she became skilled in Chinese classical dance, she said, “My fellow dance classmates are virtually all of Chinese descent. During class, I look at the teacher and try to understand the movements and their inner expressions. I think about why, for the same gesture, the other girls can manifest it more beautifully, and then I just try and do it myself.”

The competitors of this year’s International Chinese Classical Dance Competition came from the world over, with some arriving from as far as Taiwan. The judges and the competitors themselves mentioned that they are very pleased to see so many people interested in Chinese classical dance.

“This is a wonderful beginning,” said Xiu Guo. “The International Chinese Classical Dance Competition will continue in the future, and it will definitely be far reaching.”  The dance contest will be broadcasted globally through satellite and local cable.