Angelia Wang Expresses the Beauty of Chinese Culture in Dance

Nov 17, 2022
Angelia Wang Expresses the Beauty of Chinese Culture in Dance
Principal dancer with Shen Yun Performing Arts Angelia Wang explains the differences ballet between and Chinese Classical dance. (Shen Yun Zhou Pin)

To the trained eye, classical Chinese dance and ballet are as different as night and day, but to the average theater-goer, it can be easy to mistake classical Chinese dance for ballet, especially since even dance schools and companies in China are using a combination of ballet and classical Chinese dance.

In a Shen Yun Zuo Pin video, Angelia Wang, principal dancer with New York-based Shen Performing Arts, clarifies this confusion by contrasting the six differences between classical Chinese dance and ballet.
Classical Chinese dance is tightly bound to China’s 5,000 years of civilization, dynasty after dynasty enriching the art form. A dancer who has this culture and history imbedded within holds the ability to express such beauty.

Poses and Lines

In classical Chinese dance, the circle is the most important shape. The movements of the dance are always fluid and curved.

In ballet, however, lines are what make the dancers so elegant and poised. Ballet dancers’ arms and legs are usually straight and the angles that the head, torso and limbs make are particularly strict.

Wang points out that the differences in both dance styles are deeply rooted in each respective culture. “Western culture values realistic portrayal. Western paintings emphasize lines, angles, perspective and colors—form is very important.”  Whereas in China, paintings weren’t as precise, but their value was found in the meaning behind each stroke. “Ballet stresses beautiful lines. Every movement should be picture perfect … Classical Chinese dance, by contrast, focuses on the dancer’s inner realm.”


As Wang describes, the difference in footwork between the two dance styles is most obvious with female dancers. Ballerinas are often seen en pointe or with their feet in one of five positions in which their toes point outward, giving an air of sophistication.
The female dancers in classical Chinese dance are required to master the technique of swiftly moving their feet in a heel to toe fashion and with each step. The foot touches the floor from the heel, moving to the arch, the balls of the feet to finally the toes. This kind of footwork, called “yuan chang” in Chinese, gives the impression of the dancers floating across the stage.

Types of Movement 

In classical Chinese dance, movements of the arms and legs begin with the chest and hip. The flow of movements also starts with a slight movement to the left before going right and starts with a slight movement to the right before going left. In ballet, the majority of the movement happens in the legs while arm movements are more limited.
The spins are also markedly different between ballet and classical Chinese dance. In ballet, spins and turns are done on a horizontal plane. While in classical Chinese dance, a  “windmill,” that is, a spin on a vertical plane is commonly used. This spin can be done in place or while moving.

History of the Dances

According to the Atlanta Ballet, this dance form began during the 15th-century Italian Renaissance and reached its pinnacle during the reign of the French King Louis XIV. Louis codified the standards of ballet, which are still valid today. Ballet started with court dances and therefore followed court etiquette.
Classical Chinese dance on the other hand was only standardized in recent times, but the dance form itself has incorporated Chinese court dance, martial arts, Chinese theater, and the essence of each dynasty throughout China’s 5,000 years of civilization.

Breathing and Breath Coordination

Classical Chinese dance incorporates purposeful breathing into every aspect of dance. In fact, Wang tells us breathing is “the soul of classical Chinese dance. It basically determines how effective a performer’s dance expression is.”
Breathing is not an essential element in ballet. When dancing ballet, the artists try to make the movements seem effortless. They try to give the impression of not needing to breathe.

Muscle Training

The muscles used in classical Chinese dance are the same ones used when doing everyday activities such as running or playing sports. So, while dancers are going about their day, they are also strengthening the muscles they will use on stage.

In ballet, dancers are required to turn their toes outwards which activates a special group of muscles. The leg muscles of ballet dancers are noticeably different from leg muscles of classical Chinese dancers.

Next time that Shen Yun Performing Arts comes to your local venue, try to identify all the things that Wang talked about and see for yourself what makes classical Chinese dance unique.

To learn more about the differences between classical Chinese dance and ballet, visit Angelia Wang’s video .
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Angelia Wang