A lesson in ancient Chinese culture and dance

By Colin Rajala - Staff Writer
Enfield - posted Thu., Jan. 17, 2013
Joyce Li talks to guests about the Chinese culture and the importance of dance within the culture. Photos by Colin Rajala.
Joyce Li talks to guests about the Chinese culture and the importance of dance within the culture. Photos by Colin Rajala.

What do the unlikely combination of paper, pasta and concrete all have in common? They were invented by the Chinese. The world’s second-largest country has a deep-rooted history and culture that spans more than 5,000 years, and on Jan. 16, Joyce Li gave guests of the Enfield Public Library an inside look into the culture, as well as one of its most important aspects - dance.

“I love these programs at the library,” said George Lombardo, a guest who enjoyed the event. “It really enriches your mind; otherwise my life would be just work, home, work, home. This adds a little spice and a breath.”

Li opened her presentation by discussing the origin of the culture, noting that the country is known as “the land of the divine,” with the people believing their culture was divinely inspired. She explained that people strive to be balanced with nature in order to know one’s destiny. She added that one’s moral quality determines a person’s skill or expertise, giving the analogy that in order for one to be an expert in martial arts or acupuncture, they must practice not only with their mind, but also with their spirit.

Li said that during the Communist movement in China between the 1940s and 1960s, many people were killed for their spiritual beliefs and much of the country's culture was squashed. Qigong, a health-improving exercise that began in the 1970s, allowed the Chinese to reconnect with their tradition without mentioning its cultivation in front of the government. Qigong has given way to Shen Yun, meaning "the beauty of divine beings dancing." Li explained that she did not learn much about the ancient culture and history until just 10 years ago, adding that The Shen Yun Performing Arts, created in 2006, is ideal to learn about the culture. The company strives to revive the heritage through incorporating qigong and cultivation techniques with ancient dance moves. The moves follow a strict form of physical movement and poses and technique or tumbling and swirling. The dance is most notable for its “yun,” or bearing, which is the message conveyed through the story and the expression of the dancers. Accompanying the dance are authentic Chinese costumes and a Western orchestra that uses traditional Chinese instruments.

“I have missed so much of the history, but the true spirit is bringing the culture back,” Li said. “It’s a great honor for me to share the values that my ancient culture promotes.”

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