Pictured above: The Tennessee Children's Dance Ensemble in Amman, Jordan with the Bedouin people of Wadi Rum
Back home, my old dance company would take Wah Lum Kung Fu over the summer to supplement a Kung Fu/Modern dance fusion piece we had in our repertoire. I reminisce over the days we’d walk across the street in our baggy Kung Fu pants lugging our sticks and fans with us. As we approached the parking lot a hush would dispel the normal chatter. We clamored in as quietly as we could muster and bowed at the entrance. The older dancers would disperse themselves across the deep, red cement floor so the younger ones could fill in the vacant spots. The newbies would eye the ceremonious incense or adopt a petrified stare at the sides of the room once they realized it was lined with nun chucks, swords, and other weaponry (not the rifles and camo Tennessee folks were accustomed to I suppose.) Sifu (Chinese for “teacher”) would silently walk in and together we’d bow to the ancestors. Eventually, we’d get our fans and sticks out to learn ancient movements all performed to a hypnotic, pounding, life-giving drum. I’d try to angle myself to see the red cloth from the dragon dance that peeked out of the storage closet.
The red dragon always fascinated me and I was anxious to see it come out of hiding each year. Traditionally, the red dragon is performed at big celebrations such as the Chinese New Year (this year it falls on February 8th.) The red dragon is performed with a long dragon cloth figure (the longer it is, the more lucky) that’s supported by people who perform a dance to send away evil spirits and bring good fortune (you may remember it from the Disney version of Mulan.) Red is a symbol of good luck and the well-crafted creature dates back to the Han Dynasty, thus contributing to the identity and culture of the regions that celebrate it.
I remember each year when it was performed; I’d stop to watch the audience’s reaction. Most people didn’t understand. They thought it was silly. If it doesn’t have an impressive side leap or a fabulous kick is it still a dance? The answer is yes. I believe that people (especially in America) lack a huge appreciation for dance because our understanding of other cultures is limited. Dance isn’t something you do to get a trophy; it’s a whole culture and means of communication that’s lost by an isolationist stance and irreverence to rich identities. Dance in other cultures should be taught and studied for the development of the whole person. American philosophy and liberty were established and founded on diversity and tolerance. Yet we lack a huge sensitivity to the world around us and it impacts the way we view not only dance but the rest of the world.
Perhaps people would be more supportive of their Jewish friends if they learned the basic ideas surrounding Passover. Maybe by teaching through the dialogue of movement the different styles of African dance, students could better understand how slave trade and the diaspora altered identities. If we were to teach children about Sufism (a sect of Islamic dance movement characterized by hypnotic spinning), it could strike up a dialogue and appreciation for the culture. Who knows? Maybe we’d see a more tolerant place where the Donald Trumps of the world wouldn’t have support with absurd campaigns like “a complete ban on all Muslim travel to the U.S.” (P.S. Trump, your favorite Miss USA winner, Lebanese-American, Rima Fakih is Muslim.)
Of course I’m on a rant so I might as well continue onto a frustrating Fox New