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Dance in Guangzhou: International Flavors in China

By Jefferson Mendoza , eChinacities.com Add your comment Newsletter

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Whether you are an avid fan of watching a style of dance or wanting to dust off your dancing shoes, different types of dances have definitely caught the eye and the feet of many residents in Guangzhou.

Dance teachers and students alike gather each week in dance studios, bars and restaurants where they have created a community to enlighten their lives while at the same time stepping out of their comfort zones. With each style of dancing, a set of ideals are taught and mastered by those wishing to understand that dancing is not just a 1, 2, 3 step – it is also breaking the cultural barriers between foreigners and locals.


Source: Jefferson Mendoza

Bridging the cultural gap through dance

Based on personal observations, many foreigners are more open and at ease when it comes to dancing with their partners. Though in this circumstance the nervousness with a stranger is washed away after a dance, this may not be the case for locals, especially for Chinese women.

In Guangzhou, interest over salsa dancing has skyrocketed with venues around the city offering salsa nights almost every night of the week where beginners and professionals can dance their night away.

Founder of Maggie Dance Studio in Guangzhou, Maggie Chen has had to explain to some of her salsa female students that sensuality is part of salsa. However, this information may be too much to accept at first for some. “I would tell them that I used to be very traditional. But I only say to them that it’s only a dance. You just enjoy it.  But if you don’t like someone or you feel that maybe they will offend you, you can always refuse them.” On one particular salsa night inside her studio, about 15 locals showed up to enjoy what Chen has coined as a ‘freestyle’ dance. “I would tell to my male students that [salsa] is not like ballroom dance. Ballroom dancing is a very standard dance where you need many years to learn before you can go to a party. But for salsa, it’s easier. You don’t need to be perfect,” she said.

New to the dancing scene in Guangzhou is tango. For over 20 years, Henry Pardeilhan has been passionate about tango dancing where it began in his native country, Argentina. After following the trails of his son who has been living in the city for five years, Pardeilhan packed his bags to join him as well as bringing along his knowledge and desire to share his joy of tango.

It is more difficult than it looks. In one lesson Pardeilhan teaches in which he can be seen towering over 6 feet tall with graying hair, there is a visible twinkle in his eyes as he instructs his students in the essence of tango dancing. In his baritone voice Pardeilhan shouts ‘passion’ several times to each couple. This is because in tango, the man leads and the woman follows suit with her body and emotions. “The feeling is the most important… the woman and the man need to hit a moment where they feel each other. The body of the woman and the expression of what happens, you need to feel that.”

According to Pardeilhan, each dancer brings his/her own personality out onto the dance floor. He is quick to point out the lack of personality emanating from one male dancer. “Your personality, you put it in your dance. You feel your soul, your heart, your body and your emotions. When you dance, you put the woman’s soul in a box, you close your eyes and you dance.”

Overcoming a lack of interest

Injury is not stopping modern dancer and choreographer Er Gao from attending the Guangdong Modern Dance Festival in November. Many of the performances will be held in Guangzhou. Born and raised outside of the city, he has been living in Guangzhou for over 15 years. He came solely for the purpose of learning modern dance. Under the guidance of teachers in Hong Kong and going on tours in Europe, Er Gao has been paving the way for modern dance in Guangzhou.

Modern dance in Guangzhou is not as popular as in cities like Beijing and Shanghai where there are stronger support systems for the arts. In the past, attendance for his shows was low due to lack of interest in modern dance. Some of them disappointed him. “Should I really care about the audience?" as he recalled his first performance in Beijing in 2007 where only six people attended. “How about the feelings they get from the show? Or what they think about my creation? But I can tell that some of my audience members are not in the same generation as me. We have a gap and it’s really hard beyond this gap.”

This year, Er Gao will be holding performances both at the dance venue and outside like in a shopping mall. “We are individual people with small bodies, small souls and small in the universe. But what I can do is something important. Dance makes me feel happy and it gives me lots of ideas. But some of the ideas are not just about being a famous star, to dance or to make a great show on stage. I’m really disciplined and I always make new pieces.”

Being responsible in the energy that you bring

While there is the exchange of energies between two dancing partners whether it be the slight movements of the torso in tango, the signal of the fingers in salsa or the pointing of the toes in modern dancing, it is the energies in capoeria dancing that brings dancers into a whole new world. Since August 2012, the capoeira dance from Brazil has been taught to locals and foreigners in Guangzhou. This martial arts dance combines elements of dance, acrobatics and it is often referred to as a ‘game.’

At Time Out Studio in Guangzhou, training is being given by Fernando Chumbinho, an Australian now living in Hong Kong. He comes to the city a few times a month to spread the word on what capoeira dance can do for you. Attending one of his lessons, he and his students first warm up by focusing on repetitive movements similar to that of speed skating in which the dancer hovers down and gets closer to the floor.  Next, Chumbinho instructs his students in the proper way of shifting of one’s body weight, and then in the placement of the hand when performing an acrobatic move. He then leads his students to form a circle when a new movement has been learned.

“The circle resembles the world. Once you’re inside that circle, you’re in another world. The energy is different. The interaction is different.” Meanwhile, the others who form the outside of that circle clap their hands and form a chant. “What happens in that circle is you take out and put in your real life. Being in that circle is like a special place to be. You have more people and more energy that builds up. The energy is called Aché and you can only find this energy in capoeira.”

Mekael Turner along with Mr. ‘One-Two’ act as co-captains of the capoeira dance group when Chumbinho is not in the city. After living in Guangzhou for 10 years, Turner became interested in capoeira six years ago. “Fun” is the first word that came to Turner’s mind when describing this type of dancing. “It challenges you. It makes you stronger and builds your confidence, which is a mental strength. It also encourages cooperation and communication. That makes an awesome environment. People come and there is a certain energy. It’s just fun and you get to be free,” he said. 

Rising to the best of your abilities

After attending some dance workshops, one message is clear: the energy that one emits out on the dance floor is one that returns back to you – whether it is positive or negative.

For Pardeilhan, “some Chinese women are scared of the proximity that the men give when they are dancing… If this is the problem and you don’t want to, then you shouldn’t dance tango.” Like tango, the man also leads the woman in salsa dancing. According to Chen, “Chinese men think that dancing is not manly enough.” However, Chen adds, “Dancing is not only for girls. Men can be very good at it,” she said. 

After their training, Chumbinho and his students headed to Marty’s Park – a few steps away from the dance studio to demonstrate the knowledge learned in the day’s lesson. As he tapped his tambourine and chanted with his students, locals looked on curiously. “You get out what you put in. It’s also about having a goal in mind. So if your goal is either to learn how to move your body a little bit, to have a little bit of fitness, or to learn about a culture, then you can go as far as you want,” said Chumbinho.

More information on the dance scene in Guangzhou:

1) Guangdong Modern Dance Festival View In Map
Add: G/F Wenxin Lou, 32 Shuiyinsi Heng Lu, Tianhe District, Guangzhou
地址:广州市天河区水荫四横路32号大院文兴楼1楼1号
Tel: 020 8704 7371
E-mail: info@gdfestival.cn
Getting there: Take bus No. 6, 27, 78a, 78, 192, 199, 547 to Shuiyin Lu (水荫路) stop

Salsa Learning and Dance Venues

1) Maggie Chen Dancing StudioView In Map
Add: 5F, Room 501, Mingmen Building, Zhujiang New Town, Tianhe District, Guangzhou
地址: 广州市天河区珠江新城花城大道6号豪名阁名门会所五楼, 地铁珠江新城A2, 五羊邨B
Tel: 186 6480 9586
QQ: 923738138
Getting there: Take Subway Line 5 to Wuyangcun station

2) Tekila Bar RestaurantView In Map
Add: 11, Second Floor, Jianshe Liumalu, Yuexiu District, Guangzhou
地址: 广州市越秀区建设六马路11号二楼
Tel: 020 8381 6996
Website: www.vivatekila.com
Getting there: Take Subway Line 5 to Taojin station

3) The Westin HotelView In Map
When: Every Thursday starting at 21:00
Add: 1/F, The Westin Guangzhou, 6 Linhe Zhong Lu, Tianhe District, Guangzhou
地址: 广州市天河区林和中路6号广州天誉威斯汀酒店1楼
Tel: 020 2826 6887
Getting there: Take Subway Line APM or northern extension of Line 3 to Linhexi station

Tango and Copoeira Lessons

1) Maggie Chen Dancing Studio View In Map
Add: 501 room 501, floor 5, Mingmen Building, Guangzhou
地址: 广州市珠江新城花城大道6号豪名阁名门会所五楼, 地铁珠江新城A2,五羊邨B
Tel: 186 6480 9586
Getting there: Take Subway Line 5 to Wuyangcun station

2) Capoeira Brazil Guangzhou View In Map
Add: 13F, 17 Zhongshan San Lu, Guangzhou
地址: 广州市中山三路17号新城市教育 13层
Tel: 136 3148 8447
Website: www.capoeira.com.hk
Email: info@capoeira.hk
Getting there: Take Subway Line 5 to Martyr’s Park station

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Keywords: dancing scene in Guangzhou dance scene in Guangzhou Dance in Guangzhou

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