About Susan

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Holiday Cheer (and All That Jazz)

I love the holidays! Now that the excitement of Christmas morning is now a fond yet still palpable memory, we have the New Year to look forward to. Thank you, dear friends, for all your support throughout 2009. Let's welcome 2010 with open arms and work hard towards our dreams!

(About the photo: I miss those New York City days when I danced theater jazz. There's not much work that calls for Fosse style dancing around here. That detached, slinky, and utter cool that is Fosse embodies my brief NYC experience. And, gotta love the the signature bowler hat! Although, my finger placement could be better.)

Sunday, December 20, 2009

How the Grinch Stole my (limited) Flexibility

With the winter comes colder weather, and hot cocoas and wonderful get-togethers with friends and family. However, it also means very grumpy muscles! Lately my body doesn't seem to want to extend in any way. Most noticeable is how my back doesn't want to bend. At all. This casual photo was taken in the studio after I'd warmed up, and yet my back still doesn't want to cooperate. My legs are slightly less complaining (only slightly). They say ginseng helps, but I'd say continual stretching and more sleep would be the ticket. I'm good on the first, not so good on the second count. Will Santa give me a more flexible back for Christmas? Ha, only hard work will do!

Sunday, December 13, 2009


This is another from the recent photo shoot. The photographer told me to look like I'm dreaming, so I thought of cherished memories of times I've treasured with people dear to me, and how I long to have those times once more. I feel this all the time, but especially at Christmas, when all the songs you hear are of spending time with loved ones. The holidays are my favorite time of the year, and yet it's easy to find myself wistful, the sweet pang of yearning swirling about me like the beautiful music I hear.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Checking Light Levels

Recently I had a photo shoot with 3 photographers, and it was fascinating to hear them discuss how to achieve the best lighting with the placement of lights and levels. One of the photographers captured the other taking a light reading. It does make an interesting composition.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Fans -> Leafy Greens

Rehearsals are well underway for upcoming performances, and some new costumes should come in fairly soon, which is always exciting! For Chinese New Year I'll be dancing "Jasmine" again, which is pictured here. The fans are beautiful when opened, but when closed, they resemble Chinese green vegetables. Don't you think so? After a couple of hours or rehearsal, I always wanted to eat green vegetables!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

... when I'm awfully low

There are days when I feel really low. Everybody has those days. You just don't want to get out of bed because there's trouble at work, and on top of that I find no peace in my heart. But I should be happy that I am alive and otherwise have no complaint, and when I change into my practice clothes and go into the comforting feeling of warming up, it doesn't matter if my muscles complain because the weather's getting colder. Before I know it, I'm smiling again, dancing. It gives me something else to concentrate on, to strive for.

Even though my troubles inevitably come back to me afterwards, I can't imagine how I would feel if I hadn't danced. Some days, I fear I might just implode. Thank goodness I have a body that, so far, functions well (knock on wood). I hope I'll always be able to stretch my limbs and bring myself that much closer to happiness.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Seeing onself from the outside

Sometimes I receive photos of myself in performance, and although I know it's me, I think: "Really? I look like that?" It's true that we don't see ourselves most of the time, and even if I have the opportunity, I don't really look at myself with all that much consideration. It's a bit like hearing one's own voice - it's startling, and it causes me much embarrassment. In the dance pictured here, I'm supposed to look serious and intent, but somehow I look rather oddly manic.

It just occurred to me that I tend to spend more time observing myself from the inside - mentally, emotionally - rather than from the outside. As far as I'm concerned, if I'm tidy, I can go out and face the world!

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Don't mind the problems, just dance!

After all the performances earlier this month, I'm finally back to learning new dances and gearing up for the holiday season. The photo here was taken by a journalist who was at one of the China 60 year celebrations I danced at. I have a big dilemma with this costume: What do I do with my hair? I'm a girl, dancing as a boy, and while my hair is short now, it obviously didn't stay pinned to my head as I leapt and whirled through the dance (as you can see, it looks terrible). I don't want to cut my hair boy-style because it will make all my other costuming difficult since they all require hair that can be swept back. I'm not sure what to do, but I'm also very ignorant and lazy when it comes to anything hair-related.

I also had a costume tragedy after the performance - my poor mother tried to be helpful and washed it, which one can never do with costumes! - and the blue color bled all over the white of the overshirt. I'm getting a new one made in Shanghai, sigh. Oh, and the head of the rose fell off before I went onstage, prompting a desperate attempt to tape it back to the stem. Despite these problems, I hope the audience enjoyed the show.

Monday, September 28, 2009

China 60 Years = A Weekend of Dance

A crazy weekend of performances is over! I'm exhausted. Modern China is now 60 years in the making, and the Moon Harvest is upon us = a lot of performances! I performed for several events in San Francisco, including the Confucius Conference (yes, it's his birthday, too) co-hosted by the Consul General of China in SF. The MC put me on the spot afterwards and asked me a lot of questions!

I danced the Mongolian Chopsticks dance (photo above is from a previous performance, at Google) as well as the Uighur/Kazakh Rose for a Sweetheart. Unfortunately the stage where I performed Rose was concrete, and now I have some fantastically painful bruises.

I received some requests to dance at more events soon, for the Moon Harvest. I'd promised that I wouldn't accept any more for the rest of the month because to be honest, I am very tired - I work a full time job in addition to this!

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Together for a Day

Today is Qixi (七夕), the 7th day of the 7th month according to the Lunar calendar. The separated lovers of this traditional Chinese tale can finally cross the sky and meet for this one day during the year. The story is one of love and repentance. Of course, the boy shouldn't have neglected watching the cows, and the girl shouldn't have stopped making the emperor his clothes altogether, but eternal separation seems like a very harsh sentence ... is it because people cannot stand seeing such happiness when it isn't theirs to have? A voice whispers within me that it is my life in the West that turns me to this emotional reading, but my Chinese upbringing reminds me that duty is first and foremost - transgressions must be accounted for and the price paid.

Nevertheless, parting is such sweet sorrow. I'd heard it said that each time there is bittersweet parting, a star burns out in the heavens. How sad, and how perfectly romantic.

Just Breathe ... but make sure you breathe Korean style!

Korean dance is extremely challenging for me. I tend to be the kind of dancer who wants to throw my body around, but in Korean dance, all the intensity is kept inside your belly, literally. Tuck in your behind, make sure your chest caves in a little. And the breathing ... I think I should try taiji breathing exercises, they might actually help.

It helped that the dance I'm performing in the photo above is Korean with a modern touch. I'm not sure I can yet handle purely traditional 朝鮮 ... it would take much more training to get the feeling right. For this one I felt like I was flying by the seat of my pants, or rather, tripping over the hem of my generously cut, heavy skirt ...

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

"Mongolian Dancer"

This was again taken by my coworker Pet'ka, with my hair already half unpinned. She put this photo up with a compliment that humbles me:

"Susan is a stunningly beautiful lady. She performed a mongolian dance at the Mela festival at Google yesterday. After her performance, I took few shots of her next to a white office wall. We used only available light, so the out-of-camera photo wasn't that exciting. I did little color post-processing here."

Thank you so much!

Monday, August 17, 2009

Rose in Summer

Despite the heat and a very shallow and rough stage, Saturday's performance felt like a success! I danced the high energy Uighur/Kazakh number, dressed as a young man again, although I guess I can't fool anyone since the announcer asked everyone to admire the 小妹妹 (young girl), oh well. The photo above is a screen capture from TV, when I had a real stage.

I love this dance, and feel that my endurance has improved since I came back from Shanghai, which makes it even more enjoyable. Despite the less than ideal quality of the stage floor (I skinned my right ankle doing knee turn jumps and bled all over my shoe inside the boot cover) it felt great and the audience response made me more excited to dance for them. After I left the stage a woman stopped me and told me how much she loved my dancing! Happy!

To be young, brash, and in love - I suppose any man would feel on top of the world, feel as if he could do anything, if his beloved loves him in return. Now I just need to find my love and give her the rose! =D

Friday, August 14, 2009

Dancing at the Google Mela

Recently I performed a Mongolian Chopsticks dance on a hot stage on a blindingly sunny noonday event at Google's Mountain View campus. Even with pre-stage jitters - it's always worse when people you know are watching you! - this reminded me so much of why I dance. The rush was exhilarating, and the comments and emails of people amazed by the Mongolian style and costuming let me know that I'd helped bring more diversity to people's lives. Here's a short video clip someone took and graciously sent to me.

One of my coworkers, Pet'ka, caught me after I danced and took some photos, one of which is above. Unfortunately, I'd already taken my hat off, as well as many of the pins holding my short, unruly hair together, explaining its terrible appearance.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Missing Shanghai

Being in Shanghai and working with the Shanghai Dance Theater was like a dream come true. Too bad it is already over! Each day was packed; I would rise at 7 am and go to class (基本功), break for lunch in the mess hall, rehearse in the afternoon, eat dinner in the mess hall, then dance again. If I did this every single day I might not like it as much, but that's the same for any job, no matter how much you like it. I'd do it all over again, even with the nasty mosquito bites.

I've come home feeling stronger and more centered, and I think I am finally starting to let my upper body relax a little more. The stronger the center, the looser I can be on top - I've been aware of this before, but it isn't until the sensation is actually experienced that true understanding can begin to blossom. I sincerely hope SDT will welcome me back from time to time, so that I can be inspired by some of the world's best, and work hard to become an even better dancer. I don't know what I have to offer them, but ... here's hoping.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Does this not remind you of ...

... a certain lady who graces the boxes of a certain brand of butter?

That's right, Land O' Lakes!

This is a costume for an Uighur dance from Xinjiang (western China) celebrating the harvest of grapes in Autumn. I felt vaguely like a Vegas showgirl because of the ostentatious adornments and feathers. To be honest, I am not overly fond of this dance precisely because it's rather showy. I prefer dances that are more understated but have great depth, or are simply lively and fun! But this one was, to me at least, neither ... Still, as a dancer you can't bring this to rehearsal or the stage - you just keep your opinions to yourself. So, for certain time periods I just love my grapes when required! (At least I'm not holding a stick of butter.)

Thursday, June 11, 2009

The Good Pain ... The Bad Pain

Every athlete knows what I'm talking about. There's the good pain that comes from pushing one's body beyond the limit; it's the only way to get stronger. And then there's the bad pain, from injury. I've certainly had both, but I definitely prefer the former although it's difficult right now to think about it because I hurt all over, quite a lot!

I'm rehearsing a dance where I have to do a backbend on a tall Chinese war drum and kick off of it backwards until I land on the floor. Funny how the floor seems so far away from atop the drum. After some rough landings I was too scared to kick full out and basically ended up standing on my hands on the edge of the drum with my legs in a split in the air, upside-down. Many times. Needless to say, my triceps hurt. And so does everything else. Hopefully my muscles will learn and I'll get over my fear quickly.

I also have to learn how to flip off the drum without hands ... I swear I'll be brave enough soon.

Time to Rest ... But Not Really

There's been a bit of a lull lately besides some commercial shoots, which is nice because it's given me time to 1) recover from my mysteriously sprained right ankle from a month ago; still don't know what happened, and 2) concentrate on rehearsing the dances for upcoming shows.

Since I leave for Shanghai to dance in less than two weeks(!) I really hope I don't get sick or injured because I'd like to be able to perform at my best. I feel that the pressure's on, but at the same time I hope I can simply enjoy working with some of the best dancers and directors that China has. This is an opportunity I hadn't even imagined I would have, so I'll give it my best!

Friday, April 10, 2009

A small thought on Happiness

The gentleman who took photos at one of the performances gave me this shot. He told me he liked this one because "everything in your face and your body shows pure happiness." What a very nice compliment this was! Needless to say, I'm very humbled.

It also made me think: How often do we feel pure happiness? Does it exist? I think I can think of some moments in my life that come close. But certainly they don't come often. Perhaps it must be this way, for without sorrow can there be happiness? Although, the more I think of it, I believe happiness is just what it is. If it's real to you, you know it when it happens - maybe it's that simple. But enough of the pondering; let's just say I look forward to more happy moments in life!

Spice Girls ... Szechuan Style!

I bet you're thinking, "What's up with the love bug outfit?" I know, I know. But actually, I am a Szechuan girl who can't live without spicy hot pot even though it makes me sweat and jump around like a maniac. That about sums up this very mischievous and fun romp of a dance. It took awhile for me to get used to the deliberate arm and head motions that characterize this style, and even more for running around and yelling "麻辣!!!" (think "Ma-LAAA!") in a high-pitched voice. Now, my natural voice is far from high, so this was quite interesting to say the least.

But that's really what it's about - letting go of yourself and telling the story through movement. This is less a story than a tableau, but it's the same. In those few minutes onstage, I exist only to love hot pot and everything spicy. What a fabulous life that would be. Although, I really doubt that eating hot pot makes one beautiful, as the lyrics say: "火鍋越吃越吃越漂亮!"

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Dreams of Marriage (onstage, at least)

In contrast to Lady Yuji's suffering discussed in the last post, this dance was all about the realm of happy possibilities. A young girl envisions the man she'll marry and plays everything out in her imagination. She's embarrassed even to herself about thinking of such things but her curiosity wins over. This has got to be the hardest acting lesson I've ever had, because I've never done "cute and girly" like this before - it's from the Chinese opera style "Hua Dan" (花旦) role, portraying a flirtatious and vivacious girl. I don't think this comes naturally to me, but I tried my darndest. I was encouraged when, after one of the shows, some audience members told me they loved the way I "teased" my imaginary fiance/husband.

Actually, that was one of the most difficult points for me. During the course of rehearsing this dance, I worked very hard on this "teasing". It seems simple enough; I toss my red handkerchief outward, but getting it just right was a challenge! At one point my teacher even told me to picture someone so my actions would be more real, more natural. Oh boy. Somehow, eventually I just let myself dance and she was satisfied enough. I should still work on it, though.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

虞姬的悲歌 - Lady YuJi's Lament

I've written about this dance before - YuJi, the beloved concubine of Xiang Yu, King of Chu (232 - 202 BC), knows that there's no way they can win the battle, surrounded as they are by Liu Bang's forces. It's such a heroic act of love that she kills herself with his sword, but the suffering of her lord must have been complete upon losing her. So many stories like these have become legends in their own right, and it's fascinating to study them.

My favorite segment of this dance is when YuJi fondly recalls serving her lord tea, in happier times. Portraying her in this moment was a joy and also difficult - her love and devotion to her king is absolute, and every movement and expression must convey this to the audience. I am alone onstage, but I hope that everyone could see that he was right there with YuJi, in her heart. This photo, taken during one of my performances, is where she hears Liu Bang's troops approaching; fear overtakes her.

Monday, February 16, 2009

新疆小伙子?! ... Happy Valentine's Day!

Happy belated Valentine's Day! It's been quite busy with Lunar New Year celebrations and other events. This time I got to dance in everything from a 50 year anniversary party of the city of Union City to the first joint production that CCTV (the main television station in China) has done with an organization outside the country. It might have aired in China and in the San Francisco Bay Area already; I've honestly been too busy to check ...

This photo depicts a piece from the northwestern part of China (Xinjiang). It is a charming tableau of a young man in love, and he is exuberant after having received a rose from his sweetheart. Because this is a dance meant to be performed by a man, I've had to work very hard not only to keep up with the energy and technical ability required, but it's also been a challenge to learn how to move like a brash youth. The Uighur are very different from the Han in the east, and there is definite Kazakh influence from the costuming, the music, to the instrument the youth holds to serenade his love. This is one of the best pieces I've ever performed and I hope I have opportunities to repeat it so that I may become more skilled in speaking to the audience with every movement. One small thing: I hope to have a photograph in which I'm not wearing the same makeup meant for another (female) dance - it looks awful in this getup!

Friday, January 23, 2009

Happy New Year!

Spring is coming and the Year of the Ox with it! That means lots of performances, and while I am a bit stressed out with 3 challenging solos and several group numbers for different events I know I wouldn't have it any other way. Physically it's been a bit rough, but hopefully I'll feel stronger soon and be ready for the 6+ shows I have lined up in the next couple of weeks. Onward and upward!