About Susan

Friday, December 31, 2010

Amorous Affairs

This is a Han dance in the Shandong YangGe (山東秧歌) style, of which fans and/or handkerchiefs are featured. In this case it's the former, and despite the hours I practiced, I'm still far from skilled with fans - they are very tricky.

I am constantly reminded of a quote from Scaramouche, a novel by Sabatini about the French Revolution in which the Sword is not only survival, it is art. A skilled swordsman, Doutreval, says to our hero Moreau:

"The sword is like a bird. If you clutch it too tightly, you choke it - too lightly, and it flies away."

I can't tell you how much this applies to the Art of the Chinese Fan. I have launched my fan across the room countless times. When I gripped it too tightly, true movement was not possible.

For this dance, I endeavored to capture a sense of romantic daydreaming, the glimmer of hope that stokes the heart, the crashing reality that one's dreams can never come true, and finally the sigh of resignation. I sincerely hope the viewer can feel some of this emotion. Regardless, I strive to give more each time.

Although this piece is loosely based off of (一枝紅杏出牆來), its goal is to give voice to the impossibility of romantic love in an era where females were highly cloistered. Indeed, it is a theme of unfulfilled dreams.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

The Light of Truth, in Resignation

This photo was taken one movement away from the final pose. It just so happens that my arm and fan are directly in front of one of the stage lights, resulting in a whimsical and theatrical effect: A magical beam of light is emanating from my very being. Behold, the Power!

In all seriousness, the serendipitous light effect does seem appropriate. The final pose is that of quiet resignation, a dip of the head with the slash of red fan falling open languidly. This is the one last hint of defiance before the eternal sigh, the sigh that no one should hear.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Roses in Yunnan

A recent performance found me in a Dai group piece called "Beautiful Flowers" or "女兒花". The music reflects the evolving traditional-modern push-pull of Chinese ethnic minority dances: one hears the whispers of Dai ladies in their native language and the sounds of running water, then an acoustic guitar reminiscent of Spanish flamenco. Eventually the audience is jarred into a screeching electric guitar solo that would make "Guitar Hero: Dai Edition" proud, if it existed.

I recall my mother, who was born in China, mention that she had never seen Dai dances before my first performance and swore they were an invention of modern society. How tenderly ironic that I, the American born daughter, would come to share a slice of Chinese culture with her. Every time I watch or rehearse a Dai dance, I am reminded of how much our understanding of culture is limited by our own experience and curiosity.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Working on the Next Set

Another set of shows is behind me, and I'm happy that I pulled them off! An audience member told me after one performance that in my solo dance 'Amorous Affairs', I seemed as if I was in a secret, happy dream, only to be awoken to a harsh reality. This kind of feedback gives me such joyous impetus to continue working on dance as an expression of emotion.

On the horizon, I've begun rehearsing new numbers, both group and solo, and I'm also working on a Dai dance for corporate holiday parties coming up.

One solo dance I'm working on towards a theater performance is a lively Yi girl surveying amorous prospects at a festival, to which one a friend exclaimed, "So many of your dances are about lovers! What's up with that?" It's a good question, but then again aren't the vast majority of all songs about love? On with life, and love!

Sunday, September 19, 2010

一枝紅杏出牆來 The apricot blossom peeps above the wall

春色滿圓關不住 Spring in the garden cannot be contained
一枝紅杏出牆來 The pink apricot blossom peeps above the wall

How do you show the world that your confined spirit is waiting to burst free, that all the love you could ever give in your heart is trapped with nowhere to go? I can feel it, but bringing these conflicting feelings is a neverending quest.

There's shyness - don't we all feel a little shy when we dream of romance? Afraid to admit even to oneself these special secrets within one's heart? There's the sweet hint of hope, and then pull to give into more violent emotions when we realize that reality prevents us from having what, in our deepest of hearts, we want.

The photo is out with my name and I go onstage in a week. Can I do it? I am constantly reliving this jumble of emotions until I can feel my heart fluttering like a bird and I think, yes, I can dance this, and I will let everyone feel the enormity of a woman's trapped spirit.

But when I work in the studio, I'm never satisfied with what comes out. I rehearse again today, and I will do everything I can to bring more of what I need to express, through my body, and into the realm of what others can see and feel. And then I'll have to remember those physical sensations, and build on it. I almost feel like I must do this on behalf of all women in the world who have ever felt this way.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Jingle, Jingle

To those asking for videos, thank you for your patience! This spirited, joyful piece "Dancing Bells" or "鈴鐺少女" is a dance from Xinjiang, in western China. I believe the style is ethnically Tajik, which is of Iranian origin, rather than the Turkic that generally characterizes the Uighur culture of the region.

There are countless little bells sewn into my costume, everywhere; you can actually hear them even over the music as I move! I'd never be able to sneak up on anyone wearing that outfit; you could hear me from a mile away.

For the most part I am pleased with my performance; there's always areas to improve upon - therein lies the challenge, and the fun - but one thing that annoyed me was that I had a stomachache that evening and I felt I could barely fit into my costume; I was so bloated!

Learning this dance nearly frustrated me to tears in the beginning - those tiny, in-between movements, the placement of the wrists, the tilt of the head that goes with the shrug of the shoulder, just so - they are what transform movement into dance that is breathing and alive. I am proud of having learned this unique dance and am thrilled it's in my repertoire.

Thursday, June 24, 2010


Another season, new dances! I'm rehearsing a Dai dance, but unlike the peacock portrayal, I am to be a "flower daughter". The movements are traditionally Dai, with a very Southeast Asian flavor - the region of the Dai people borders Cambodia and Vietnam - but the music becomes a bit modern in the middle of the piece.

I like to call it "The Guitar Hero" section; a melody normally played by a traditional reed instrument is replaced by rockin' electric guitar.  Can you imagine it: Lovely Dai girls frolicking amongst flowers to the strains of a rock anthem.  We have truly arrived in the 21st century, folks!

My neck is still rather stiff from my last injury, so I have to be careful when rehearsing - the Dai style is famous for its arched back, sudden neck bends backward, and is otherwise characterized by what's called the "3 curves" silhouette.  It's a beautiful look, for which I feel my physical shortcomings all the more sharply, but there's naught but to practice!

Monday, May 31, 2010

Back in Action!

I danced my first performances since my injury! They went pretty well, I think, and I'm very happy. It was so exhilarating to go through the process of warming up, rehearsing, getting nervous, and then feeling wonderful onstage. I don't have any photos yet, so here's a random one for the time being - this one aims to show the joys of nightlife in San Francisco.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Easing into Spring

I've been trying to ease back into dancing, but I do have performances coming up very soon so I've had to get back into rehearsing a little more quickly. I only hope things go well and that I don't exacerbate my condition. I'm most afraid of an injury becoming an "old injury", where it never actually heals and nags you for the rest of your life. I think perhaps I could become one of those proverbial old guys who sit on the verandah and say, "Storm's a-comin', my knee's actin' up" and all that. On second thought, no, I don't want to be one of those guys!

In the meantime ... photo shoots! Even though it doesn't feel like late spring here in the SF Bay Area, there have been some sparkling, beautiful days.

Truth be told, I cannot wait until I'm dancing again.  It's difficult to ease back into anything.  I want to give everything when I'm in the studio, so that I can give even more when I'm onstage.  It's worth it.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Time to Reflect

I had significant injury to my neck and shoulders recently and had to sit out on some performances I'd worked very hard for. To say it was extremely disappointing is an understatement, but I am also learning some good lessons:

1) Try not to think too much. Some things don't require so much worrying.

2) Realize that your mind may be ambitious, but your body needs rest. Listen to it, or it will make it impossible for you to do anything at all!

3) Never take for granted what it feels like to be able to move freely, and without significant pain.

I am so grateful to those who have given me support these past weeks. Your encouragement means so much. Thank you!

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Happy Tiger Year and Valentine's Day

Apologies for my belated greetings; my schedule has been full! I've even had to unfortunately turn down an event or two because there was just too much going on. I feel a stab of pain every time I cannot commit to dancing, but it's even more important to balance life and energy.  I'd rather dance fewer shows than too many with subpar performance.

Thus far I've danced at mostly corporate events, but the community events give me a wonderful sense of involvement. When children and even their grandmothers come to take photos with me and give me a kind word, I know that everything is worth it.  Most exciting, I'm rehearsing new dances and - I admit it - I always feel that sweet rush of excitement that comes with new costumes.

Valentine's Day almost seemed to slip by as the Lunar New Year fell on the same day this year. I hope you had a happy day, whether you were spending time with family, being with your special someone, working ... Here's to a happy and successful year of the Tiger!