NEW YORK—Tall, slender, and with an air of both athleticism and serenity, Helen Shia looks like Chinese elegance incarnate. An accomplished dancer in her field, Ms. Shia has been performing in practicum with Shen Yun Performing Arts, the world’s premier classical Chinese dance company based in New York.
Bringing with her exquisite techniques and rich cultural dances perfected over 5,000 years of Chinese civilization, Ms. Shia has performed like a cultural ambassador with Shen Yun throughout North America, Asia, and Europe—hitting the common spots like France, England, Germany, and Italy, but also unusual and out of the way ones like Slovakia, Czech Republic, Belgium, and Switzerland.
Asked to name her favorite place, Ms. Shia couldn’t decide.
“Everywhere we go, there is something we’re fond of,” she said.
Being one of the top performers in her field wasn’t easy. Every minute of the day is precious on campus at Fei Tian Academy of the Arts. Ms. Shia must train for at least six hours a day, doing an endless array of flips, tumbling techniques, and ethnic dance moves.
This year’s dance program included a handkerchief dance that involved integrating spinning traditional Chinese handkerchiefs into the dance. In addition to her dance practice, she also had to practice spinning the handkerchiefs.
“Spin to 1,000, whoever drops it has to start again,” said Ms. Shia, recalling the training for the handkerchief dance.
The payoff was flawless performances that mesmerized audiences.
She also recalled suffering back pain while on the road, making walkover flips excruciating. But, she pushed through it and the pain diminished. Ultimately, she was healthy.
“If there’s no pain, there’s no gain, so you definitely need to sacrifice,” she said.
To be the best, Ms. Shia said you have to “always have the heart to keep going and persevering.”
The challenges are as much mental as physical. Ms. Shia recalled the difficulty of playing a female warrior during this year’s dance piece, Lady Mu Guiying Commands the Troops. The dance tells the story of an army of female warriors who saved China’s Northern Song Dynasty (960-1127) from invaders after their husbands had been killed.
“I’m not much of a warrior type, it was very exhausting, we went through a lot of rehearsals for that to get the right feeling,” she said. “In the end, you don’t think much about it on stage and it just goes by.”
Ms. Shia said all the years of training and hard work have paid off.
“You can tell when the audience is applauding that they are blown away by the show,” she said. “You are sweating and puffing after two and a half hours [on stage] … at the end, I just find that everything is worth it.”
On top of the daily training, performing in practicum with Shen Yun means daily meditation. Meditating was employed by artists in traditional Chinese culture, prior to the introduction of communism.
“Back in history, to be able to perform pure art you have to be pure on the inside which is why a lot of artists would meditate, whether it was dancing, calligraphy, or music,” said Ms. Shia. “Meditating is very important for cleansing ourselves. What’s inside of you is what you express to the outside world.”
Shen Yun’s mission is to revive the lost arts of traditional Chinese culture, which have been destroyed under 60 years of communist rule. Shen Yun is not currently allowed to tour in China, but Ms. Shia said she looks forward to the day that it happens.
“It’s a huge downfall for China itself and for everyone who is of Chinese ancestry because Chinese culture is what we are from and what we should try to preserve for the future,” said Ms. Shia. “It’s really a shame.”
Ms. Shia said she has learned a lot since performing in practicum with Shen Yun.
Ms. Shia, who also blogs, wrote: “Not only have I learned how to dance classical Chinese dance, which has a vast training system that carries the essence of Chinese cultural expression in it’s movements, postures and aesthetics … I have learned that there are things much greater than just the materialistic things in life.”
Learning about my culture has allowed me to apply traditional moral values to everyday life.
“Learning about my culture has allowed me to apply traditional moral values to everyday life. It has taught me to be truthful with the words I say and actions I choose to do; it has taught me to be compassionate to everyone around me, and to be tolerant towards others,” she wrote.
Asked what she would tell a young girl who wants to become a top Chinese classical dancer like her, Ms. Shia said the little girl would have to persevere and be selfless.
“We are not doing it for ourselves, it’s really like reviving Chinese culture, it’s something we put a lot of effort into,” she said.
One of her favorite dances from this year’s performance was The Choice. In it, she depicted a Falun Gong practitioner standing up for her beliefs in modern China by peacefully holding a banner in public. A dramatic persecution by communist police plays out on stage but ultimately the Falun Gong practitioner overcomes it.
Ms. Shia practices Falun Gong herself. The Buddha School meditation practice has been banned in China since 1999 and brutally persecuted there.
“I really enjoyed the ending of the piece because it really portrayed how goodness will always prevail over evil; that righteous feeling on stage is something I enjoyed every single time,” she said.
For more information, visit ShenYunPerformingArts.org.
The Epoch Times is a proud sponsor of Shen Yun Performing Arts.
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