Costs and Rewards of Dancing Professionally

This year, NTD will hold its ninth International Classical Chinese Dance Competition. Candidate Michael Hu speaks about the costs and rewards of living the life of a professional dancer.

Michael Hu, 19, is from Fei Tian Academy of the Arts in upstate New York. Outside school, he goes on tour to perform around the world.

His journey with classical Chinese dance didn’t start out smoothly, and the strict routine of a dancer didn’t easily fit this teenage boy.

“We normally wake up around 7 to 8. And then we have our morning routine, which is like stretching … and all that stuff. And then we have lunch. Sometimes we have academics, or more dancing, and then we have dinner. And then at night, we have more dancing again. And you can self-practice if you want at night.”

All that stretching paid off when he started learning techniques, like “shen-dai-shou,” or “the body leads the hands”; and “kua-dai-tui,” or the “hips lead the legs.”

These skills were once lost. But they’re believed to reach the highest realm of artistic refinement. Hu says this technique helps make the movements longer, bigger, and more beautiful on stage.

Hu was born and raised in the United States. He says at first, it was hard for him to grasp some of the elements of classical Chinese dance.

“The teachers are always talking about the inner meaning. But I’m, like, ‘Where’s the inner meaning?’”

But through studying and entering the minds of characters he has to portray on stage, he began to get it.

In the dance piece he prepared for this competition, Hu will play one of the best-known tragic heroes in ancient China—Xiang Yu. The cultural icon is portrayed in countless Chinese novels, poems, operas, and dramas.

The rebel leader’s matchless might and bravery couldn’t prevent his eventual defeat and suicide, and his life was said to prove the role of fate and the ancient Chinese belief that higher beings are in control.

“Even though he was one of the greatest warriors of all time, but Heaven just doesn’t want him to claim the throne for the emperor, so he accepts that. So he tells his fellow soldiers that ‘It is not that I can’t fight, it’s that Heaven doesn’t want me to win.’ And so knowing this, he makes his last stand, and then he would rather kill himself than surrender to his enemies.”

Xiang Yu’s overbearing pride is seen as his fatal shortcoming, and Hu says he keeps reminding himself about this.

“One thing is, you have to be humble because you’re always, there’ll always be something higher above you.”

Step by step, literally, Hu starts to understand what his teacher meant by dance’s inner meaning.

“One movement can be done in multiple ways, or based on each person’s personality. Each movement you do, you’re basically trying to put your emotions into, with your movements.”

Hu says the dance training also improved his inner world, something his parents took note of.

“They noticed that you become a better person, more tolerant. Because after all the stretching you’ve gone through, if you know what a lot of pain could feel like, and so you start to think like, small things, they’re really not that painful and that it’s really nothing.”

Tickets for this year’s competition are available at dance.ntdtv.com. The semi-final will be held at the Sugar Loaf Performing Arts Center in New York state on Sept. 4, and the final will be on Sept. 5. The competition will also be livestreamed on ntd.com.