Dancer on Improving Skills Through the Heart

NTD’s classical Chinese dance competition has attracted talents from a number of premier dance schools. Daniel Zhang, one of the competitors, spoke with NTD about how he copes with challenges ahead of the competition.

NTD is hosting the competition to promote traditional arts. Dancers will test their skills in the area of classical Chinese dance. This art form is no less comprehensive than ballet and involves many difficult tumbling techniques. The discipline dates back thousands of years, but very few in the Western world have heard about it until recent years.

Zhang says to dance well, he learned to be honest with himself.

“Actually, I was quite shy. I didn’t have the courage to open up my heart, and at times I didn’t dare to face myself. But the more I danced, the more I realized I couldn’t be like that. Because when performing on stage, a dancer has to open himself up,” he said.

One of his biggest challenges was being able to perform a dance move to its fullest potential. Zhang says later he realized fear was holding him back.

“I was really concerned that others would say I didn’t do the move right. but then I found that the fear is an obstacle itself. Criticism from other people is a good thing, and that’s how I know where to improve myself,” he said.

He explains that it’s hard not to feel nervous about the competition, but tries his best to adjust his mindset.

“Before I go on stage, I try to not let the stress weigh on me, I turn that anxious feeling into a kind of motivation because whether I’m nervous or not, I have to do it anyway. So it’s better to just calm my heart and let go of the stress, then just try my best to do well,” he said.

Classical Chinese dance is a demanding art form. But Zhang says mastering the techniques on their own isn’t enough. He said, “When dancing, you will reveal everything that’s in your heart. And it would be very apparent if you’re not a virtuous person or if you’re in a bad state.”

He also says that if dancers don’t have good moral character, then no matter how precise their moves are, the audience will get bored while watching them.

“But some people, even though their dance moves aren’t that perfect, that precise, if that person is very pure and compassionate, his aura is good, you’re able to feel it. When you look at that person, you want to watch him,” he said.

Zhang currently studies at Fei Tian Academy of the Arts—a premier classical Chinese dance school in upstate New York.

For NTD’s competition, Zhang plans to perform his dance piece, complete with a special method he learned from school.

It’s called “shen-dai-shou,” or the body leads the hands, and “kua-dai-tui,” the hips lead the legs. Experts say this method is a much sought-after one, as it can take a dancer’s performance to the highest level. But few know how to perform it.

“I think shen-dai-shou means that the place that powers your movement comes from the center of your body, and from there it leads your arms. This way, your dance moves would look more grand, fuller, have a lot of strength but also very smooth at the same time,” Zhang said.

As for kua-dai-tui, he said, “I think the hips are one of the body parts that have the most strength. So if you use hips to lead the legs when you dance, then your whole body is very light. Your movements will be very crisp and clean.”

For the competition, Zhang will portray one of China’s most beloved poets: Li Bai. Li wrote a famous poem called “Drinking Under the Moonlight.”

The poem conveys his complicated feelings at the moment of writing—lonely, but also open, and without restraint. Zhang sought to portray those feelings in his dance piece.

Tickets for this year’s competition are available at 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

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