Dancers Share Stories of Hard Work, Growth at 10th NTD International Classical Chinese Dance Competition

Dancers Share Stories of Hard Work, Growth at 10th NTD International Classical Chinese Dance Competition
Grace Rubacek in the preliminary round of the NTD International Classical Chinese Dance Competition in Purchase, N.Y., on Sept. 7, 2023. (Larry Dye/The Epoch Times)

On Sept. 7, 140 dancers from three continents gathered in Purchase, New York, to take part in the 10th NTD International Classical Chinese Dance Competition.

The dancers compete in four divisions: junior male and female, and adult male and female. Preliminaries are being held through Sept. 8, semifinals on Sept. 9, and finals and the awards ceremony on Sept. 10.

Among the junior division dancers competing on Sept. 7 was Grace Rubacek from Fei Tian Academy of the Arts.

She shared that this is her second time participating in the NTD dance competition, but last time, she was still a novice, very much focused on nailing the fundamentals and seeing all her movements through. This time, she’s paying more attention to artistry.

“I think classical Chinese culture is really deep and has a lot of meaning. When you go back and read the ancient texts and understand the stories from Chinese history, it feels very different,” Grace said.

The way people behave, their motivations, values, and mindset are different from modern views, she explained, and to properly portray these characters or periods, one has to understand them.

“You can feel the virtues of the characters,” she said, and it inspired her. “I feel like by understanding those characters and the history, it makes me want to express this culture and show everyone how Chinese culture really is.”

As a Westerner, Grace has been asked whether it’s too difficult to fully grasp ancient Chinese culture.

“If you put your heart into it and really want to learn about this culture and really want to embrace this classical Chinese dance, I think it’s possible,” she said.


Each dancer is required to perform a technical piece and a narrative piece.

Grace performed “Spring” for her narrative piece—a piece of her own composition.

“Last time … I didn’t think much about what I was expressing … but this time I wanted to express a feeling I have of when you’re out in nature, when you’re walking outside or in the forest,” she said. “It feels very free, very carefree. I wanted to put that into a story dance.”

The technical piece was challenging in a different way. Two weeks before the competition, Grace received feedback from her teacher that the music she chose wasn’t helping her achieve the fullest performance, and she took the advice and changed her music. But that meant rehearsing a totally new piece.

“I felt like I couldn’t do it at the beginning because there was a very short period of time to the competition. But all my friends were helping me, too,” she said.

The encouragement led to an epiphany: Grace had already gained so much just by accepting the challenge and seeing the process through. “I think the biggest thing I learned is it really doesn’t matter what the outcome is, as long as in the process you tried your best and improved yourself.”

Grace advanced to the semifinals at the end of the Sept. 7 preliminary rounds for the junior division.

Becoming the Character

Ma Yuwei, competing in the junior male division, also had a change of heart in the process of preparing for this year’s competition.

Yuwei portrayed Yang Liulang, a military general who defended the Song Dynasty’s northern border for more than two decades, thwarting repeated attempts of an invasion.

“I was actually pretty nervous before getting on stage,” he said. “But you have to not think about yourself. The moment I stepped out on stage, I stepped out on the battlefield. I became him.

“What was he feeling then? What was he thinking on that battlefield? It’s not about me performing this dance or what I want to convey … I’m going to tell this historic story now,” he said.

NTD Photo
Ma Yuwei participates in the preliminary round of the NTD International Classical Chinese Dance Competition in Purchase, New York, on Sept. 7, 2023. (Larry Dye/The Epoch Times)

Yuwei shared that this mentality came only after realizing there was no room for selfishness on stage.

He was drawn to the art form because of the impressive flips and tumbling techniques. When he began, he was competitive and danced to show off.

But during the preparation for the competition, he started to change.

With a “me first” mentality, the moment you step out on stage, the audience can feel it, he said. Your own ambitions, sense of showing off, competitiveness—it’ll all be apparent in your movements, he continued, and the dance becomes “Ma Yuwei on stage” and not “Yang Liulang’s story.”

“To understand the story,” he said, “set yourself aside.”

“If I really want to present this authentic classical Chinese dance to audiences, I have to calm my heart, set myself aside, and not do this with a sense of selfishness,” he said.

“I really want to show the audience something authentic and pure.”

Yuwei came from Taiwan to compete in this competition. It was his first time, and he had hopes of making it as far as he could in order to learn, not compete.

“Each round is an opportunity to improve,” he said. “To be able to get into the semifinals and dance again, you’ll surely have a different understanding then, and it’s also another opportunity to use ‘shen dai shou,’ and also you’ll be more stable. That’s my goal.”

“Shen dai shou” translates as “body leading the arms.” It is an ancient dance technique that was only recently revived, the use of which has been pioneered by classical Chinese dancers in Shen Yun Performing Arts.

Several of the judges and contestants are from New York-based Shen Yun, which has served as a draw for contestants.

“The Shen Yun dancers, they encouraged me, too,” Yuwei said, sharing his surprise at the atmosphere backstage. “All the dancers here, it’s as if we’re one team … it’s very warm.”

From The Epoch Times

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