Principal dancer with Shenyun Performing Arts Lucas Browde said his journey mastering classical Chinese dance has changed him as a person.
Learning this ancient art form has required him to understand and uphold traditional Chinese values and culture. Now, he spreads those values on the stage.
Lucas is a gold medalist at the NTD Dance Competition 2021.
Of all the things a young person can be doing in the year 2023, why is Lucas dedicated to Classical Chinese dance?
Lucas: “With all dance forms, I feel like the main goal is to be able to express something, to give a message to the audience. I feel like classical Chinese dance is a bit different because there are 5,000 years of culture behind it. And in the dances, there are all these virtues, concepts, and morality actually being displayed through dancing.
“I feel like since there’s so much to it—it makes me a better person. Chinese classical dance is morality; it is character. And also, classical Chinese dance gave me my purpose right now. This gave me my goal in life.”
And what a lofty goal it is. Shen Yun Performing Arts holds its dancers to high standards. To reach them, one must overcome significant hardship.
Lucas: “For me, stretching was definitely hard in the beginning. After a few years, it faded away, and then the whole world of dance kind of just smashed on my shoulders, you know, there’s so much more than flexibility. But I have to say the longest tribulation for me would be, I think, naturally, my limbs are a bit longer, and I’m a bit weaker than everyone else.
“And also maybe I’m a bit tighter in places you’re supposed to be relaxed and so it’s harder for me to perform jumping techniques and flipping. So for me, I have had to put in an extra 200 percent to build my strength to achieve those types of moves.”
Although Shen Yun artists train in America, they’re immersed in Chinese language and culture. Lucas grew up in the West, how did he adapt?
Lucas: “My dad is Western, and my mom is Chinese. So I was exposed to the Chinese language growing up, and I lived in Taiwan for a year. My Chinese was okay but not good enough. So when I came here, although I knew the language, I didn’t generally understand everything. I didn’t learn much about ancient culture before coming here. So, coming here, I had to be able to soak in the morals, ancient Chinese values, as well as Chinese historical events and figures.”
Classical Chinese dance requires a deep understanding of Chinese culture.
Lucas: “The dances we portray are amazing stories jam-packed with lessons and morals, but each dance is under 10 minutes long. So we have to be able to perform its meaning clearly on stage. You need to have an understanding in your heart of what the story means, and only then will you be able to put it onstage.”
Lucas’s understanding of Chinese culture shows because he won gold in the junior division at the 2021 NTD Dance Competition. What characters has Lucas played in past competitions?
Lucas: “The first character I portrayed was Jin Hee a king who was defeated who had to go through humiliation and suffering but he had this determination, this perseverance in him … I think that heart of perseverance is really strong. And so I think that’s something I can take from it.
“I also have an admiration for Chinese poets. The poems they make are really deep and meaningful, and they flow so well. … In order to be able to do that, you need to have a higher level of culture. Trying to portray something that deep, something with so much meaning, you have to improve.”
And what’s Lucas’s favorite dance move?
Lucas: “When I first started dancing, I loved spinning. I wasn’t great at first, but I was drawn to it. It was fun. And so I practice, practice, practice. And in the end, you know, it became not my best thing, but I definitely enjoyed practicing it.”
Lucas’s path toward mastery of classical Chinese dance has changed him as a person.
Lucas: “It taught me diligence, perseverance, and to be positive. I’m pretty grateful for that. Although the path of dance isn’t very easy, going through it will make you a much stronger person.
“I think what’s different is Chinese dance; if you look at the moves, they’re not in your face, you know. There are fast and slow moves, and there are broad and there are small movements. Being able to master these aspects of classical Chinese dance—where you can control yourself, your breathing, your eyes, your head—your everything. This self-control brings about clarity.”
This award-winning dancer will compete at NTD’s Classical Chinese Dance Competition again this year, but gold isn’t the main thing on his mind.
Lucas: “There’s a saying that I find meaningful, one cited a lot—that life is about the journey, not the destination. This is why I feel like this competition is so meaningful: when you work, push yourself, and get through this process, you’ll improve physically and mentally. So, just by joining this competition, I feel like I have improved a lot as a person. Even though by the end, there will be a result, I think what’s best is that you take with you what you learned during the process onwards for the rest of your life.”
How does this young artist approach the process to begin with?
Lucas: “Take things one at a time, step by step. Don’t be too hard on yourself. As long as your heart’s in the right place, I think everything will, in the end, be resolved. Before this past competition, I had to flip for it. I had to push myself. Every day was a really big test.”
Competitors in NTD’s dance competition perform alone, a very different experience from performing with a group during a Shen Yun tour.
Lucas: “The upside of this competition—is you’re by yourself. If you don’t do well, your failure won’t weigh upon others. There’s always next year; you can improve and make up for yourself. But also during a performance like Shen Yun—if you mess up, you’re also sorry for the audience as well as your fellow performers. So there’s a lot more responsibility in a group dance. But there is a flip side; why I like performing in a big group together is that you feel this group energy, presenting something to the audience, and it is much more powerful.”
And Lucas has a message to his fellow dancers in the dance competition this year.
Lucas: “I’m very honored to be able to compete with all these great people. We will all improve and go through it stronlgy together.”
This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.