Shen Yun’s Victor Li: Dance With a Light Heart

This year, NTD will hold its ninth International Classical Chinese Dance Competition. NTD sat down with one of the competition’s most recent medalists to understand what makes a dancer shine.

Since its inception in 2007, the competition has attracted some of the world’s most enchanting classical Chinese dancers, including dancers from Shen Yun.

Victor Li from Shen Yun won silver last year. This is his fifth year competing—and it hasn’t been easy. He says his formula for success is persistence and a good mindset.

Li says that if one is positive and cheerful all the time, “that actually does affect me physically because our daily schedule is so like, tiring and can be really stressful.” He added that if you feel “depressed, or if you think that you’re tired, it’s actually going to make the day a lot worse for you. But then, if you stay positive, and like, cheerful, it … helps yourself and your environment.”

He incorporates that into his dance style, saying, “My style is more light-hearted. And I don’t like to do really angsty or … depressing dances. So I wanted to do … a light-hearted, but then still having like a good moral type of dance.”

He said for dancers, it’s important to make the movements grand and expressive. And what helps with that is one dance training he received at Shen Yun—“shen-dai-shou,” or “the body leads the hands”; and “kua-dai-tui,” or the “hips lead the legs.”

“From our innermost, middle core area, we start our movements from here. So our movements have a bigger range,” he said.

The once-lost technique is deemed to be the most difficult of or the best in classical Chinese dance skills.

“Because we prepare to go on stage, so we need to make sure that our acting and our movements [are] really clear to the audience, even though they could be sitting like, very far away. So we try to make our movements as big as possible,” he said.

The technique also improves the dancers’ ability to spin and enhances jumps and tumbling.

The dance story Li choreographed this year is about a novice archer learning archery from a Taoist cultivator. But instead of teaching archery, the Taoist asked the young man to meditate. After that, the young man “finds out that even though he never practiced archery, he is suddenly really good at it. And then when he turns around, he sees that his teacher left and that’s when he knows that his teacher actually came to teach him cultivation,” Li said.

Inspired by a Chinese fable, the story embodies the ancient belief that every trade is a way of self-cultivation, and it is through moral and spiritual improvements that one excels at his techniques.

Li says this ancient wisdom inspires him.

“Even though like, a lot of the Chinese culture, Chinese morals are like thousands of years old, but I do still feel like they can still affect us now. So for Chinese history, there’s like thousands of stories that you can kind of look back [on],” he said. “And a lot of times, if we’re going through problems, we can even look back in history and see if there were similar problems and how they were solved, or what could have been done better. And a lot of times we can apply that to ourselves.”