Traditions kept alive through dance

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Photo courtesy of Jaclyn Lee

Staring into her own reflection, a wife fuses movement and rhythm to express her longing for her husband at war. This is the latest character Diamond Bar High School junior Jaclyn Lee will embody through traditional Chinese dance.

This genre is characterized by the utilization of props such as handkerchiefs, umbrellas, drums, long ribbons and fans to paint a narrative.

Lee began this style of dance in the third grade after dropping ballet. She started honing her skills at Jin’s Dance Studio in Diamond Bar as a way to connect to her cultural heritage. Lee has performed at competitions such as Showstopper and Taoli Cup and was featured on the Chinese television series “I Want to be Featured in Spring Festival Show.”

However, due to her heavy workload from school,  Lee is now coached by an independent instructor, in a rented studio space.

“[She]  teaches me and other students traditional Chinese dances from all over China,” the Brahma said. “There’re special elements to each dance.”

Lee’s favorite dance, the one she is currently learning, is called  “Pointed Lips,” which  portrays  a wife waiting for her husband to return from war. She looks at her reflection in a handheld mirror throughout the dance because she is afraid that by the time her husband finally returns home, her beauty will have faded.

“I wanted to do it for a long time, but my teacher told me I wasn’t mature yet,” Lee said.

The junior was drawn to this dance because of the emotional backstory.

“Her personality in it is so longing for him,” Lee said. “It’s just a really beautiful dance.”

Similar to this piece, the alluring stories expressed in Chinese dance is the reason why Lee favors this genre over contemporary.

“[For] modern dance, you usually just pick the music and then make up moves to it, but for Chinese dance, there’s a lot more of telling a story and a purpose to it,” Lee said. “[In] each dance, you need to become that person first in order to express it.”

Lee spends time studying the story and characters in every piece she performs to be able to convey the story.

“One dance might be very sorrowful or one dance might be really happy, and you just have to embrace it,” Lee said.

Although Lee prefers Chinese dance, she has come to appreciate contemporary as well. In middle school, the junior began to learn the style and now is a member of the Diamond Bar High School Dance Company. She finds solace in the performance group because of the supportive environment.

“The team is very loving, and we all help each other through our stress because when we dance, you can’t really focus on other stress,” Lee said. “If you’re distracted, you’re not doing it well.”

Lee is most excited about the upcoming competition season because it is a way to show off the countless hours of practice and hard work the group has dedicated to its  dances.

“Everyone is here with the same mindset,” Lee said. “We’re here to win, but we’re also going to appreciate other teams.”

Contemporary dance has opened doors for Lee to improve upon traditional choreography. By adding technical moves such as pirouettes and leaps, Lee elevates and adds depth to the Chinese pieces.

“I also opened up a gateway for Chinese students to move into modern dance,” Lee said.

Even though dance is a large aspect of her life, Lee does not want to pursue it professionally due to past experiences with injuries. The junior has struggled with chronic knee and back complications and had to endure months of physical therapy. Due to this, her outlook on the way she dances has evolved.

“It was just eye-opening actually, because there’s a lot of things I didn’t think about when dancing that I should’ve thought about to avoid this,” Lee said. “I appreciated more for conditioning…it’s tiring…but it made me realize I need that.”

Through traditional dance, the Brahma has been able to connect to not just her culture but also family members.

“If I meet my aunts and uncles or other relatives, I can tell them that I do Chinese dance, and I can get a conversation started with them,” Lee said.

Despite the fatigue she feels from dancing, she perseveres every day.

“When you dance, you forget you’re tired…it makes me more exhausted, but I wouldn’t want to not have it,” Lee said.