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Duke Students Bring Summer Dance Camp to China

Published By Duke Arts Staff / published on: September 12, 2013

Five Duke dance students spent this past summer in China, introducing into the country a new concept: summer dance camp. Their trip is the latest episode in a remarkable history of engagement between dancers from Duke and China. It’s a story that says a great deal about the passion, commitment, and entrepreneurial spirit of Duke’s dance community.

Hsiao-mei Ku

The incubator is the DukeEngage program in Zhuhai and its guiding spirit, Hsiao-mei Ku. For the past four years, she has shepherded groups of students to Zhuhai’s No. 9 Middle School to teach English and arts classes. Since she is a violinist (a member of Duke’s Ciompi Quartet, in fact), she describes the endeavor in musical terms.

During the summer months, I lead 12 Duke students to carry out Duke University’s DukeEngage “Empowerment Through Arts” program in Zhuhai, China. There Duke students have created beautiful melodies for the symphony. By teaching 16 integrative arts classes at Zhuhai No.9 Middle School, Duke participants encourage young Chinese students to pursue their dreams, try out novel art forms and motivate them to create endless possibilities. To support the upper voices with vigorous rhythmic energy, Duke students fill rich harmonies underneath every possible moment. … [T]hey play games and sing along with adorable children at the orphanage, and exchange ideas with Chinese university students or share their experiences with high school international track students who chase their dreams by applying to American universities; they dance and sing, sharing a fun experience with their No.9 students during the final show on stage, and then the next minute are squeezed into all kinds of shapes, becoming drops in the vast human sea when No. 9 students flood the stage after the show; they all laugh first and then begin to sob and howl, tears and sweat zigzagging down their faces. Do you hear this human symphony now? Does this beautiful music resonate in your heart?

Read the rest of her essay

Luou Zhang

Zhuhai has provided a number of Duke students with a deep experience of China, of teaching, and of teaching the arts, and it seems that the dancers have been especially inspired. Luou Zhang is a case in point. His experience in Zhuhai in 2010 led him to organize a trip to the 2011 Summer Universiade in Shenzhen, China. The troupe he assembled ended up not only performing in the ceremony but taking their show on the road, at one point intersecting with Duke’s Basketball team, which was on a tour of its own.

That was the summer of Luou’s senior year. Although he’s Chinese-American, he’d spent little time in China and only spoke the language a little. When he came to Duke he expected to graduate and work in Boston or New York, but his China experience changed everything. He took a job with Bain Consulting in Hong Kong, thinking that would be an ideal bridge. After a year, he left the consulting business to join a non-profit called IDEAS, which is seeking to reform Chinese education.

Luou recently returned to Zhuhai to be present at the graduation of one of the students he’d taught there. He wrote us to describe the experience:

I first met Joanna in the second floor hallway of Zhuhai No.9 Middle School (affectionately known as “九 中” amongst the locals) during the second week of our DukeEngage Zhuhai program in 2010. She would run up to me with a beaming smile and muster all the courage her English class gave her to say “Hello, my name is Joanna, would you like to make a friend with me?” Three years ago, Joanna’s head barely went up to my chin, and her hair was near tomboy-length as the middle school forbidden the girls from having long hair for fear of being a “distraction” to their academic lives. From that afternoon on, she would often visit me in the office the school set up for the DukeEngage students. On some days, she would practice her new found English vocabulary on me; on other days, she would bring her classmates and ask me to share about the mysterious world of America, college, and dating. In return, they ushered me into the world of Zhuhai student, one that is filled with buddle tea, endless test-prep, and Happy Summer Camp (one of their favorite TV shows).

Joanna is excited to go to college and study to be an English translator so she can, as she told Luou, “meet all sorts of people and travel around the world through their stories.” Read the rest of Luou’s letter.

Rebecca Pham & Co.

One of Luou’s first ideas for IDEAS was to bring back the Duke dancers. He floated the idea in a conversation with Junior Rebecca Pham this past December. As their conversation developed, he followed up with a visit to campus in February to enlist the help of Vice Provost for the Arts Scott Lindroth. And so it happened that a group of 5 joined him this past summer to lead summer dance camps for Chinese high school students.

It is explicitly NOT a camp for aspiring dancers. The idea behind it is to broaden the students and unlock their creativity and to show them alternative ways to learn, grow, and prosper outside the confines of the Chinese education system. Rebecca recorded some of her thoughts about all this as she was preparing to leave Durham for Beijing.

I truly can’t wait to explore all that China has to offer, especially to bond with those who we will be teaching. I feel that even though we are the ones teaching the program, we may leave learning more than those who we have taught. What I will have learned, I truly do not know at this moment in time, but I anticipate something great, just as great as the amazing trip I am to depart for in exactly 38 days.

In working with the beautiful children of Bull City Fit, I feel that I have gained a lot of knowledge about mental, physical, and emotional issues with which youth struggle. These issues are universal and should be addressed in the education systems of any culture. Unfortunately, very few curriculums take the time to emphasize nutrition, activity, creativity, and holistic living. This is what I hope to bring to China. I want the kids to get excited about learning to love themselves, about embracing the ability to be selfish in a good way by learning to put your health first. By making these thought processes a vital part of daily living, we can cultivate not only health and happiness but also boundless exploration without limits or walls.

Here is a brief introduction to the five members of the IDEAS team. Read more about them and their trip on their blog, Growth Through Dance.

  • Rebecca Pham is passionate about the arts, including creative writing, visual arts, musical theater, and dancing. She expresses her passion for dance in both her academic and extracurricular activities by combining international experiences and service to others in DukeEngage Zhuhai, China. She’s a double major in Biology and Dance in her junior year and hopes to pursue a doctoral degree in Physical Therapy.
  • Ray Liu didn’t start dancing until he started college at Duke, where he has studied hip hop in the Duke Dance Program and brought that experience to middle school students in China through DukeEngage Zhuhai program. He is a political science major interested in promoting empowerment and reconciliation through education, entrepreneurship, government, and the arts. A political science major, Ray hopes to pursue business or a humanities degree.
  • Maurice Dowell began his dance career at the age of seven with tap classes, followed a few years later by hip-hop, and since then he has performed both competitively and professionally. He brought that training with him to the DukeEngage Zhuhai program and created a summer dance experience for the students there. At Duke he intends to double-major in dance and either linguistics or philosophy with a minor in French.
  • Marisa Epstein has also danced from a very early age, competing since the age of seven and performing with various groups throughout the years. She brought her love of dance and the knowledge that dance can expand horizons and transform lives to the Zhuhai program. Marisa plans to major in public policy and minor in dance.
  • Bobby Lam’s passion for movement began when he picked up a skateboard for the first time. A classically-trained violinist, Bobby has performed solo with the Raleigh Symphony Orchestra and as a member of the Durham Symphony. His passion for music, movement, and technology led him to explore the overlap between these disciplines. He graduated from Duke last spring with a a degree in Electrical & Computer Engineering, and is now a program manager for Microsoft in Seattle, WA.