5 Things You Probably Didn’t Know About Chinese Dance

Published on 31 May 2018

By: Grace Ma

The Chinese Dance Fiesta has wrapped up its fourth edition this year, showcasing the exquisite beauty of this art form at venues across Singapore.

Singapore Chinese Dance Theatre’s Artistic Director, Lim Moi Kim, and Corporate Services Manager, Chong Shu Chi, share some interesting nuggets on Chinese dance that may well debunk your conception of what this art form is all about!


1. Classical Chinese dance is a spin-off from ballet

Chinese dance in Singapore has its origins almost 5,000 years ago in China and can be classified into two forms – Chinese classical and Chinese ethnic folk dance. The Classical Technique, which was created soon after the beginning of the Communist Era, was greatly influenced by the ballet techniques developed by the Russians and the French. Chong shares that Chinese classical dance only came about in the late 1950s, with the establishment of the Beijing Dance Academy in 1954. He says, “Russian ballet was practised at the academy and veteran dance educators refined and incorporated acrobatic, martial arts and opera elements as well as movements inscribed on ancient records and artifacts to create the Chinese classical dance form.” The ethnic folk form is greatly influenced by the 56 minorities of China, where Han stands as the majority within the 56. “Chinese ethnic folk dance usually reflects the lifestyle, history, traditions and culture of specific ethnic groups.” Lim explains.


2. Chinese classical dance has different physical demands from ballet

While there are many similarities between classical ballet and Chinese classical dance – both require years of disciplined training and are performed by lithe and fit dancers – there are also differences in training and physical demands on its practitioners. Classical ballet, for example, is more structured with linear movements and alignment. Chinese classical dance, on the other hand, carries the essence of shen yun (身韵), the use of breath and emotion to guide the body’s movement, as well as shen fa (身法), where a movement is achieved through fluid circular pathways rather than linear ones that usually characterise classical ballet.


3. Chinese dance was once heavily used for propaganda

When the Communists came to power in 1949, forms of Chinese dance, in particular, a form known as Yang Ge, was performed at their early victories in parades while troupes carrying Communist-pro messages went around performing to the public. However, this ended when then-Chairman Mao Zedong, convinced that dance was a threat to the pure Communist ideology, banned all forms of it in 1966. Chinese who grew up during this era had no notion of what dance is. It was only at the end of the Cultural Revolution, launched by Mao Zedong, did Chinese dance re-emerge.


4. Chinese dance and martial arts are related!

It’s interesting to note that Lim, who is an Artistic Director, is also a martial arts practitioner who has been awarded impressive titles such as the “World Famous Martial Arts Master Title of Honours” and the “International Wushu San Shou Dao 7th Degree Black Belt Title of Honour”. She explains that Chinese dance and martial arts, primarily kung fu and wushu, have overlapping stances and postures. Both require flexibility, coordination, and agility. Traditional weapons such as sticks, spears and swords are also used in both martial arts and Chinese dance. These two art forms are rooted in the same ancient culture. When wushu first appeared in China thousands of years ago, its flips and techniques greatly influenced other art forms, including Chinese opera and dance. These art forms took movements originally intended for battle and transformed them into a means of entertainment. Over time, martial arts and classical Chinese dance grew into the comprehensive and separate art forms we know today.



5. Chinese dance is for everyone

Besides festival organiser Singapore Chinese Dance Theatre, almost 300 performers from the Sheng Hong Arts Institute as well as 11 primary and secondary schools presented dances ranging from ethnic folk pieces to contemporary expressions, with seven schools who performed for the first time. This is almost double the number of performers participating last year. Wong Zee-Xuan, a Secondary Three Nan Chiau High School student performer says, “This festival provided me a platform to fine-tune my dance techniques and gain a deeper understanding of Chinese dance as I was introduced to new dance movements and a wider genre of dances.”

Try out the art of Chinese Dance for yourself and check out the schedule of classes here.


Watch this beautiful art form in these upcoming events at the Esplanade here:


Guan Gong Chinese Musical Drama – 关公

More Information here.

22 – 23 June 2018
International Youth Nanyin Festival 2018 第二届新加坡国际青年南音展演 Soul Journey, Ten Years 《启程。十年》

For more information click here.

23 June 2018
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