Last updated at: (Beijing Time) Thursday, April 08, 2004

She was born for dancing

She carefully wipes her lipstick with a piece of tissue and takes a sip of water.


She carefully wipes her lipstick with a piece of tissue and takes a sip of water.

It is a very simple movement but Yang Liping gives it a fluidity that makes it look like a dance move.

"People limit the definition of dance. Dance is everywhere. Sitting here is a gesture and writing is a movement."

If anyone else said the same thing you would laugh and forget about it.

When Yang says it, however, you are convinced by her every movement and gesture. Each one is natural, graceful and pleasant to the eyes.

She was born for dancing.

That may sound like a cliche, but it's absolutely true.

"Dancing is not my profession. The Bai ethnic people call those like me 'bimo,' the witch who has a gift of dancing," the famous dancer told China Daily while in Beijing last week to promote her gala show "Dynamic Yunnan."

"When I was very young, my grandmother told me that singing and dancing is one way we live and one way we express ourselves. The bimo talks with the gods and communicates between earth and heaven through dancing.

"My grandmother herself is a typical example. When my grandfather died, she sang for three days and nights about his life, their love stories and to mourn."

Yang's words take you from the theatre to the countryside, and the remote village in Southwest China's Yunnan Province where she was born.

People there sing while working and dance around the bonfire to offer sacrifices. They don't dance as part of a performance, instead, dance is a ritual about life, their children or sacrifice.

Yang, who is from the Bai ethnic group, highlighted the original ethnic dances and turned them into "Dynamic Yunnan."

After an acclaimed premiere last August in Kunming, capital of Yunnan Province, and winning the national Golden Lotus Award for Dance in Shanghai early last month, Yang will bring her "Dynamic Yunnan" to Beijing for seven shows at the Poly Theatre from April 10 to 16.

Composed of the prelude and five scenes: the Sun, the Earth, the Home, the Fire, the Pilgrimage and the Spirit of Peacock, the 120-minute-long show features dance numbers from 20 ethnic groups in Southwest China such as the Yi, Dai, Bai, Jingpo, Va, Hani and Jino.

All the costumes, props and masks are original ones and 70 per cent of dancers are native ethnic people.

"I did not choreograph. I just highlighted the original dance and gathered the common villagers to perform their dance on stage," Yang said.

About 33 years ago, as a young Bai girl, Yang ran and danced barefoot in the mountains as every kid her age did. The eldest child in her family and living with her divorced mother, Yang did farm work, grazed sheep and cattle and looked after her three younger sisters and brothers.

Instead of becoming bimo, at the age of 12, her talent for dance undeniable, she was recruited by a local song and dance troupe in Xishuangbanna.

A decade and a half later, she was selected to the Central Nationalities Song and Dance Ensemble in Beijing.

In 1986, Yang became well-known overnight for her individual dance "Spirit of Peacock" in a national contest and ever since, she has been dubbed "Princess of Peacock."

The peacock is the totem worshiped by the Dai people. Based on the Dai's folk dance imitating the peacock, Yang's peacock dance highlights the vitality and elegance of the noble creature. Her slim and long fingers well imitate the peacock plumes while her slender figure vividly portrays a live peacock.

In China's dance scene, Yang has been considered a unique individual. All her dances are derived from her ethnic roots. She prefers solo dance to group work. She seldom exposes herself to the media or the public.

She has never received academic training. Dancing is in her blood.

Soon after she joined the Central Nationalities Song and Dance Ensemble, she turned down the opportunity to take the routine training of ballet and other folk dances.

"I dance from my nature. That stereotyped academic training made it hard to dance in my own way," she said.

Every year, Yang returns to Yunnan to collect and learn the natives' original folk dance to get inspired.

"The native dances are the source of my choreography. However, like many other cultural heritages, those dances are dying very fast. Every year I return only to see some folk dance disappear," she said.

Three years ago, a Kunming local song and dance troupe performing for tourists asked her to choreograph a new production to attract more people.

Willing to do something for her hometown, Yang planned to record those precious folk dance numbers with digital video and then rearrange them on the stage.

However, the tourism ensemble disliked the idea. They wanted to perform fake folk arts such as throwing an embroidered pouch to the tourists or getting a visitor onto the stage to act as the groom in an ethnic wedding ceremony, Yang said.

"They catered to the tastes of tourists who have little knowledge of real ethnic life," said Yang, "but the failed co-operation only encouraged me to travel through Yunnan, Sichuan, Guizhou and part of Tibet to record the folk dance as much as I could and then highlight them into a show with original breath."

Thus, she spent a year and a half traveling, appreciating, learning and dancing.


There was talk among doubters who wondered if Yang could make her "Dynamic Yunnan" a success, especially after news of a cash crunch got around.

There was talk that she sold a home she owned and did TV ads to finance the performance.

However, when asked about the hardships behind "Dynamic Yunnan," Yang just shrugged.

"Money is not the problem. I can always handle the financial matters very well. When I was very young I had to learn how to take care of a family. No matter how little money I had in my pocket I knew how to turn it into three different dishes of food and a meal for the whole family," she grinned.

"As for selling a house, I don't think it's a disaster. I have a few houses in Dali and Beijing and selling one of them does not mean I have no place to live. It's an investment. I invest to dance. That's what I love."

In addition, she makes no attempt to cover up her moonlight shows and TV advertisements.

"That's how I make money for dancing. I don't think there's anything wrong with it. I am a practical person and know well this is a commercial world. I negotiated with sponsors and do what I can to exchange their support for the show. I am independent and I try to make myself lead a happy life. But I would not beg and would never perform if I was not in the mood."

The vitality, insight and intelligence hidden but shining in her long and a little narrow eyes, make people forget her real age of 45.

And she is quick to say that financial problems are much easier to overcome than mental anguish.

"Dynamic Yunnan" has several scenes that are food for much thought.

Specifically, Yang talks about the people who cannot accept dance numbers that relate to sex and procreation.

For example, the tobacco dance in the scene Earth is a folk dance young men and women of the Nisupo, a branch of Yi ethnic group, used to express love.

Nisupo people dance to the rhythmic sound produced by fingers hitting the tobacco boxes. While singing, young men and women dance and probe, reaching to touch each other with their feet. If they love each other, then they dance imitating the sexual contact of animals and insects.

The sun drum dance in the Sun scene is another example. According to Yang, the Jino people worship the sun and play the Sun Drum on grand celebrations. The round drum and the drum stick symbolize the genitals of women and men. Beating a drum is a ritual of sexual love and procreation.

"Somebody said we should not dance in that direct way. I think they are hypocritical," Yang said.

Different approach

Another problem was that she encountered many people who admired her and wanted to learn from her but could not accept her way of dancing.

During her journeys, Yang gave many workshops in the villages. Some professional dancers went to the villages after hearing the news. But to their disappointment, Yang had not choreographed dance numbers to teach them, instead, Yang watched the villagers dancing and followed their steps.

"I told them I was not able to choreograph the folk dance. The folk dance has roots among the common ethnic natives and is passed down from one generation to the next. I came to learn from them hoping to inherit that tradition," she said.

She made no compromises and tried to present the most original elements from dance, songs, props and costumes to the dancers themselves.

All the 62 large drums of different shapes and 120 masks used in Dynamic Yunnan were home-made by the native villagers.

The costumes that the Huayao Yi girls wear to dance were cut and embroidered by themselves.

About 70 per cent of the dancers are villagers. Yang said that professional dancers could not perform as dynamically and true-to-life as they can.

"I do not require high dancing skills from them, but each of them has their own individual move," she said.

Five-year-old A Bu from Va ethnic group is the youngest performer in "Dynamic Yunnan."

He is good at beating drums, but he was sent back before the debut in Kunming because of his young age. The sponsor recruited several boys older than A Bu for Yang. But none of the city boys could satisfy her and the sponsor had to get A Bu back.

"All the boys came to audition accompanied by their parents. I was impressed by those scenes. One mother held a McDonald's drink and a hamburger and waited for his son at the door.

"I let them beat the drum but none of them could do it as lively as A Bu. I don't think that a kid who grows up with McDonald's could take the place of A Bu," she said.

Yang enjoyed the days spent with the natives who fully displayed their talents in singing and dancing. That helped her overcome all the setbacks she suffered in the long search.

"I enjoyed their simple life, followed their dance steps and was deeply touched by their songs."

Yang quotes a short piece.

"Please follow me. Where are you going to take me to? We go to the place where you are from. We are going to the place where there is delicious food. We are going to the place where we can live a happy life. Sun sets while moon rises, clouds accompany stars and fishes swim in the brook...

"One hundred and twenty minutes are too short to contain such rich and colourful folk and ethnic songs and dances. I had to make difficult choices and make the show as wonderful as I could," she said.

"The fact is the young generation of the ethnic groups live in mountains and have been influenced by the advanced modern society. They prefer jeans, Nike and pop songs. But they are still simple, honest and joined 'Dynamic Yunnan' for various simple reasons."

Yang said some of them came for the chance to see the world out of their villages and some just joined the show for fun.

A Xiu, from the Blang ethnic group, came to earn money to buy cattle which cost 400 yuan (US$48) to help her father do farm work.

And there were also people who were not willing to leave home although they danced or sang well.

"Nobody considers it a mission to protect and inherit the culture. Neither do I.

"I don't think I have the ability to shoulder the historic mission. I don't think much about what the future of folk dance will be or what I can do for it. I am able to do is slow down its possible disappearance."

Source: China Daily

Questions?Comments? Click here

China to hold national dance contest in May


China tries to break Boeing, Airbus domination with self-made aircraft ( 6 Messages)

Will "Section 301" affect Chinese economy? ( 2 Messages)

Taiwanese businessmen further expand investment in Chinese mainland ( 2 Messages)

Japanese court rules PM's shrine visit "unconstitutional" ( 12 Messages)

China urges US to honor promise on Taiwan issue ( 4 Messages)

How the US could improve its image abroad ( 202 Messages)

Copyright by People's Daily Online, all rights reserved