5000 YEARS OF HISTORY
WHAT IS CHINESE CLASSICAL DANCE?
"Established on the basis of the vast five thousand-year-old Chinese culture, classical Chinese dance is a branch of the arts that uses the body as a means of performance."
CLASSICAL CHINESE DANCE
SHEN YUN - USA
CHINA - 2017
I- Characteristics of Chinese Classical Dance
A. The movements of classical Chinese dance are rich in their ability to express a variety of feelings, be it happiness, sorrow, joy, anger, grief, delight, the emotions that come with parting and reuniting, insanity, infatuation, sickness, tipsiness, solemnity, ignobility, and majesty, as well as civil, military, and other personalities and stories.
B. In classical Chinese dance, it is meaning that drives the body into motion. In other words, in this dance form, only when inner feelings drive the body is full expression achieved.
C. Classical Chinese dance uses the human body's natural ability; it does not require specifically training individual muscles. That is, the muscle strength gained naturally through walking, running, jumping, climbing stairs, riding a bicycle, etc., as well as the upper-body strength naturally built through physical labor, is further strengthened in the course of training.
D. The training in classical Chinese dance has four components:
① “Form” (dance combinations and basic barre practice)
② “Bearing” (a technique for expressing specific inner feelings through “form”)
③ Dance technique (training in difficult dance movements)
④ Tumbling technique (primarily training in different types of flips and in foundational skills)
E. In performing theatrical dance, classical Chinese dance involves a dance acting element. The acting in dance is different from that of film, drama, opera, traditional Chinese theater arts, or Broadway musicals. The acting in classical Chinese dance involves coordinating facial expression with physical movement, which, when merged together, results in an amplified form of expression.
I-Origins and Historical Transmission of Chinese Classical Dance
Several thousand years ago, martial arts (wushu) appeared in China. At the time, many types of performing arts were influenced by martial arts movements, techniques and flips. The original forms of many Chinese classical dance movements were similar to those of the martial arts; but only that they were performed differently and what they demanded was different. Later, during the five thousand years in which Chinese culture was being established, classical Chinese dance was continually being enriched, and this was what brought the "attitude" aspect of classical Chinese dance to the surface. And it is also the source of the style that the classical Chinese dance assumed during the process of its transmission. The way a person from a particular ethnic group moves contains the distinct qualities of that group, so that the Chinese people's movements naturally have a Chinese feel. But actual study and practice have shown that, through specific training in "posture" and "form," people of other ethnicities can also acquire that sensation.
The classical Chinese dance was transmitted in various forms, being the main pieces between them. Historically, throughout the different dynasties, the dances performed at the imperial court had different techniques and characteristics. Among the population, the dance spread mainly through imitation, while with street performers spread mainly through martial arts techniques. Before the Qin and Han dynasties (spanning 221 BC - 220 AD), there were entertainers who performed martial arts routines. And the acrobats used mainly flips. During the Tang and Song dynasties (covering 618 CE - 1279 CE), much of the street dance and performance contained ancient forms and techniques of classical Chinese dance. Flips, in particular, were used by virtually every street performer. This is yet another example of how, within Chinese culture, the techniques of different art forms influence each other.
The concept of Chinese dynasties differs from that of the ancient realms of other people. Replacing a dynasty meant changing to a distinct set of cultural traits from another dynasty, as each dynasty has its own emperor, its own people, its own culture. And so, during the historical process of this civilization, Chinese classical dance was constantly enriched and constantly perfected.
Today's teaching methods did not exist in ancient China. In the theater, the older generation trained apprentices and therefore passed from generation to generation. From an early age, the student has established a formal internship with a master, and this is how he became a professional. In the imperial court dance, art was passed as the young ladies taught each other; many of the street performing arts were passed on as family traditions; and martial arts were handed down from ancestors or learned from a master. Similarly, in Buddhist and Taoist religious practices, after a disciple picks up the mantle, he or she receives the teachings of the master. Modern and systematized methods of teaching are something that began in the first half of the last century.