Children discover Chinese dance

From Voices, 3:30 pm on 29 February 2016

Children around Wellington are being treated to dance workshops, a unique introduction to indigenous Chinese folk dance showcasing the 56 ethnic minority groups in China. It’s with an internationally renowned troupe from Xiamen, China, named after the graceful white heron the Little Egret.

It's another rare hot and still blue-sky day in Wellington as the Xiamen Little Egret Folk Dance Troupe – a group of folk dancers from Xiamen City in the Fujian Province, China – head the Chinese New Year Festival parade, watched by thousands lining the Capital’s waterfront.

There are 30 musicians and dancers from Xiamen in total, collaborating with NZ choreographer Deirdre Tarrant’s dancers towards several original dance pieces to celebrate the opening of the festival at the TSB arena.

Not the first time to NZ, The Little Egrets first performed here in 1997 but this is the first time a small group of 6 along with translator Catherine Lo are taking the “Discover Chinese Dance workshops” at eight primary and secondary schools around Wellington region.

Earlier that week Mount Cook School gym buzzed with around 40 children, their teacher, 6 Chinese dance tutors and a translator. Nicki Glover is new as a teacher there. She's in charge of the Tuatara Class at (Year 5 & 6 students). She couldn't resist participating in the workshop and she's loving it. When Linda Lim from the Asian Events Trust (her niece attends the school) offered "We jumped at the opportunity. It's a great chance for my class to have a go, because a lot of them had no idea what to expect. They're loving it!"

Teacher Nicki Glover can't resist

Teacher Nicki Glover can't resist Photo: RNZ / Lynda Chanwai-Earle

It's great seeing the kids giving it 110%! They're trying so hard, it's awesome to see!

The troupes Manager Lin Nai Zhen tells me (through the help of translator Catherine Lo) that the troupe was first founded in Xiamen in 1993. The Little Egret’s mascot – the iconic and graceful little white heron is known to travel great distances. This troupe have chalked up 40 performances internationally in countries including; America, France, Italy and Denmark. The basic dance steps they're teaching today are drawn from the indigenous folk dance of  Yunnan, southwest China.

So why school workshops?

Linda Lim says it's the first time that there's been a focus on a educational outreach programme that includes dance within the schools - not off site. Previously the programmes have included calligraphy or brush painting. Having a rare chance to combine dance tutorials from the best was too good to miss.

"These sessions are also special because this is indigenous dance," Linda tells me, "They're quite different from what people might expect of Chinese dance - the dances of what they do are all about the ethnic minority forms from China, very deep-rooted in indigenous dance."

Children discover Chinese dance

Children discover Chinese dance Photo: RNZ / Lynda Chanwai-Earle

"And Wellington has had a sister city relationship for close to 30 years - so this is a partnership with Xiamen Association and The Confucius Institute too."

"We stoked that we've got this group to take it out to schools. What's really blown me away with these workshops is the fact that the dancers can't speak English but they've been able to convey through the international language of dance."

It's a testimony to the value of arts and dance in education.

As the children gather around eagerly for the Q & A after the session with their million queries for the performers, it's easy to see why these dance workshops is a two-way rewarding experience for all. Their teacher is still glowing after jumping in to join the fun too.