My Dance Audition

I had an amazing time getting to know some Chinese dancers/students when I auditioned for Fudan’s on-campus hip-hop/street dance group. Here’s the story of my experience!

So I had heard about the hip-hop/street dance group on campus called FUDANSO from a friend I met in my Chinese Marketplace class. She said they had a free introductory class that Wednesday, so we both went over to the studio on campus around 8pm. There were about fifty Chinese students there from Fudan, mostly dressed in jeans and still wearing their backpacks. The instructors were from a studio called Caster Dance in Shanghai, and they showed off their moves for us before teaching us all some very basic introductory steps.

After the teaching session, there was a long speech given by the organizer of the group. It was all in Chinese, so I had to talk to my new Chinese friend “Jennifer” to find out what she was saying. She said that there would be an audition tomorrow night for anyone who wants to perform with the group in their November show. You needed to prepare a minute long piece of choreography to perform. I instantly knew I was going to go.

When I got there the next night I was about 30 minutes early. I heard music coming from the studio and was worried I had missed the beginning of the audition, but some fellow auditioners told me that that was the FUDANSO dancers who were already in the group. There was about 40 of them, and it turns out they were all going to stay to watch the audition!

Once it was our turn to start, we first learned a piece of choreography from  the breakdancing instructor as a group. It took me a bit to get it, but it turned out to be really fun. I assumed we would perform it in smaller groups for them to see, but we just went straight to individual auditons. All the FUDANSO members sat against the mirror and the rest of us stood on the other end of the room. One by one they called us up to perform. I was nervous, but less so because I met guy from Virginia who told me, “Don’t worry, they love foreigners. You’ll get in.”

I was the third one up, and gave them my iPod to play “Starships.” The dancers immediately started clapping and I knew it was going to be a good time. I just danced a combination I half learned half made-up beforehand, and they screamed and clapped at the good parts. It was so fun to hear them applaud at the end; I think they liked me a lot. Afterwards they made me stand there and introduce myself, which I did in Chinese. I wasn’t able to say too much, but they were thoroughly impressed with the four complete sentences I was able to pant out. When I sat back with the other people auditioning they told me how great I was and it was just a really awesome feeling.

The other auditions were really fun to watch as well. There was another guy who did a really cool robot-esque routine, and then there was a string of girls who just danced to Britney Spears in a way that was intending to be sexy but ended up more like an awkward high school talent show. They were always on beat, though! To the point where the musicality was almost lost in some ways because of how on count the movements were. In any case, I always love watching people do their thing!

They told us they would text us about who got in that night, and when I got back to the dorm I got the good news! The robot guy got in as well. They said we rehearse every Wednesday night, and I assume I’ll have more rehearsals once we figure out who is dancing in what pieces for the November show.

So that’s my dance audition story! I’m so excited and happy I tried out. I’ll definitely have a lot more stories and a lot more Chinese friends once I’m done!

Religion and Modernity

I was prompted to write this post when I saw a Buddhist monk dressed in traditional garb walking down the street, as I happened to glace out the window. His bright orange robe seemed like a splash of light on an otherwise banal city sidewalk. I was fascinated by the juxtaposition of this monk, who looked like he belonged in a beautiful temple high in the Chinese mountains, and the run-down, dirty city street in which we both found ourselves. As Wassterstrom says, China is a country of contradictions.

Photo Credit: Michael Shepard, http://mynikonlife.com.au/photos/1638.

This week’s reading has also led me to think about the concept of religion in a modern China. While the opening up of China to the West has allowed for an increase in economic and cultural exchange, this process has done the same for religious ideas. Just as Chinese people have gone from living in groups with their family lineages to high-rises, or from eating dumplings to eating KFC, or from riding bikes to riding the subway, religious practices are shifting. This is not to say, however, that there is any kind of absolute change. To the contrary, a mergence of the old and the new is constantly seen in everyday life (hence the Buddhist monk walking down the street).

The other concept I’ve thought about is that of capitalism and how it is tied to religion. Lizhu Fan in “Spirituality in a Modern Chinese Metropolis” mentioned, “economic opportunity seems to have quickened the impulse of spiritual renewal (Location 595).” The questions I would pose are: Does economic opportunity quicken our spiritual impulse, or does it create it? Does the complexity and stress that comes with modernization cause the desire for us to be spiritually connected or just awaken it? What I am basically suggesting from an economic standpoint is that a new market is being created in the arena of religion. Just as foreign products and luxuries are becoming available to Chinese people, the abundance of ideas and beliefs are now becoming products that individuals can consume. Perhaps the growing obsession with one’s possible material possessions (created in great part by capitalism) is causing people to look inside themselves in order to find what it is that really gives them peace. I don’t mean to cheapen the value in investigating one’s spiritual self, but it is interesting to see the kinds of deep issues and considerations that become pressing when one’s world becomes more complex, or “modern.”

Facelessness

In class we have read and talked about the Chinese tradition of fostering connections through guanxi networks and “keeping face.” But what Ellen Hertz discusses in her article, “Face in the Crowd: The Cultural Construction of Anonymity in Urban China,” is the newfound relationships that emerge by virtue of the new spaces and forums for public interaction found in China’s growing cities. I found this particularly relevant in relation to my own experience in Shanghai given the numerous types of interactions and spaces in which I find myself every day. Examples include dining out, living in a large residence building, and the bar scene at night.

The section of “Face in the Crowd” that was most instrumental in my thinking of these examples stated:

“Anonymity may provoke hostility, provide a context for intimacy, create an arena for public performance, reproduce relations of official elite domination, or place the individual under the collectivity’s spell – but it is never neutral. (Kindle Locations 3761-3762).”

I have found that whenever I go out to a restaurant or street vendor near the Fudan campus, the same person is almost always working there. I can now recognize the baozi lady, the soup dumpling lady, the convenience store lady, and the Japanese food lady. I have felt like I’ve gained a sense of home in a way just by seeing their familiar faces so often. Yet the fact is that I’ve never said anything of substance to them; we’ve only exchanged the usual daily courtesies. This made me think about the kind of relationship created by an urban space, one that suggests intimacy but functions under the pretence of formality. Basically, though we may smile and have moments of genuine kindness, there is still a seemingly impenetrable wall created not by language or culture, but by the roles (server and customer, in this case) that we each assume when entering the public arena. Working off the Hertz quote, the feeling of anonymity I’ve experienced dining out has both provided a context for intimacy and reinforced the existence of official relations.

Living in a large residence building, a now extremely common reality for urban Chinese people, has also given me a perspective on facelessness. In my town in Maine my family essentially knows everyone who lives on our street, which runs about a half mile long. But since living in the dorm, I still can’t tell you anything about who lives in the suite right across the hall. And I can probably count on one hand the number of times I’ve interacted with one of my suitemates, Michael, for more than two minutes (the other one is a talker, so facelessness isn’t really an issue for us). I assume that this is not an uncommon phenomenon for many Chinese people. Living in a building, though you are much closer to and have more opportunities for interaction with others, seems to create an environment where one can maintain his anonymity even more so than in more spacious or rural settings.

Lastly, the bar scene in Shanghai provides an all-encompassing example of the consequences of facelessness. Though I have not experienced all of Hertz’s examples, I have observed that the environment created by a nightclub can provide a context for conflict, intimacy, public performance, reinforcement of official roles, and collectivity. People are fighting, dancing, ordering drinks, and laughing together. Though bars and nightclubs are seen primarily as a mark of Western influence, their growing popularity in places like Shanghai suggest a desire of the new urban Chinese to experience and explore the many benefits of anonymity in their lives.

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