Dance Judging

I had a very Chinese experience recently when I went to have my dance reviewed & judged by the senior members of FDANSO, the group in which I’m choreographing a dance to be performed on November 27th. I had missed the first round of judging because I was in Beijing, but my group still performed without me. So this was the first time I was performing the piece with them in front of an audience. I thought I was acting cool but as I was sitting and waiting for my group to go one of my friends said, “Are you ok? You look really nervous. Relax.” So I suppose I wasn’t very convincing.

We were in this big multipurpose room on campus where everyone could sit and watch the pieces. After each dance the judges, mainly one guy, would talk for at least 10 minutes in a tone that I knew was not positive. I was anticipating a few critiques, but I was not exactly ready for the Tiger-Mom-esque criticism. I didn’t put too much pressure on myself, though. I knew that this was a cultural experience and nothing they could say would discount the work me and my dancers had done. That said, it still wasn’t easy.

A really awesome group would perform and then I would hear the guy say, “Last week you were the best dance. This week you are very average. Lower level.” Then a popping/locking duo went and looked like they were straight out of one of those super cool YouTube videos. Everyone in the group was cheering and smiling, but then the judge said, “You must stop looking at the ground. If you look at the ground, the audience will hate you. You will be boring.”

Finally it was time for my piece. I was prepared to put on a good show, make eye contact, live in the moment, all that good stuff. The music started and as soon as I looked up at the head judge’s eyes, he had this look on his face as if someone was holding dog poop in front of his nose. Confused and disgusted, I would say. So I would look at some of the other judges, who’s faces weren’t much better, and then back to him, and he still had that face! I just kept on swimming, finishing the piece with mostly smiles and cheering from the audience. Then my dancers gathered around and prepared for the whipping we were about to get. He talked for about 10 minutes, but here is the abbreviated version:

“It looks very sloppy. Not everyone is doing it correctly. Last week was disastrous, this week you are barely average, but only because he (*points to me*) is here. He dances with great power but the rest of you (*flails his arms and hands in the air in no apparent pattern*). You must practice more. Ugh.” *Throws his arm in the air as if he was swatting a fly, then assumes a face of utter disappointment.*

So, that was great!

I suppose going from “disastrous” to “barely average” is an improvement, right? I talked to my friend Yazhi afterword and she explained to me how it is typical Chinese style to only mention the bad things so that people know what to improve on. She said there is so much pressure to produce a high-quality show because Fudan University ranks the student organizations 1-5 stars, and beyond 5 star there is “Model 5-Star,” which is the title FDANSO currently has. (The only other group on campus to have this, she said, was the Den Xiaoping (Chinese Communist Party reformer) study club for “political reasons.”) This means they get more funding & support from the school. We have something similar at Davidson, but nothing that involves the level of scrutiny and pressure at Fudan.

I learned a lot about Chinese culture and myself from this experience. Back at Davidson I review dances for the show, but my feedback typically only includes, “Good job, keep practicing! I love it!” While here the attitude is totally different. Yazhi said that Chinese people aren’t mean, they just want to produce the best material possible. She said that China has so many people that it is impossible to not judge and rank everyone in the name of efficiency. I learned that more than ever here, but I am still super thankful for the opportunity to show work in Shanghai and to learn how to function so far out of my comfort zone.