The Making of ‘Pound the Alarm’ for FUDANSO

Daniel Van Note choreographed a dance for FDANSO, a student dance company that performed in late November. By coincidence, one of the dancers in the group (Li Yazhi) was also in the Visual Anthropology seminar as well, and joined Dan to perform in this dance.

Making of “Pound the Alarm” dance with FUDANSO from Fuji Lozada on Vimeo.

There is more footage of the performance itself, but we haven’t had a chance to edit it. In the meanwhile, enjoy this “making of” video.

NPR In China

what is the world beyond Tonghe, our international student dorm?

I have several necessary characteristics that change my dorm room into a home: lighting incense, wearing my wool socks, making tea, and putting on NPR. Like any addict, I go through phases where I listen to hours and hours of NPR. I have been known to listen to NPR during the entire drive from Virginia Beach, my hometown, to Davidson College–that is a solid six hours. Listening to the audio in China has been one of my strangest NPR experiences of all, though. I can listen to NPR and sometimes find out what is happening outside my own window in Shanghai.

Listening to NPR is relatively pretentious, but that doesn’t stop me from loving it.

I listen to NPR for endless reasons: to be better educated, to hear about the world, to fill the silence, or to soothe my boredom. Although I know that bias and perception influence any news story, I have never been more aware of that fact than while listening to NPR stories on China. I have only noticed a few stories on China, and most are in the context of the U.S. What does China mean for the U.S. presidential election? What does China mean for the U.S. fiscal cliff? Although I am living abroad in Shanghai, these stories do not mean much more to me than they did before traveling. These stories are written for Americans with an American education and cultural bias, and I easily fit that model.

Other new stories, though, have become exponentially more meaningful to me since coming to China. Stories that I used to ignore now represent and mean so much. For example, there was a very brief recent story on Haagen-Dazs winning an infringement lawsuit in China. General Mills, the owner of Haagen-Dazs, sued a clothing company named Harga-Dazs for name infringement. If I lived in the United States, I would not think twice about such a short snippet. But since living in Shanghai for four months, I can see more and more how small snippets like that one relate to the greater themes of globalization, intellectual property, shanzai (a name for Chinese copycat products), and cultural heritage.

As I thought about returning home to the United States, I reflected on how my study abroad experience will translate to my home life. I realized that studying abroad has changed my life in countless ways, even with small moments like listening to NPR. Studying abroad has widened my perspective on an infinite number of topics, and even  the most mundane details, like eating Haagen-Dasz ice cream, will now have a more global meaning for me.


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.

Mass Culture: Gangnam Style

By now everyone has heard of “Gangnam Style,” a pop record released by K-Pop star Psy with over 576,000,000 million views on YouTube. This meteoric rise in popularity and recognition is simply unprecedented in the world of music and, I would argue, is indicative of the new nature of global culture. This example is remarkable given the fact that Psy was virtually unknown in the United States and, solely because of a single 4-minute music video, became a guest on every popular television program on all the major networks.

Walking around Shanghai, the record is inescapable. And in traveling to Taipei, Nanjing, and Suzhou, I can surely say that the song was played at least once during each of my days there. I did not understand the magnitude of Psy’s success until I began reading and viewing material from popular American media outlets like SNL and The Ellen Show, listening to their introductions that usually followed a script like, “Please welcome the most popular global music star today…” The fact that I can hear the same artist in my daily life abroad in China as my brothers are listening to in the car in Maine is astonishing.

The song itself is a point of connection for me and many of the new people I have met while abroad. In the dance group FDANSO, we commonly warm up to Gangnam Style, and one girl is choreographing to the song (aka copying the music video) for the show in November. Everyone “knows” all of the words, or can at least shout the lyrics loud enough to blend in with the crowd. I find it funny when the line “Hey sexy lady” plays and people look at me in amusement of the seemingly random English addition.

The larger point I wish to make is that we now live in an age when practically anyone, or any song, can become a global phenomenon over the course of just a few days. What determines this success is not necessarily related to the talent, reputability, or origin of the material itself. In truth, Psy is not an amazing singer or dancer, and the now iconic choreography for the song is quite elementary in terms of its difficulty and artistry. Nevertheless, Gangnam Style has shown us that the combination of music, uniqueness, and the internet (when mixed accordingly) can have gargantuan effects on global culture.

There and Back Again

It was not until I returned to Taiwan after spending a month and a half in Shanghai that I really discovered just how different the cultures on the two sides of the Taiwan Strait are.

Or, to be more accurate, it was not until I found myself acting in accordance with Shanghai culture (and against Taiwanese culture) that I began to realize the gulf.

In broad daylight, on the fairly busy Linsen North Road in Zhongshan District, Taipei City, I found myself stepping out to cross the road during a lull in traffic, at a point roughly equidistant from the two nearest crosswalks. As I did so, I had 5 revelations in rapid succession:

  • This is really rather stupid;
  • This is quite lazy;
  • This is probably illegal;
  • This is what people do in Shanghai, and;
  • This is not what people do in Taipei.

A month and a half spent in Shanghai, with its unique traffic patterns for both pedestrians and drivers had desensitized me to the sensibilities about traffic I’d learned growing up in the United States (as in, it’s probably quite stupid, not to mention illegal, to jaywalk). When I began to cross a busy street in Taipei I realized that jaywalking is not generally considered acceptable behavior there, as it is not generally considered acceptable behavior in the United States.

I discovered many further differences between Taiwanese culture and Shanghai culture over the next few days. “Night culture” was perhaps the most starkly different. Shanghai, which is often considered a “global” city, quickly shuts down after about 8:00 PM. Bars and nightclubs remain open, and it’s possible to find vendors hawking fried rice or noodles as late as two in the morning, but these are not really pervasive parts of the culture. Outside of the small areas of the city with a high per capita presence of nightclubs, the streets are almost silent at night. A garbage collector might roam the streets, picking up trash, but he’s invariably alone; a late night public bus might cruise its route, but it’s invariably empty; Family Mart or Lianhua Supermarket might be open 24/7, but, invariably, no one walks in during the late-night hours. For the average Shanghainese, night is a time to remain at home.

Taipei stands in stark contrast, with night culture is omnipresent. Night markets, the pride of the Taiwanese tourist industry, remain crowded by locals and tourists alike until 11 PM; college students stumble out of KTVs well after midnight; old folks sit around outside chatting until all hours of the night. Even late at night, the city still feels alive – while New York may be called the City That Never Sleeps, Taipei actually feels like the City That Never Sleeps.

Food culture also differs significantly between Shanghai and Taipei. In Taipei, friends connect over food on a regular basis – food is the basis for a large portion of Taiwanese social interaction (for really great examples of this, see the movies Eat Drink Man Woman and Au Revoir, Taipei, in both of which food is a central plot element). Food is also the primary focus of most Taiwanese domestic tourism. Whenever they go somewhere new, the main thing Taiwanese people do is try the special local treat (the variety and sheer numbers of these local delicacies is truly astounding for an island the size of New Jersey). In Shanghai, however, food does not seem to carry the same cultural significance. Oftentimes it can be nigh impossible to find something to eat during non-peak hours!

My analysis of Taiwanese culture undoubtedly carries a heavy bias, as the year I spent living there was highly formative for me, and I will likely always have an abiding love of the island and its people. We’ll have to wait for my classmates’ reflections on their time in Taipei to get a solid comparison of Taiwanese and Mainland culture. However, I think it really is fair to say that significant differences exist between the two, regardless of relative strengths and weaknesses. While these differences are not an insurmountable barrier, they do have the potential to inhibit unification, and culture is something that leaders on both sides of the Taiwan Strait need to be cognizant of.