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Club offers free traditional Chinese folk dance classes to students

December 6, 2018
Members of MSU's Mulan Dance club practice routines. The club offers free traditional Chinese folk dancing classes to international and domestic students. Photo courtesy of Mulan Dance.
Members of MSU's Mulan Dance club practice routines. The club offers free traditional Chinese folk dancing classes to international and domestic students. Photo courtesy of Mulan Dance. —
Photo by C.J. Moore | The State News

When thinking of Chinese representation in film, “Mulan” comes to mind.

That’s what members of an MSU Chinese folk dancing club said they think of when they meet each week. The group, MSU Mulan Dance, is an emerging club that offers free dance classes at 6 p.m. on Tuesdays in Holden Hall.

Founded in September 2018, the club is open to everyone.

China has 56 ethnic groups. Han Chinese are the largest population, while the other 55 groups are minorities. Mulan Dance incorporates styles from each group into a form of folk dancing. Classes are offered to both international and domestic students.

Communications sophomore Shuang Li is the founder, president and an instructor of the club. She previously attended Minzu University of China, where she said she experienced diverse forms of dancing classes.

After coming to the U.S., Li participated in MSU’s Orchesis Dance Club. It inspired her to later establish Mulan Dance. 

“There were a lot of chances for me to do solo dance, and every time I did the folk dance, all of the students in there, they loved that. They’ve never seen this kind of dance before, and they think it’s very beautiful, gorgeous,” Li said. “It is a dance form that’s very creative here, so I think if I can set up a club to do it, it will be a part of (the multicultural community at) MSU.”

Another purpose for the club is simply for fun, Li said. She enjoys dancing, but talked about people who might find the traditional form of dance to be difficult. 

“I want more people to know that they can dance; they can dance well or they can dance just for fun,” Li said. “Dance is not for others to appreciate you.”

Chemical engineering senior Caroline Cheng is Li’s friend. She initially had no experience in folk dancing, but desired to learn more about it. Cheng has been participating at the club since the first class was held. 

“I like the atmosphere here,” Cheng said. “Our teacher is really nice. She has a patience for us, even though I am a student who is learning things really slow and really behind the game.”

Sophie Shi, an East Lansing resident and MSU alumna, has been attending the class from the first week. Shi took basic ballet, but said she was interested in other forms of dance, too. 

“Every class she teaches different minority dance and some basics,” Shi said. “She also sent some videos that we can practice at home.”

“It’s fun,” she said. “You can learn something new. I have already graduated and want to get back to campus to (get) involved in something.”

The classes have an average of 10 students in attendance, which sometimes includes one or two domestic students. Li’s goal is to involve more non-Chinese speakers in the class.

But that’s difficult, Li said.

“They may think it’s very creative, maybe they have no reason to do it,” she said. “We need to do more efforts to let them in.”

Besides sending videos to students after class, Li shows students Chinese folk dance videos in class as well. That gives her the opportunity to share Chinese traditional cultures to the non-Chinese students in the class. 

“I think that’s a really good way to add new elements to promote the Chinese culture in MSU, because that’s interaction between the Western culture and Eastern culture,” Cheng said. 

Cheng said she’s proud of Li’s effort to create a dance club that focuses specifically on explaining Chinese culture and traditions.

“I really have a pride that we are already promoting the Chinese culture in the Western country,” she said. “It’s not only the core of time that we promote our traditional culture, it’s also exploring ourselves, like having the confidence to face ourselves to the foreigners.”

Overall, Cheng said the boost of confidence gained through dancing is most beneficial.

“That’s a good way to develop the confidence for individuals,” she said. 

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