China is a remarkably diverse and multicultural country with official 56 ethnic groups residing in the country, each of which has distinctive costumes, languages, customs, music and arts as well as dance. Over 90% of population in China is Han ethnic and the rest 10% is 55 ethnic minority groups including Mongolian, Uyghur, Tibetan, Korean, Yi, Zhuang, Miao, Bai, Dai and etc. Ethnic minorities are renowned for their affinity and flair for dance and music, which is an eminent part of their daily life.
Chinese Folk Dance Training
1. Yi Ethnic Dance
As suggested by colorful dance movements, the Yi seize occasion to “dance out” their feelings in everyday life. Choreographed performance pieces depicting their style are often set in the lush hills of Yunnan, and are known for vibrant rhythms and energy. Combinations of threes and sixes characterize Yi ethnic dance. Some basic movements include “Three Steps and a Pause,” “Three Flips Three Spins,” “Six Stepping Flips to Form a Flower,” and “Half Tumble Half Turn.”
The signature movement of this routine is swinging two arms in opposite directions up and down forcefully with the front arm either in the chest level or above the head; when the front arm comes down, knees bend and the upper body leans back; when the arms swap the position, knees and the body straighten. The arm movements lead to the natural motions of the body and head.
Shoulders & Steps
In this style, a lot of movements are initiated by the shoulders and totally relaxed arms are subsequently swayed freely and broadly.
Dancer sway arms side to side leading to the body turn either half a circle or a full circle; dancers also do stamping, sliding, clapping and jumping in this style.
Dancers sway arms up and down and throw the upper arm backwards to its maximum extent while lifting a knee to its highest point or walking while they are squadding low. The signature movement for this style is the upper part of arms move up and down rapidly with the head swaying up and down and also one foot is lifted sharply in front of the other thigh as if kicking a shuttlecock.
This is the most symbolic style for Miao ethnic dance. It is very upbeat, energetic and bold to powerful drum beats. Dancers lift their foot as described in Bridge Stamping style while swaying their head as well as the upper part of the arm on the same side as the lifted foot backwards rapidly and then recover slowly. The typical movement of this style is hopping sideways while swaying arms (one forward and one backward) followed by lifting one foot high and rapidly and simultaneously looking down to the same side as the moving foot and subsequently spinning around on one foot either half circle or a full one; this movement can be done in various combinations.
Zhuang is the largest ethnic minority group in China mostly inhabiting Guangxi Zhuang Ethnic Autonomous Region，located in Southwest of China famous for its stunning sceneries in Gui Lin and Yang Shuo.
Zhuang people are renowned for their singing talent. Their dance styles are closely related to their daily activities, ritual and religion. Compare to the previous two dance styles, Zhuang dance is more varied in terms of styles, dynamics and movement quality, and also generally less vigorous and more delicate. Zhuang ethnic dance is influenced by other dance styles or ethnic groups like Mongolian dance, Dai dance and classical dance.
During this course, we learnt 6 styles and routines of Zhuang dance: Twist & Sway 拧晃，Sway & Bounce 晃颤，Hips Twirling 环胯， Steps of Zhuang Opera 壮戏台步，Zhuang Tea Picking 壮采茶，Shoulder Poles 扁担。
Twist & Sway
The movements are fairly controlled and grounded, that requires dancers to use their breathing (inhaling and exhaling) at the point of changing a position or a movement to generate the fluidity of the movements. It has influences from other ethnic dances including Mongolian and Dai dance.
Sway & Bounce
This style is closely linked to their ritual and belief about witchcraft. Dancers' basic stance is the back slightly hunched, arms forming a circle shape with fingers naturally spreading out and eyes fiercely looking forward to fashion an image of a wizard. Dancers sway their body forward and back and change directions sharply following a small and swift jump.
The basic stance for this style is the same as Sway and Bounce. Eponymously the dance is characterised with twirling hips around and also pushing pelvis forward and backward sharply to signify birth and express local people's hope and praying for reproduction and offspring.
Steps of Zhuang Opera
This is a more feminine and exquisite dance from Zhuang ethnic dance with some movements from classical dance and opera. The step or walk in this dance is slow and flowing with an accent at the beginning.
Zhuang Tea Picking
There are many types of tea picking dance in China from different regions of the country. Zhuang Tea Picking dance is cheerful and breezy depicting a joyful scene while Zhuang girls are picking tea with arm swaying, finger flicking, hops and jumps in the dance.