A Hands-On Look at Dancing

ByChen Nan October 18, 2021

Choreographer Liu Yan, who has used a wheelchair since an accident while rehearsing for the Beijing Olympics, has released a book based on groundbreaking research on dance gestures made from the wrist up.

Dancer-choreographer Liu Yan was considered one of China's leading classical dancers before her vertebrae was severely injured during a rehearsal for the opening ceremony of the 2008 Beijing Olympics, which left her paralyzed below the waist.

Her peers had nicknamed her "the first pair of legs of classical Chinese dance" in reference to her refined technique.

Decades later, Liu has adjusted to using a wheelchair and is a Beijing Dance Academy professor.

She recently released a new book in Beijing, titled Impression of Hands, about her research on classical Chinese dance's hand gestures, with a focus on the murals of Dunhuang's renowned Mogao Grottoes in Northwest China's Gansu Province.

The book, which features photos of various hand gestures performed by Liu, also serves as her report as a postdoctoral researcher for the University of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

"With this new book, we gave Liu Yan another nickname-'the first pair of hands of classical Chinese dance'," says Beijing Dance Academy president Guo Lei, adding that Liu's investigation has filled in a gap in academic research.

"She never stops continuing to dance and trying to push the art form's boundaries. She is a great example, which inspires her students."

Chinese Dancers Association president Feng Shuangbai says: "We usually research different dance forms, such as ballet, and traditional Chinese and contemporary genres. Deep research on classical Chinese dance's hand gestures is an achievement."

Feng was also Liu's professor when she pursued her doctoral degree at the Chinese National Academy of Arts.

Liu says her research on the topic started in 2010, two years after she bid farewell to the stage as a dancer. She explains that researching classical Chinese dance allows her to "continue to dance in a different way".

In 2014, Liu published her first book, Dance With Hands, focusing on the hand gestures of Peking Opera-a traditional Chinese art form with a history of more than 200 years that UNESCO recognized as an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in 2010. It brings together such art forms as singing, dancing, martial arts and acrobatics. She's also devoted to dance therapy and offers dance training to children with special needs.

"This new book delves deeper into hand gestures, especially my research about the dancers portrayed in Dunhuang's murals and Buddhism's influence on classical Chinese dance, which reflect how hands and fingers were used in Chinese dances created thousands of years ago," Liu says.

She also studied with Zheng Xiaoyun, director and research fellow at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences' Institute of World Religions.

"When I traveled to Dunhuang, I watched many dance shows inspired by Mogao Grottoes' murals," Liu recalls.

"The dancers vividly bring those murals alive onstage by imitating the moves of the characters portrayed in those paintings, including hand gestures."

The native of Hohhot, capital of the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, has studied classical Chinese dance since age 9. She graduated from the Beijing Dance Academy in 2003, and has won national awards and appeared at galas as a solo dancer.

After withdrawing from the limelight, Liu established the Liu Yan Arts Special Fund in 2010 to help students living in poverty, orphans and migrant workers' children through art education.

She launched her dance studio in 2019. This summer, she staged her debut directorial dance drama, Jing Yan, which featured colleagues and students from the Beijing Dance Academy on the creative team.


(Source: China Daily)


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