Friday, May 21, 2010

Dancer Kerry Lee reflects on her 1st season with the Nai-Ni Chen Dance Company

The 2009-2010 season has been quite an exciting one for me, as I had the opportunity to perform with the company in ten US states and abroad in the British Virgin Islands. I cherish memories from each and every performance, but my experiences in Iowa and the British Virgin Islands were particularly special to me.

Burlington, Iowa, where we did an evening concert in late March, is a small city bordering the Mississippi River. As we drove across the Illinois-Iowa border from the airport, we encountered miles and miles of farmland with few people, houses, or stores in sight. We didn't even see a Wal-Mart, which is where we usually stock up on food when we tour. It was quite a contrast to New York City! On the night we arrived, a local businessman who sponsored our performance graciously escorted us in Burlington's only limo to the only Chinese restaurant in town, where they had specially prepared an authentic ten course meal just for us (normally they serve Americanized Chinese food buffet style). There we learned that the number of Chinese residents in Burlington is literally about ten. We also discovered how much our performance had been anticipated and were quite moved by the great lengths they took to show their appreciation to us. Honestly the royal treatment made us a little nervous for the performance (after all of that, we didn't want to disappoint!), but after we received a standing ovation I knew that we shouldn't have worried. We had the opportunity to talk to several audience members at the post-performance reception, and they were equally impressed by our modern pieces as our traditional Chinese dances.

If Iowa was a big contrast to New York City, the British Virgin Islands were on a whole other level. Arriving in Road Town a couple of weeks ago where the humidity felt like 1000%, we immediately realized that Nai-Ni was not joking when she cautioned us to bring sunblock. Surrounded by the strong beat of Caribbean music and the picture-perfect turquoise water as we traveled by open air taxis and ferries, it finally sunk in that I was in a foreign country about to do my first international performances as a professional dancer. Our first performance in Road Town was an educational program for school children (the second was an evening concert for the public). We have been accustomed to performing for school children in the tri-state area who enthusiastically cheer us on as we dance; even so, the BVI children were by far the warmest group we performed for this season. After the performance they couldn't wait to ask us questions, and the number of questions they had seemed endless. They were so inspired that they asked what they needed to do to join our company. Even after the Q&A officially ended, they followed us onstage to hug us, get our autographs, and get tips on how to become more flexible. You know, whenever I have a bad day and start asking myself why I am willing to endure so much to be a dancer, moments like this make the answer crystal clear. Words cannot begin to describe how rewarding it is to perform for an audience like that!

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