Dancers Connect With Heritage At Atlanta Chinese Dance Company

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This weekend, the Atlanta Chinese Dance Company is performing its annual show at the Infinite Energy Theater. The show “China in Transition: Animal Folklore to City Life” will feature about 20 numbers in different styles of Chinese dance.

The company is one of the few Chinese dance companies to receive funding from the National Endowment for the Arts. It also was part of Atlanta’s 1996 Olympics celebrations.

“I realized it’s important for Chinese-Americans in this community to be proud of their heritage,” the Atlanta Chinese Dance Company’s Artistic Director Hwee-Eng Lee said. She started teaching dance in Atlanta after she moved here in the 1980s. She officially founded the Atlanta Chinese Dance Company in 1991.

And getting in touch with one’s cultural heritage is why a lot of the students participate in the company. About a quarter of the students were adopted from China, and almost half of the students immigrated to the U.S. at an early age or are first-generation Chinese-Americans.

“As an adoptee, my mom always told me it’s a great way to know where I came from,” said dancer Emily Reittinger. She is in one of the classes that is comprised of mostly high school and college-aged students. “As way to connect to my roots, my mom sent me to Chinese speaking school and dance, and I found that the school was really hard … that I just decided to go with dance.”

Beyond the difficultly of Chinese language, the dancers in the class said that they, too, have been able to learn more about their culture through dance.

Cultural heritage, though, involves much more than just learning one style of dance. China has 55 minority groups, a lot of whom have distinctive dances, and Lee and her daughter make sure they program a variety of minority dances. And the students say that it’s cultural sensitivity, not endurance, that is the most challenging part of their classes.

“We’re not only having to dance, we’re having to become that people group and represent them well,” said Andrew Ellis. He is one of the few non-Chinese students in the class but said that being able to share and perform Chinese dance is a privilege.

The Atlanta Chinese Dance Company is also a nonprofit, acting as a cultural outreach program. The Lees and their company travel to schools, universities and community centers across the Southeast to perform and lecture on Chinese dance.

“We like to introduce Chinese culture to more people. The more the better,” said Lee.

The Atlanta Chinese Dance Company performs “China in Transition: Animal Folklore to City Life” this Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. Both shows are at the Infinite Energy Theater in Duluth.

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