Chinese dance organization keeps culture alive, fosters friendship

Mae Hamilton

Trained in ballet and classical Chinese dance since the age of four, Christy Zhang has a gift for movement. Now the co-founder and sole choreographer of Austin Chinese Dance Company, she teaches others how to twist their bodies into the classic, graceful motions of Chinese dance. 

All of the founders and most of the members of ACDC, UT’s only organization dedicated to all forms of Chinese dance, were friends before the club was formed, dancing together at schools in Plano and Houston. When the friends arrived at UT, they were surprised to find that despite the large Chinese student population, there were no clubs dedicated to Chinese dance. 

For Zhang, a mechanical engineering junior, her enthusiasm for dance comes from a place of deep pride in her cultural identity.

“It’s a good connection to our culture,” Zhang said. “Most of us are Chinese-American or we’ve lived in America for a very long period of time, so our identity isn’t only Chinese. We are Chinese-American and we can use dance to express that.”

While there are hundreds of varieties of Chinese dance, there are two main schools: traditional and folk. While traditional dances like fan and sleeve dancing were used to entertain nobles of the imperial court, folk dances were used by the common people as a way to celebrate their ethnic or regional identity. ACDC draws inspiration from traditional, folk and contemporary dance to create their own signature style.

“There’s such a rich culture and history associated with Chinese dance,” Zhang said. “There are so many stylistic elements that are so specific to each minority of Chinese dance. It’s a lot more detailed than it seems at first. It looks very pretty and very simple, but when you try to do it, you realize that there’s a certain hand placement or your body has to be twisted a certain way. There’s a lot that goes into it.”

Many of the girls in ACDC come from different dance backgrounds that aren’t necessarily ballet or Chinese dance. Biology sophomore Caroline Gao, who joined ACDC last year, said she appreciates the perspectives members bring to the table.

“The more styles you learn, the better dancer you become,” Gao said. “We’ve all improved in
that aspect.”

Grace Zhang, art history junior and ACDC co-founder, said because the organization is currently composed only of women, she finds a solid sense of sisterhood among
its members.

“It’s about finding people who are as passionate about dance as you are,” Grace Zhang said. “Finding these girls and being able to play off of each other and perform together is just really nice.”

Like Christy Zhang, Gao has been dancing since a young age but said that joining the organization helped her better understand the significance behind Chinese dance. She said she enjoys being able to show her appreciation for Chinese culture in a dynamic way.

“Dancing to my culture is something I enjoy,” Gao said. “Being able to perform, do what I love and showcase my culture is just really great. Dance has been a part of our lives for the majority of our lives. I don’t feel like it’s something that we ever want to lose.”