Teaching Chinese children self-esteem through dance

Updated: 2014-06-05 06:52

By AMY HE in New York (China Daily USA)

  Print Mail Large Medium  Small 分享按钮 0


Liu Haidian, a 7-year-old from Anhui province, lives in a low-income area in the Minhang District, home to many of Shanghai’s manufacturing plants. Her father works long days selling vegetables at an open market in Minhang, and Liu learned early on to help him on bartering with customers and counting change.

When asked what she wants to do when she grows up, Liu says that she would like to be a dance instructor. Cut to Liu dancing vigorously with a group of classmates at the Experimental Primary School with instructors from the National Dance Institute (NDI), participating in the NDI’s pilot dance program with middle schools across the Minhang District.

Those are scenes from a short documentary shown at the Asia Society on Tuesday that followed four children from migrant families and the lives they lead as they learn to dance and interact with music through NDI’s program, which teaches middle-school children how to think about teamwork and self-confidence through dance.

The program, Dancing Into the Future – I Can, Too!, began in 2011 and started at the elementary school, which is affiliated with the Shanghai Jiao Tong University. Music and dance instructors from NDI worked with children primarily from less-advantaged backgrounds.

"We’ve had a relationship with China since 1984 and over the years, it’s been just visiting one time and then maybe another time, but then the Chinese government really realized that this wasn’t a program to teach dance as much as it was a program to teach self-esteem, joy, and movement. I think it was really a decision on their part to ask NDI to use its teaching method to help Chinese teachers reach all the kids, maybe not just the top kids," said Kathy Mele, chair at the NDI.

The program began at one school but has since expanded to 22 schools in Shanghai. The NDI partnered with the China Welfare Institute Children’s Palace and the Minhang School District, and co-organized it with the US-China Cultural Institute.

When the program first began, American dance and music instructors traveled to Shanghai and taught 100 kids, but as the project began to grow bigger, there was no way to keep sending American instructors over, so the NDI began teaching Chinese instructors how to teach the children. In the three years since the program began, more than 3,000 have accessed NDI dance lessons, and there are plans to grow even bigger.

"NDI found that the kids just loved it in China, because it was a totally freeing experience, compared to what they had been used to in the way they were taught," said Shirley Young, chair at the US-China Cultural Institute and founding chairman of the Committee of 100. "Subsequently, the Children’s Palace, having seen something like this, felt that there could be a long-term collaboration here, because the unique thing that they bring is their pedagogy, their special way of teaching, where every child can shine."

The pilot program is set to wrap up at the end of this year, and the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, China’s largest research center, will be evaluating the children and teachers involved to see how participating in the NDI program has affected their learning and the way the children see themselves and their attitudes toward teamwork and self-confidence. The Minhang district, a major NDI partner, plans to expand the program to all schools within the county, according to Young.

The dance institute, based in New York, was founded in 1976 by dancer and choreographer Jacques d’Amboise and offers dance classes to children from low-income families, partnering with 39 public schools throughout New York City.

Under d’Amboise, the NDI first worked with China’s Ministry of Culture in the 1980s, sending American children to learn about China and its art culture along with their Chinese counterparts. Since then, it has done other one-off programs with Chinese children, with Dancing Into the Future – I Can, Too! being the institute’s first long-term program.

"Every company, business, bank, wants to be able to make deals and business and share with China," said d’Amboise. "And they send diplomats and they do all this stuff, but we just take a child by the hand and say, ‘Lift your leg, and put it down, and make sure you do it with energy and life,’ and already you’ve made friends."

Teaching Chinese children self-esteem through dance
Shirley Young, chair of the US-China Cultural Institute, Jacques d'Amboise, former dancer and choreographer and founder of the National Dance Institute (NDI), and Orville Schell, director of the Center on US-China Relations at the Asia Society, discussing the NDI's pilot dance program in China and the role of dance in social learning.  Amy He / China Daily