Yin He Dance breathes new life into Chinese tradition

Folkloric-based troupe in Bridgeport aims to unify local Chinese American artists, reflect the diversity of dance genres.

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Yin He dancers Wendy Ruan (from left), Lisa Liu and Judy Liu perform a Dai peacock dance during this year’s Chinatown Summer Fair.

Anthony Jackson/for the Sun-Times

When you feast your eyes on Yin He’s dancers, you immediately pick up on the meditative quality they exude.

“The tranquility you experience when you engage with our work is connected to the practice of communal breath,” explains Angela Tam, the troupe’s managing and artistic director. “Not only are we dancing together, but we are using breath resonance, inhaling and exhaling slowly as one.”

This communal breath extends beyond their performance. Not only does it minimize company members’ stress levels, but it’s foundational to the creativity that keeps Yin He Dance’s work fresh and alive.

Born out of a desire to showcase the galaxy of the dance traditions of the Chinese diaspora, Bridgeport-based Yin He Dance is preserving the history of Chicago’s Chinese folk and classical dance while also making space for contemporary Chinese American dance. Founded by three former members of Qiuyue Jin’s Xiao Xing Xing/Little Star — Dollie Diaz, Amy Xie, and Tam — Yin He has been dazzling audiences with the beauty of Chinese culture since 2015. With Tam leading the way, they plan to continue to honor the dynasties of the past while exploring the possibilities of the present.

Although 80 percent of their work is folkloric, they often take advantage of the flexibility in the dances of the Yin province to rearrange the pieces. Tam explains that Eastern Chinese dance is the most prevalent influence on their practice, which, like much of Chinese dance, traces back to the dances of indigenous groups.

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Yin He Dance School’s Angela Tam (left) and Judy Liu perform a Chinese folk dance during this year’s Chinatown Summer Fair.

Anthony Jackson/for the Sun-Times

Building on a tradition that’s almost 4,000 years old, more recent developments in classical Chinese dance date to the 1950s.

“The Chinese government hired artists such as Dai Ailian to travel from Trinidad to observe dance all around the divided country,” Tam said. “There was limited access to radio and cars, and people lived in silos. Eventually, they created classical dance, which united folks from various parts of the country, bridging together the influences of Tai Chi, Chinese opera, ballet and Chinese folk dance.”

In a similar spirit of solidarity, Tam is working to create a similar sense of unification among Chinese American artists who may be floating on their own in Chicago. Through an artist residency, a preprofessional program and artist development, Yin He is focused on creating new traditions that unite and reflect the diverse voices of the Chinese diaspora.

“Outside of traditional Chinese folkloric and classical dance, many Asian dancers are invested in the study of hip-hop dance. We are in the process of raising money to build an infrastructure on 33rd and Halsted that is committed to supporting a collective of Chinese American artists with varied artistic interests and abilities,” she said.

Yin He’s initiative is a reminder that a healthy culture is not static. It should aim to welcome innovations from lived experiences, while seeking wisdom in tradition. At its core, most dance is inextricably connected to the culture from which it emerged, whether that community is tied together by ethnicity, geography or industry — and none of these are stagnant. We can find the greatest opportunities for creativity when we consciously breathe our truth into the archives of tradition.

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