This summer, Wellesley resident Angela Liu (’18, Buckingham Browne and Nichols School) and her team of ballet dancers returned to China to continue her ballet program in rural villages. A huge success in Duancun last summer, Angela decided to expand her program to Naduo, an ethnic minority village in Yunnan Province of China, in cooperation with the Beijing Dance Academy and Hefeng Art Foundation this summer.
Naduo is home to the Yi people, a populace which has a very unique culture with their very own dialect and writing system. It has a culture that is receptive of the arts and nearly all of the Yi people sing and dance well. A very small, remote, mountainous, and underprivileged community, Naduo is located in the southwestern region of the Yunnan Province. Due to the lack of prosperity in the region, most of the children are often characterized to be “left behind” because their parents commonly have to find more lucrative economic opportunities far from home, leaving them behind in the care of grandparents and neighbors.To date, Angela’s program is the first to introduce formal ballet training to students for Yi people. Their arrival was very well received. They were greeted with twenty-five tables filled with excited little girls - not only from Naduo, but also from surrounding villages - and the region’s premium foods. Many of the parents came back from the cities to attend the opening of the event. The newcomers were taught how to make incense using the mountain’s finest materials, observed the art of ethnic Yi embroidery, treated with a cultural performance with traditional dances, and enjoyed a large bonfire as the night waned away.
For the trip to be possible, Angela had to lead a fundraising effort. After raising $4,000 in two weeks last year, she and her dancers raised the same amount by applying for grants, selling baked goods, tutoring, and hosting art auctions. This year, the funds were used to finance 40 sets of dance essentials including shoes, leotards, and tights which were gifted to the students. Over the next week, Angela and her group taught rigorous ballet lessons and provided introductory English lessons to the young children in a run-down spare room. Every day, the students rose early and left late. Their efforts culminated in a final performance on an open musky stage. Angela and her team also sang and performed ballet, violin, and Chinese dance performances. Toward the end of her program, she was also interviewed by CCTV, local TV station and newspaper to regarding her efforts and experience in Naduo.
With the conclusion of the Naduo ballet program, Angela and her team headed north to Duancun, where her program originated. Upon reuniting with old friends, Angela was thrilled to learn that her program had made a difference for her students. Two of her best students are currently excelling at their respective dance schools and one was in a top three ballet school in all of China. However, she also learned that Xuya Wang, the subject of Angela’s painting, Ardent Aspirations, had been accepted by a dance school but would likely withdraw because her family could not afford the tuition; Wang’s mother was recently diagnosed with cancer. Angela promised to raise the capital necessary for Xuya to continue. With new energy, the camp commenced for the second straight year.