So much more than the awkward wedding reception or robotic ballroom dances you recall from high school, a huge variety of types and styles in studios around Dongguan will improve your mind and body while teaching you how to have a little fun.
I am the worst of you. Sitting in front of a flickering screen, the endless clicks of the keyboard signal the of tiny progresses I make on each day’s set of tasks. How far we are from our spear-throwing, raw meat eating ancestors, I think as my back aches from sitting all day.
With each new day, I silently pledge that tomorrow will be the day when I wake up a little earlier and do a set of stretches or try that new gym adjacent to my apartment, but then it never comes to pass. If you’re anything like me, the idea of pedaling on a stationary bicycle, staring blankly at a plain white wall or watching some tepid reality show on a screen overhead, bores you entirely.
Although many people simply deal with these terms and others may even claim that they enjoy the gym, for those of us who refuse to accept just another chore, we’re left to feel the effects of our increasingly unhealthy bodies and building guilt from the worsening of our physical condition. There must be an alternative: how can we get healthy while meeting people and having fun?
“When I was younger and dancing, it was just a normal thing. It wasn’t extraordinary or different or cool.”
As a group of us searched for a club one recent Friday night, the answer immediately occurred to me: what about dancing? With so many styles and intensities, there surely is something for everyone— beginner or pro.
Then, with a tiny bit of selfish intent, I began researching all that Dongguan’s dance scene has to offer and found a lot. From Salsa to Bachata, Hiphop to Pole Dancing and finally rounding out with Ballet, I spoke with a few of DG’s most promising studios and learned what it took to get here and how and why they work so hard to continue to pursue the art of movement. These are their stories.
How far they’ve come
“When I was younger and dancing, it was just a normal thing. It wasn’t extraordinary or different or cool,” said Jason Khimera—who goes by Komit—of Muzika Studio, who owes his longstanding dancing bug to the culture of his family. The same went for Rena Farzaliyeva of Around the World Dance Studio who had begun diving deeply into a number of formats of dance well before adulthood thanks to influence of her mother, a professional ballerina. Her partner, Sandrine Barblan, strategically used her long term dancing to transition into cheerleading for the Geneva Seahawks, an American football team in Switzerland. After meeting her future husband, Sandrine went on to practice Latin and Swing styles before heavily focusing on belly dancing.
The stories on how they got here from wherever they came sometimes are the most important method to understand the core of a person, but it’s not always the case. For some individuals, varying upbringings and family backgrounds can do a lot to influence the kinds of things we grow up to enjoy, but for others, it’s just the opposite. Xin Ze of Luolan Dance Studio began learning how to pole dance in spite of an obvious opposition to her parents’ desires. No, explaining again and again, she wasn’t training for a promising career as a stripper, she was merely fascinated by the style. So, she ignored the criticism and pressed on.
“I started dance when I was six years old. I was humpback so my mom asked the teacher to correct me every day. Then accidentally I learned it.” Because of her courage and individuals like her, pole dancing is beginning to find greater overall acceptance—something unavailable to new dancers not so long ago.
Dance is also a great way fight against or even cure a whole host of physical ailments. Lilian Lee of Etude Ballet Studio was cursed with a crooked back as a child, so her mother eventually took action and enrolled her into Chinese classic dance classes. Eventually her hard work paid off when a pleasantly unexpected offer from a beloved teacher opened the door to ballet, which soon enabled her to dance and travel the world.
No, explaining again and again, she wasn’t training for a promising career as a stripper, she was merely fascinated by the style.
Still, not everyone wants to leave home for stranger lands; sometimes it’s enough to just have a good place to go when you need to groove. Ben J (Chen Bianjie), owner of TNT Studio, loved the music and dance of Michael Jackson, but had nowhere to play. Pulling together a few of his university friends, they created the TNT Crew. His passion inspired others and it’s still running today, offering a space to create for people like him.
To dance socially and formally…
Creating a business is never easy, no matter how many connections or resources are available. From the outside looking in, it might seem strange, even crazy, to do something monumental like open a personal studio so far away from all the lifelines and friends at home.
“It wasn’t difficult for me [to open a studio]. When I started to teach, Sandrine just asked me to become her partner and I accepted with pleasure. It was immediately a match,” said Rena. Sandrine offered a similar anecdote: “When you have passion for something, it is not difficult!” They aren’t alone either, but for a host of different reasons.
When Jason moved to Donggguan, his passion to dance wasn’t simply forgotten in the mix of a heavy work and cultural adjustment. In fact, the desire to get back to his roots probably intensified, as he regularly considered his next steps.
“If I were to open a business in Dongguan, what would it possibly be?” The obvious answer? To create a dance school that’d be more than a school. The idea was to create a space where people could come learn and then hang around, meet other people and practice their technique. Of course, he’s also banking that the vibrant music will pull random people off the street to see an army of highly skilled partygoers assembled. If curiosity strikes, they can venture upstairs for classes and learn more.
Though teaching and practicing a dance is often the primary reason for starting a studio, it can also be an intimate place to foster a tightly knit community that’s brimming with respect and encouragement. Because of this, many students quickly begin to treat their chosen studio as a second home. When it gets to be too much, Ben J is sometimes finally forced to ask the students to quit.
“Sometimes Chinese parents want their children to put all their thoughts and attention into the Gaokao, for example, and they occasionally ask me to convince their children not to come dance at my studio because they won’t listen to them anymore. So, I tell them to do the right thing and take some time from dancing to prepare for their exams; when it’s all over they can always come back. This happens every year,” he said.
Helping to generate positive values like teamwork and confidence is an often understated lifelong pursuit, especially in a world that constantly bombards its citizens with firm notions on how to think, look and act. After experiencing her own struggles in trying to legitimize pole dancing as a valuable sport before her friends and family, Xin Ze knew she had an essential duty to open a school educating and expanding the minds of others. Besides the significant strength training value, pole dancing—and very similarly to Sandrine’s belly dancing—can help women feel more confident about their bodies and individuality.
“For introverts, pole dance will change their personality. Because we need to help each other when we have class together. For example, I help you press legs and you help me hold my waist. So, the introverts will need to communicate and play with other members, which will make them cheerful and confident.”
Testing the teacher
“Kids can sometimes be hard to train bc they aren’t as focused,” said Lilian. Anyone who has spent enough time around children will readily admit the challenges that come standard. You think getting the kids to eat their green beans is tough? Try getting them to quietly practice a grand plié. Lilian wasn’t the only teacher that felt that way, but after speaking with all teachers an interesting divide gradually formed.
For Chinese students, school is a place where children must pay strict attention to the book and teacher, rarely receiving opportunities to question what they learn. As a result, young Chinese students were often described as extremely serious and focused, but not often ready to experiment.
“As a foreign student, myself, I don’t want to use a book. I want to do what comes natural and I think many foreign students also think this way,” said Jason. Of course, this probably comes at the price of simplicity, but it’s a trait that can benefit a learning dancer’s fearlessness when they later become a more mature student. “Depending of the cultural background, it may be sometimes a bit difficult if the person is not as confident about themselves [because] movements with the chest, belly and hips would be in the beginning a bit disturbing and people may feel ashamed,” said Sandrine about her belly dancing. In a sense, it could be interpreted that while raucous foreign students are harder to control at a young age, their freedom of expression that continues into adulthood might give classes more of a natural flow.
“Sometimes Chinese parents want their children to put all their thoughts and attention into the GAOKAO, for example, and they occasionally ask me to convince their children not to come dance at my studio because they won’t listen to them anymore.”
Ben J, also agreed, but offered a similar rationale to Lilian:
“Older foreigners are much more free and open to try new things. However, my younger foreigner students need a lot more help and attention from the teachers. Otherwise, they will quickly lose patience and stop participating.”
Still, other teachers like Rena altogether disagree, saying that there’s little difference teaching Chinese or foreign students and even goes so far as to cite her children’s hip hop class as her favorite.
For most of these cases, a lot depends on the environment and style of dance, as well as the teacher themselves. That being said, even the greatest teacher in the world couldn’t teach a dog to dance. Learning any skill is as much a give as it is a take.
From there to here and beyond
Whether they came to Dongguan to follow the jobs of their husbands or set off to chase a wild dream of exploring a world far beyond their home, all these instructors readily envision a far reaching future that sees them continuing to inspire more and more students to explore the rhythm of their bodies as they learn to dance.
“[It would be great] to add more time in my week to teach more classes,” said Sandrine. The others echoed similar sentiments. These are people who love to dance as much as teach.
Pause a moment and consider that there’s a good chance someone just like you has imagined taking a class or two, tried it and didn’t like it. But before you throw in the towel, just remember, nothing good ever came easy and with so many passionate teachers and styles to choose from, give it another shot. You owe it to yourself to find a method that fits you best. Realize your time and efforts will be well spent and your body—and your mind—will undoubtedly thank you for years to come.
Muzika Dance Studio
Address: Shop 68, Dongcheng Walking Street, Dongcheng
TNT Dance Studio
Address: 11/F, Junde Tower, No. 1, Hongwei Rd, Xiping, Nancheng
Luolan Dance Club
Address: 2/F, Shop B10, Dongcheng Walking Street, Dongcheng
Address: 3/F, Building 6, 769 Creative Park, Xiangyuan Rd, Nancheng
Around the World Dance Studio
Address: 1/F, Block 18, IEO, Area 1, Dynatown CBD, Dongcheng