Winter 2021 In Dance


Many of Kerry’s students were adopted from China by white families. Chinese dance serves as one of few (if not the only) connection to their Chinese heritage, as most do not speak the language and are not exposed to Chinese culture at home. One dancer said, “At my school I have seen no more than ten Asians. Because of Chinese dance I can listen and try to compre- hend fluent Chinese, I can see the Asian shops, I can taste the Asian cuisine, and I can smell the Asian spices. All of

Growing up, many of the activities that Kiazi did with his father involved Congolese drumming – drumming for classes and performances for Fua Dia Congo as well as rit- uals at home. Through these rituals, his father passed down family stories, spiritual traditions, political advocacy, and more. Kiazi became the lead drummer of Fua Dia Congo at 16 and began teaching at that age as well. He has taught and performed in the US, Canada, Costa Rica, Europe and Africa. Anne reflects that the Malonga Casquelourd Center for the Arts has become one of the most important build- ings to study African dance and music in the US. Dancing and drumming, which are central to Congolese community gatherings, are like the glue that binds intergenerational communities together. Kerry’s mother Hwee-Eng Y. Lee, an immigrant from Singapore, started teaching Chinese dance just after Kerry was born in Atlanta and founded the Atlanta Chinese Dance Company in 1991. Kerry grew up dancing under her direction and returned home after dancing professionally in New York to co-lead the Atlanta Chinese Dance Company together. When Kerry asked her mother why she wanted to teach Chinese dance in Atlanta, she said she knew there would be a generation gap between them and she did not want them to have a cultural gap too. By instilling a love of Chinese dance and culture in her daughter, it would bring them closer together. There have been many pairs of moth- ers and daughters within the Atlanta Chinese Dance Com- pany – and even mother and son, and grandmother and granddaughter too. The concept of family extends beyond bloodlines, creating a sense of belonging for the dancers who are often surrounded by people who do not look like them in their everyday lives. A four-year-old Chinese adop- tee remarked, “We all have black hair!” on the first day of class, and she would go on to dance with the Atlanta Chi- nese Dance Company until she graduated from high school. Some of her classmates would continue beyond college into adulthood, forging friendships that have lasted a lifetime. The mother of another Chinese adoptee mentioned that her daughter had been having trouble socially at school but found a sense of belonging through Chinese dance – so much so that it was worth the five-hour round trip weekly commute between her home in Greenville, SC and the dance company in Atlanta!

which I don’t interact with on a daily basis.”Another spoke of her embarrassment whenever a Chinese auntie would say something to her in Chinese that she could not understand, and that per- forming Chinese dance was the only time when she felt fully in touch with her Chinese identity. BUILDING INTERGENERATIONAL COMMUNITIES P racticing culturally specific dance is a way of life that has been shared across multiple generations within households and communities. It holds space for people of different generations to engage in cultural traditions together, cultivating a sense of belonging that transcends bloodlines. One example of intergenerational community building is second-generation Congolese American Kiazi Malonga and his late father Malonga Casquelourd, who was a renowned traditional artist from the Congo. Casque- lourd traveled to the US in 1972 and shortly after, began to build his empire in traditional arts in the US and founded Fua Dia Congo. It was in this setting that Kiazi was trained and learned about his Congolese cultural heritage.

Kerry Lee

cultural awareness and pride in the next generation of Chi- nese Americans. Kerry recently reflected that she hopes her young dancers performing the Chinese ribbon dance feel as if they have the power to command a majestic dragon, and that they are not shy but proud to introduce it to their friends. CONNECTING TO OUR CULTURAL ROOTS M any immigrant communities have few oppor- tunities to learn about their cultural heritage in the US. Culturally specific dancers have bridged that gap, providing access to cultural traditions, artistic forms, language, and sto- ries that are otherwise out of reach. Alleluia Panis, the Artistic and Executive Director of Kularts (the nation’s premiere presenter of con- temporary and tribal Pilipino arts), has organized tribal tours for Pilipino Americans to visit indigenous communi- ties in the Philippines. The Philippines has been colonized

for many generations, so what many people think of as Pilipino dance forms actually have a colonized flavor. There are over 100 indigenous tribes in the Philippines, most of which are unknown or have been looked down upon by Pilipinos and Pilipino Americans. After working to decolonize her own mind, Alleluia has worked to help other Pilipino and Pilipino Americans decolonize their minds by creating opportunities to experience indigenous cultures outside of the big cities. In addition to organizing tribal tours, she has also brought indigenous master artists to the United States for cultural exchange and friendship. “De-colonization work begins with de-colonizing my own mind. How do I see my own power? How do I step into my own power and beauty? How do I embrace my leadership? How do I increase the number of leaders, and help them empower more people to embrace their own leadership?” —ALLELUIA PANIS


in dance WINTER 2021 26

WINTER 2021 in dance 27




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In Dance | May 2014 |

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