Chinese dance

This weekend the whole family went to see a dance production by the The Atlanta Chinese Dance Company which we enjoyed very much. The dancers ranged from amateur to professional levels and watching triggered thoughts about what makes the difference in the quality of the dance and the connections between dance and martial arts.

The first half of the production was all amateur and focused on dances based on different ethnic traditions in China. Many of these involved wonderful choreography and were very enjoyable to watch. As with all amateur groups, the skills varied more than one would see in a professional group and I was trying to identify the qualities that made the difference with my very limited understanding of dance. Some of it was the sharpness of form, some dancers were more on the beat, had larger clearer movements and showed more mastery of the form. Some also had more expressive faces and movements even when doing the same dance steps. Teaching Aikido is in part a theatrical activity. A senior student at NY Aikikai made this clear to me when he explained that part of successful teaching is projecting your ego. He’s a professional actor, an experience that I’m sure informed his opinion. I could see that he was correct because the difference between strongly compelling teachers and ordinary was partly their ability to dominate the entire mat with their personality. I began noticing how Yamada Sensei and Sugano Sensei accomplished this. Both did this without much talking but instead with vigorous yet detailed technical demonstrations. I learned from this that the less one talks, the more attention students pay to what you say. There is no way that I can say how successfully I project my ego, as I still feel conflicted about this because of my desire to also show humility because there are many who have much more detailed knowledge. I know intellectually that to be effective I must be confident in what I teach, but as always the knowledge proceeds the ability.

The music was recorded and during one of the dances, there was a chorus yelling as part of the soundtrack. I thought about how much more effective it would have been to have the live dancers yell instead, that is if they could project effectively. Later a professional dancer did a modern dance solo with warrior poses and dramatic movements evoking a strong martial spirit. At a critical moment he let a strong yell, one of the best demonstrations of kiai I’ve experienced. My experience in Aikido has not involved much kiai except for torifune exercise that I like to do as a warm-up at the start of every class as Sugano Sensei did while I was in NY Aikikai. Some teachers, including Kennedy Sensei, use it occasionally as part of technique. Tangman Sensei once told me that Akira Tohei Sensei explained that kiai should only be spontaneous, not a part of form. My brain has a problem with truly spontaneous actions and I don’t think that I have ever used kiai as part of technique. Seeing a dancer use it so effectively has started deeper thoughts on the issue. My sense of humility in the face of the tradition I have been taught makes it unlikely that I would use it much, but I would like to understand better how it could be used.


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