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Dancing Through Shi Bao Shan

“Yi, er, san, si, wu, liu, qi, ba!”

The counts ran through my mind repeatedly as I recalled the basic moves Yuan lao shi had taught us earlier that evening. My hands were clutching strangers’ hands as we danced together to Bai folk songs at the Shi Bao Shan Temple.  Everyone was gathered in a circle directed by Yuan lao shi, who was in the center of it all.  As I was dancing with the locals, I felt a strong sense of community–we connected with one another through our movements and allowed the circle to expand as more people arrived.

Yuan lao shi is the leader and organizer of a traditional Bai dance group. He plays an important role in the transmission of the Bai culture to younger generations.  No written records of the culture exist, and it is only passed down orally or through immersion. Hence, the Bai Song festival is an important time for younger people to learn more about their own culture.

In the midst of all the action, I suddenly felt a tug on my arm; Yuan lao shi had dragged me into the center of the circle with him. He attempted to instruct me on what to do in Mandarin, but all I could give him was a look of confusion.  I felt an instant wave of panic as I was surrounded by people and didn’t know what to do.  Then, Yuan lao shi positioned himself into a pose and I hesitantly tried to imitate what he was doing.  He shook his head immediately and repositioned me to reflect what he was doing.  As soon as I was in place, he went back to his original pose across me and started dancing slowly.  It was then I realized that he wanted me to mirror his actions. Once we had a mutual understanding, we were both able to connect with each other and dance together in the center of the circle.

From this experience, I learned that I could communicate with the locals through other means.  I was able to use dance as a universal language, and this enabled me to connect with the Bai culture and community.