One night, more than 20 years ago, a young Taiwanese girl had a dream.
She dreamt she flew to heaven and saw a group of fairies dressed in light yellow, dancing in the clouds. The dance emanated light and warmth, inspiring the girl to shout in the dream, “I want to dance with them!”
In 2008, her wish came true. The young girl, Hsiao-Hung Lin, left her home in Nantou, Taiwan, for New York to join Shen Yun Performing Arts and become a professional dancer. The classical Chinese dances she performs for Shen Yun remind her of what she saw in her dream that night as a child.
Ten years later, Lin has performed in over 1,000 shows while touring with Shen Yun. From the youngest member of the company to now a veteran principal dancer, Lin has been tested and has matured in life and onstage.
Blind but Now I Can See
During her career, Lin has learned how to dance from her heart, a quality that became increasingly essential as she began to portray more emotionally complex characters.
For example, there was a dance drama called “Goodness in the Face of Evil,” which tells a story about a practitioner of Falun Gong, a meditation practice that has been persecuted in China for the past 20 years. The dance drama illustrates the character’s courage and perseverance. The girl in the dance piece was treated harshly and thrown into prison for practicing Falun Gong. Finally, the corneas from her eyes were removed to be sold for profit.
“When the girl was released from the labor camp, she was already blind,” Lin says. “I was blindfolded and couldn’t see anything onstage. When I fumbled forward and met someone, I was so scared that I tried to escape. But it was actually my mother who came to pick me up.”
At this moment, Lin decided to interpret her character differently than other Shen Yun dancers. While other dancers performed the scene with the blind girl and mother sobbing and embracing each other, Lin chose to run away, grieving alone.
“This is a girl who chooses truthfulness, compassion, and tolerance as her own faith,” Lin says, referring to the three tenets of Falun Gong. “My character would be thinking about others, including her mother. She would think that her blindness may become a burden to her family, and she feels sorry for her mom. Feeling overwhelmed, she’s at a loss, and finally she mourns alone, crying desperately in the darkness.” Every time Lin performed this part onstage, she would shed tears, truly tapping into the girl’s pain.
Later, the girl in the dance drama returned to her home and began to practice Falun Gong again. Then a miracle happened, and she regained her sight.
“Every time when I sat onstage, I prayed in my heart to the divine beings to cure my eyes,” Lin says. “I listened to the music of the accompaniment and felt that the melody came from another dimension. It spoke to me and soothed my soul. I burst into tears again as if a light was illuminated in my heart. The light also lit my eyes and led me out of the darkness gradually, until I came to a bright place.”
Lin says that when she took off the gauze that covered her eyes, she would often see the audience crying.
“Classical Chinese dance is a heart-to-heart dance. It’s a dance from the inside out, first from the heart, then following with physical moves,” Lin says.
“So when dancers perform onstage with sincerity, its expressiveness and appeal will be strong, breaking any barrier between nationality and culture. People all over the world can understand the stories and connotations expressed in the dance.”
Lin’s sympathy for the people being persecuted and her understanding of the character’s inner goodness and piety would guide her movements and dance. From that sincere emotional connection, Lin could authentically express a wide emotional range, portraying her character’s hope and despair.
Lin says, “In our training, teachers will say, ‘When hands and eyesight are in the right positions, the heart should be so as well. Then that will really become a complete and beautiful dance move.’”
New Chapter, New Challenge
In the past ten years, Lin has won two gold medals at the New Tang Dynasty Television’s International Classical Chinese Dance Competition. She was also the face of the 2016 and 2017 Shen Yun tour posters.
During Shen Yun’s busy touring schedule, where they’d often perform two shows a day for three days in a row, Lin learned a deep sense of perseverance and endurance. Last year, that same inner fortitude would be tested again in a new setting and challenge. Lin was admitted to Fei Tian College Graduate School to pursue a Master of Fine Arts in Classical Chinese Dance, which she’ll work on during the off-season.
Being a graduate student in dance is challenging because dance is an abstract art and difficult to translate to the written word. Also, there aren’t many historical documents on classical Chinese dance available for reference. Despite these challenges, which she says require as much dedication as her dancing, Lin believes that documenting the artform of classical Chinese dance is her mission.
“The mission of Shen Yun is to restore five thousand years of divinely inspired Chinese culture,” she says. “We have to leave something for the future—not only performances but also specific texts and studies for the benefit of later generations.”
In the New Year, Shen Yun’s dancers will once again be on tour. Lin hopes she and other members will give touching performances to audiences around the world.
“The requirements for us are higher every year. Every dance move has to be more stretched, rounded, and perfect,” she says. “I hope that I can merge into each dance, be able to master the dance moves and techniques, understand the music, and keep thinking and interpreting the dance more deeply.”