After working in the sea turtle hospital for two days, our project week group moved on to Ling Shui, a province in Hainan that is especially know for its abundance of tourist resources. We visited a local school to work with the school children, perform dances and songs for them and – which was definitely the highlight of our visit! – learn the traditional Chinese bamboo pole dance from them. The Chinese bamboo pole dance was originally performed by only men, but can now also be danced by women, or both genders together. There are eight to ten bamboo poles that are moved either horizontally to the left and right on the floor, clapping together and thereby determining the pace of the dance; or moved horizontally up an down, letting the dancer not only dance over but also underneath them. For a start, the mixed dance group of the school performed this beautiful traditional dance for us. The girls wear a special costume for the dance; a short and colorful skirt, a top shaped similar to a bralet with short sleeves and a silver, big necklace with small bells attached to it. The boys wore pants and a vest that matched the girls’ outfit.
After their performance, the girl and boys ran to a classroom to change and hand over their costumes to us. Most of us were at first very skeptical, seeing that nearly all students were significantly smaller and skinnier than us. We were seriously worrying about breaking the costumes if we breathed in too much! But like a miracle, the clothes still somewhat fit. Immediately, the students wanted to take pictures with us, and took us by the hand to show us the steps for the bamboo pole dance. I was taken care of by the leading girl of the dance group; an incredibly talented and graceful dancer who even knew a few steps of Latinamerican dance. She was also a brilliant teacher:
The basic steps for the bamboo pole dance were rather simple. While we practiced, the bamboo sticks stood still on the ground, so that we could see where we had to step in between them. The first step order, in which every moment was a jump, starting with the left foot and then alternating the foot, was “Qian, qian, hou, hou, qian, qian, qian, hou, qian, qian, qian, qian” – “qian” (前) meaning a jump “forwards” and “hou” (後) meaning a jump “backwards”. It must have looked hilarious for the watching students, seeing us practicing the steps while murmuring “qian, qian, hou, hou” to ourselves. After training with the static bamboo poles, we started trying to jump over them while they moved forwards and backwards, too. That was definitely a lot harder, and many of us landed on the dusty floor during our first attempts. But soon, all of us mastered this part of the dance.
The second part of the dance that we learned was a little more complex, because the girls had to turn on the spot while jumping over the moving bamboo sticks, but I actually found it easier than the first dance part. This step order was definitely one to be danced between a boy and girl, so we changed our dance partners from the same gender to someone else, who could dance the whole choreography with us. Some of the local students were slightly embarrassed to be paired up with us overseas girls and were teased by their peers with whistles and hands forming hearts. Finally, we danced the whole dance, meaning the two parts after each other, and the students of the school and their teachers watched us, applauding and cheering when we made it through flawless.
We spent the whole afternoon learning this dance. In the end we all had sore (and dirty!) feet and were exhausted and sweaty, but also proud of what we had learned in so short time. The students were definitely very pleased with our efforts and achievements, too, and kept on congratulating us or asking for pictures with us. Also, I remembered this dance to have been performed in APEC, so this was a lovely opportunity to grasp onto an opportunity that I had missed out on before.