News / Arts & Entertainment

The Asian-American Story - In Dance

Ira Mellman
The modern American choreography of H.T. Chen is partly classical ballet, partly traditional Asian dance. But it is also something new and different, and it serves to tell the history of Asians in America.
 
"Mr. Chen's background is in Chinese dance, Chinese opera movements as well as modern dance and ballet," said Chen's wife, Dian Dong.  "He choreographs using his imagination, but you can't free yourself of your cultural roots, it's always there.” 
 
“The movement has a Chinese feel to it, but it's contemporary,” said Dong, who organizes and designs the educational programs for the Chen Dance Center, located in New York’s Chinatown community.

Chen began creating works about the Chinese-American experience when he immigrated to the United States.
 
“He said this is my country and their story is my story too. I share this history," his wife explained. 

Chen's works include works derived from the experiences of Chinese immigrants arriving at San Francisco's Angel Island immigration station, working in America's west in the mines and on the railroads, serving as strike breakers in Massachusetts or participating in civil rights demonstrations.
 
Needle and Thread

In New York's Chinatown, members of the Chen Dance Center are rehearsing one of Chen’s recent works, “Needle and Thread.” 

Needle and Threadi
X
March 05, 2013 12:04 AM
In New York's Chinatown, members of the Chen Dance Center are rehearsing one of HT Chen’s recent works.

It tells the story of Chinese-Americans in Manhattan's Chinatown sewing factories - sweatshops where migrant workers were subjected to hazardous working conditions and abusive practices. Most of the sewing factories were located on Mott Street, a short distance from the Chen Dance Center.

"The sewing factories were a main industry in Chinatown for thirty or forty years,”  Dong explained. “Everyone had their shop here from Calvin Klein to DKNY.  I think Chinatown and New York City had over six hundred sewing factories before the 9/11. Now, I think you can count them on one hand."

"The provided a livelihood for the residents really gave the working class an opportunity to become middle class," said Dong.

The era came to an end with the September 2001 terrorist attack.   The emergency cut-off the nearby community from pedestrian, vehicular, subway and telephone access to the residential community, effectively driving it to economic ruin. 
 
The score for “Need and Thread” was written by composer Charlie Chin.  It includes lyrics spoken by the performers as they dance.  Dong said the lyrics came from Chin’s interviews with the dancers themselves. 
 
“He asked us, ‘Tell me what your parents do.  What do they talk about?,’” said Dong.
 
“They work in a sewing factory” was their answer.  And from those stories Chin created the lyrics that the dancers sing a cappella. Their movement and words are accompanied by the whir of a sewing machine.
 
Completing the History
 
"Needle and Thread" is but one portion of an overall historical work by H.T. Chen entitled "Digging for Gold."  The choice of that title comes from the draw of California's gold fields for the first wave of Chinese immigrants.
 
“This story that we tell through dance talks about Chinese miners, those who built the railroads, and those who worked in the garment factories in Chinatown,” said Dong. “ It really talks about their journey and how they helped build America.”
 
Dong says her husband has not completed his history of America's Chinese immigrants.  In 2014, Dong said Chin plans to premier his final piece, which deals with the history of Chinese immigrants in America’s South.

You May Like

Sydney Hostage-taker Failed to Manipulate Social Media

Gunman forced captives to use personal Facebook, YouTube accounts to issue his demands; online community helped flag messages, urged others not to share them More

UN Seeks $8.4 Billion to Help War-Hit Syrians

Effort aimed at helping Syrians displaced within their own country and those who've fled to neighboring ones More

Who Are the Pakistani Taliban?

It's an umbrella group of militant organizations whose objective is enforcement of Sharia in Pakistan 'whether through peace or war' More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Putin: Russian Economy to Rebound in 2 Yearsi
X
December 18, 2014 5:13 PM
Russian President Vladimir Putin held his annual end-of-the-year news conference Thursday, tackling questions on the Russian economy, the crisis in Ukraine and Russian relations with the west. VOA's Jeff Custer reports.
Video

Video Putin: Russian Economy to Rebound in 2 Years

Russian President Vladimir Putin held his annual end-of-the-year news conference Thursday, tackling questions on the Russian economy, the crisis in Ukraine and Russian relations with the west. VOA's Jeff Custer reports.
Video

Video Nigerians Fleeing Boko Haram Languish in Camp Near Capital

In its five-year effort to impose Islamic law in northeastern Nigeria, the Boko Haram extremist group has killed thousands of people and forced hundreds of thousands to flee. Some of those who ran for their lives now live in squalor on the edges of the capital, Abuja. Chris Stein reports for VOA.
Video

Video Detained Turkish Journalists Follow Teachings of US-Based Preacher

The Turkish government’s jailing of critical journalists has sparked international condemnation and is being seen as an effort to undermine the followers of an ailing Turkish preacher based in the United States. VOA religion reporter Jerome Socolovsky has more.
Video

Video Will Pakistan School Shooting Galvanize Pakistan Against Extremism?

The attack on a military school in Pakistan’s northwest city of Peshawar left 141 dead, including 132 children. Strong statements of condemnation poured in from across the world. The country announced three days of mourning, and the leadership, both political and military, promised retribution. VOA's Ayesha Tanzeem looks at how likely the Pakistani government is to clamp down on all extremist groups.
Video

Video ‘Anti-Islamization’ Marches Increase Tensions In Germany

Anti-immigrant rallies in Germany have been building in recent weeks, peaking Monday night in the city of Dresden where tens of thousands of people turned out to demonstrate against what they call the ‘Islamization’ of the West. Germany has offered asylum to more Syrian refugees than any other country, and this appears to have set off the protests. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Aceh Rebuilt Decade After Tsunami, But Scars Remain

On December 26, 2004 there was an earthquake in the Indian Ocean so powerful it caused the Earth’s axis to wobble a few centimeters. Onshore on the island of Sumatra, the resulting tsunami was devastating. A decade later, VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Banda Aceh, Indonesia, where although there is little remaining evidence of the physical devastation, the psychological scars among survivors remain.
Video

Video Refugees Living in Kenya Long for Peace in the Home Countries

Kenya is host to numerous refugees seeking safe haven from conflict. Immigrants from Somalia face challenges in their new lives in Kenya. Ahead of International Migrants Day (December 18) Lenny Ruvaga has more for VOA News from the Kenyan capital.
Video

Video Turkey's Authoritarianism Dismays Western Allies

The Turkish government has been defiant in the face of criticism at home and abroad for its raids targeting opposition media. The European Union on Monday expressed dismay after President Recep Tayyip Erdogan lashed out at Brussels for criticizing his government's action. Turkey's bid to be considered for EU membership has been on hold while critics accuse the NATO ally of increasingly authoritarian rule. Zlatica Hoke reports.

All About America

AppleAndroid

New in Music Alley

Soul Lounge

"Soul Lounge" host Shawna Renee catches up with soul singer and songwriter Russell Taylor to hear what he’s been up to since winning the VH1 "You Oughta Know" title in 2013. She also convinces him to share a few songs from his album "War of Hearts."