Dancing the Years Away
Written by Kapiti resident Carolyn Lane
Last year, Kapiti Village’s Variety Concert featured a solo Chinese classical dance by resident Ping Gao. The audience was entranced with her grace, and some fellow-villagers declared that they’d love to be able to do that.
So, this year Kapiti Village’s Variety Concert featured a troupe of nine dancers led and taught by Ping.
Between times was three months of three-times-a-week practices, frustration alternated with elation, and the building of a dancing sisterhood. Most of the group had never studied any form of dance, so the challenge was huge. First, learn how to observe Ping’s demonstration of the moves so you know how it’s supposed to look. Persuade your body to do what you’ve observed. Learn to count the beats. Remember the sequence of moves (96 bars of them!). Remember where on stage you’re supposed to be and how that fits with your co-dancers’ positions. Remember to smile and be graceful no matter what. It was a lot of learning for body and mind!
The chosen dance, Cai Wei, is based on a very old poem with the emotion expressed through the movement of ultra-long sleeves. Villager June Kelly, a noted costume creator, constructed the outfits. The dancers put them on, and suddenly being graceful seemed a lot easier.
They could never match Ping though. She had learnt simple movements as a form of exercise at primary school, but when she was twelve years old Chairman Mao closed all the schools to increase the work-force.
Ping developed her self-taught talent, but any advancement was curtailed as she was not allowed to join the ‘elite’ Red Guard contingent of dancers. Her family was black-listed as being “too intellectual”. In one deeply ironical instance, Ping was allowed to perform on stage with these elite dancers as they desperately needed her skills, but the red arm-band they gave her to wear in front of the admiring audience they asked for back again when the curtain came down.
When she joined the work-force Ping was able to teach and lead dance classes for company promotional and morale building exercises. She finally reached the stage in various communist promotional shows, but dancing was then put on hold while her engineering career took precedence. Until now!
Kapiti Village’s Aquarobics instructor (also a dance teacher) was recruited into the troupe. That helped – and took the average age down to 72. The troupe were delighted to over-hear some young dancers at their second performance say, “they must be in their forties” (The oldest dancer is 84).
That second performance was an invited exhibition dance at the Dance Kapiti competitions the next weekend. In their introduction the Kapiti Village, troupe said:
You’re never too old to dance, and never too old to learn to dance”. Judging by the audience reaction, they were convinced.
Many members of the troupe are keeping dancing. Watch what next year’s Kapiti Village Variety Concert might bring in Chinese Dance!