This past spring, we featured an exciting collaboration between the Queens Museum and Queens Library, the New New Yorkers Program. This program, managed by José E. Rodriguez, consists of a range of classes for immigrant adult communities in Queens. The classes are taught in a large variety of languages, and focus on the arts, technology and English language acquisition.
Today we’re featuring just one of the many series of classes offered by the New New Yorkers Program, a Contemporary Dance Workshop taught by twins Hsiao-Wei Hsieh and Hsiao-Ting Hseih. The class, which took place this summer at Flushing Library in Queens, began after the Taiwanese contemporary dancers conceived and performed a dance piece called “Flushing” outside the Flushing Library as part of a series of choreographies inspired by the 7 subway line in New York. José heard about their project and just knew he had to ask them to be a part of New New Yorkers and Queens Art Express. The class was taught in Mandarin and averaged about 20 students.
Hsiao-Ting was kind enough to answer some questions about the twins’ dance background, the class and the inspiration behind the “Flushing” piece.
What type of dance do you do? How did you get started?
We started our professional dance training on Contemporary Dance about five years ago. I changed my career path from Veterinary Medicine to Dance. In 2007, I went to Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music of Dance for a One-Year Program, on Dance Study with my sister Hsiao-Wei. After realizing the need for improving technique in order to develop further body movements, we chose Graham Technique and we came to New York. We studied two-years in the Independent Program and one-year Teacher Training Program at Martha Graham School of Contemporary Dance. However, we were not satisfied with one modern technique. We took Limon classes, and workshops in Steps and Peridance to experience different ways to play with the body and movement.
“Flushing” was originally conceived as a performance at the Flushing Library in Queens. Can you tell me a little about this piece, and why you chose the library as the place to perform it?
“Flushing” is actually a part of our dance project, City Impression No.1, which we will be presenting on October 5 and October 6 at Manhattan Movement and Art Center. We have lived in Queens since the day we came to New York and take the 7 train every day. Flushing is not like New York, it’s more like an Asian city. I asked one of my American dancers if she has ever been to Flushing and the answer is never. For them, Flushing is like another world instead of a subway station.
In this cultural context with its linguistic barriers—and contrary to popular belief—people in Queens have become more tolerant and open-minded to different cultures. However, we still feel that misunderstandings happen everyday. For example, the tone of Cantonese sounds very strong and urgent to Western people. Also, the personal space in Asian culture is much smaller than in Western culture. Those differences became the inspiration of this dance project.
We live in Flushing, and the center of Flushing is the Flushing Library. People of all ages find their places there: children study and do the homework; adults read and socialize with each other. People use Flushing Library as their meeting point before heading to the next destination. The function of library has expanded to a community center for everyone. So when I had the chance to perform the piece outdoor, the idea of using the library as a platform came naturally.
“Flushing” by Hsiao-Wei Hsieh and Hsiao-Ting Hseih
Have you taught dance classes before? Is teaching classes at the library different than some of the other places you’ve taught?
Prior to the Contemporary Dance Class for New New Yorker Program of Queens Museum Of Arts in the library, I have taught dance classes for children with hearing disorders in Taiwan, and the Graham Technique pedagogy classes for teenagers in New York.
To me, the differences between these classes are more about the people instead of the locations. The library class is free and open to the public. Since the students have no background in dance, I have to pay attention to details such as how much they can do; how well can they perceive what I teach; or where their limits lie. To teach in the library is very different from teaching in a dance studio. I have to see how I can keep them moving and entertained without getting them injured, how I can introduce the beauty of dance to students from 7 to 70 years old. It was not easy but I really enjoyed adjusting the teaching materials for different groups of people, and being surprised by their creativity.
The audience. People don’t expect to see art events in a library and they certainly don’t expect a dance workshop there. When we performed in front of the Flushing Library, we can sense the passion from the audience immediately. It is very different from the audience we have when performing in a theater. There aren’t many art events in Flushing because of the very fact that it is a busy residential and commercial Asian neighborhood and they don’t think about their needs for the arts very often. However, if people fail to go to the theatres or concerts then we artists can still bring the art to the public by creative curatorial practice. The feedback from the audience is immediate and strong as well as the encouragement for us. People in the workshop don’t have any background in dance thus we have different expectations for them and they certainly surprised us at all levels.
Many thanks to José and Hsiao-Ting for talking with us about their program! To learn more about the New New Yorkers Program, Queens Library, or the Queens Museum, visit their websites. Read José’s blog post about the twins here.
All photos courtesy of the New New Yorkers Program.Pin It