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Chinese dance has its own unique vocabulary, meanings, and ordered structure that enable a dancer to fully express his thoughts and feelings with ease and grace.

During the Shang and Chou periods of the first millennium B.C., chinese dance was divided civilian dance and military dance. In civilian dance, dancers held feather banners in their hands which symbolized the distribution of the fruits of the day’s hunting or fishing. In the large group military dance, the dancers carried weapons in their hands and moved forward and backward in coordinated group motion. Later, these dance movements evolved into military exercises. The Chinese used choreographed hand and feet movements in dancing to express their veneration of the spirits of heaven and earth, to act out aspects of their everyday life, and to give expression to shared feelings of joy and delight. Therefore, Dance was as much symbolism and expression as it was beauty.

After the establishment of the Music Bureau in the Han Dynasty (206 B.C.-220 A.D.), efforts were made to collect folk songs and dances. After the Han dynasty, other people of Asia invaded and conquered the Han people. In this way, folk dance forms of the various peoples of Central Asia were introduced into China and merged with the original dances of the Han people. This pattern continued well into the Tang Dynasty (618-907 A.D.). Dance in China entered into a period of unprecedented brilliance during the Tang dynasty as culture flourished. The Tang Dynasty imperial court founded the Pear Garden Academy, the Imperial Academy, and the T’ai-ch’ang Temple and gathered the top dancing talent of the country to perform the magnificent incomparably lavish “Ten Movement Music” dance. This dance incorporated elements from dance forms of China, Korea, Sinkiang, India, Persia, and Central Asia into one colossal dance. It featured intricate body movements and included colorful, gala stage costumes and props. Poetry, songs, a dramatic plot, and background music were incorporated to create a comprehensive production and usher in the advent of Chinese opera.

Each regional group of China has its own folk dance forms. The Miao (also known as Hmong) people of southwestern China developed a lively form of antiphonal, or responsive, singing and competitive dance. Due to the influence of the their island environment, the aborigines of Taiwan created hand-holding line dances as part of a harvest ritual. Folk dances directly reflect the lifestyles and customs of a people, and though their are numerous folk dances, each and everyone is an invaluable part of China’s cultural heritage.

The development of modern Chinese dance has taken on a dynamic personality. Usually, young people going into dance study ballet and modern dance first, then they study the technique and syntax of traditional Chinese dance. From there they seek out new directions for Chinese style body expressions and movements with an open mind for experimentation. Since about 1970, the original and unique compositions of young dancers have occasioned a renaissance in Chinese dance.

The Cloud Gate Dance Troupe of Lin Hwai-min began by building on a foundation of the Martha Graham school of modern dance and gradually absorbed elements from traditional Chinese opera performance. The Cloud Gate Dance Troupe has performed abroad on a number of occasions, and is viewed internationally as the most representative of modern Chinese dance groups.