Duke Students Bring Summer Dance Camp to China

Five Duke dance students spent this past summer in China, introducing into the country a new concept: summer dance camp. Their trip is the latest episode in a remarkable history of engagement between dancers from Duke and China. It’s a story that says a great deal about the passion, commitment, and entrepreneurial spirit of Duke’s dance community.


Hsiao-mei Ku

The incubator is the DukeEngage program in Zhuhai and its guiding spirit, Hsiao-mei Ku. For the past four years, she has shepherded groups of students to Zhuhai’s No. 9 Middle School to teach English and arts classes. Since she is a violinist (a member of Duke’s Ciompi Quartet, in fact), she describes the endeavor in musical terms.

Hsiao-Mei Ku leads the Duke side in tug-of-war.

During the summer months, I lead 12 Duke students to carry out Duke University’s DukeEngage “Empowerment Through Arts” program in Zhuhai, China.  There Duke students have created beautiful melodies for the symphony.  By teaching 16 integrative arts classes at Zhuhai No.9 Middle School, Duke participants encourage young Chinese students to pursue their dreams, try out novel art forms and motivate them to create endless possibilities.  To support the upper voices with vigorous rhythmic energy, Duke students fill rich harmonies underneath every possible moment.  They immerse themselves into the surrounding community and listen to the street noise or smell the odor of the neighborhood; they catch the different intonation of Putonghua and Cantonese languages; they awe at the rich history of Chinese civilization in Xian and Beijing during the excursion trip, and have a chance to catch a glimpse of the mixture of east and west influence on Hong Kong and Macau; they fill the joys of host brothers and sisters, and taste food from different regions; they play games and sing along with adorable children at the orphanage, and exchange ideas with Chinese university students or share their experiences with high school international track students who chase their dreams by applying to American universities; they dance and sing, sharing a fun experience with their No.9 students during the final show on stage, and then the next minute are squeezed into all kinds of shapes, becoming drops in the vast human sea when No. 9 students flood the stage after the show; they all laugh first and then begin to sob and howl, tears and sweat zigzagging down their faces. Do you hear this human symphony now? Does this beautiful music resonate in your heart?

Luou Zhang with a former student from Zhuhai

Luou Zhang

Zhuhai has provided a number of Duke students with a deep experience of China, of teaching, and of teaching the arts, and it seems that the dancers have been especially inspired. Luou Zhang is a case in point. His experience in Zhuhai in 2010 led him to organize a trip to the 2011 Summer Universiade in Shenzhen, China. The troupe he assembled ended up not only performing in the ceremony but taking their show on the road, at one point intersecting with Duke’s Basketball team, which was on a tour of its own, one of many events recounted on their group blog.

That was the summer of Luou’s senior year. Although he's Chinese-American, he’d spent little time in China and only spoke the language a little. When he came to Duke he expected to graduate and work in Boston or New York, but his China experience changed everything. He took a job with Bain Consulting in Hong Kong, thinking that would be an ideal bridge. After a year, he left the consulting business to join a non-profit called IDEAS, which is seeking to reform Chinese education.

Luou recently returned to Zhuhai to be present at the graduation of one of the students he’d taught there. He wrote us to describe the experience: