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IU students exchange dance and culture in Beijing

Jan. 11, 2017

While most IU students were heading home for winter break, students in IU’s African American Dance Company were boarding a 13-hour flight to Beijing.

African American Dance Company

Professor Iris Rosa, director of the African American Dance Company, and her company members demonstrated movements during a dance class offered to Chinese students. | PHOTO BY HANNAH CRANE, IU COMMUNICATIONS

The 14 students and four IU faculty engaged in a weeklong cultural exchange with the School of Law and Humanities at China University of Mining and Technology Beijing.

Among the week’s activities was a lecture demonstration for Chinese students and faculty, an African drum workshop for Chinese students, and a traditional Chinese dance class for the IU students. The IU group also visited the Forbidden City and Great Wall of China.

About 400 people attended a culminating concert performance featuring the African American Dance Company and China University of Mining and Technology Beijing dancers.

“Our concert was the true definition of cultural exchange,” said IU junior and theater major Ryan Malone. "We brought a new style and culture to hundreds of people in China who likely had never heard of or experienced an African-American aesthetic."

The dance company’s trip to Beijing came about after Yingli Zhou, a visiting scholar in IU’s Department of African American and African Diaspora Studies from China University of Mining and Technology Beijing, attended one of its performances in Bloomington last year. She was so impressed she thought it would be great to bring the group to China for a cultural exchange, said Carolyn Calloway-Thomas, chair of the Department of African American and African Diaspora Studies.

“Dance is powerful, strong and revolutionary. Although CUMTB is not focused on the arts, dance was a vehicle to bridge so many differences in culture and language,” said professor Iris Rosa, the dance company's director since its founding in 1974.

As part of the cultural exchange, each IU student was partnered with a Chinese student. Whether on shopping excursions or karaoke outings, the Chinese students enthusiastically hosted the IU group.

“My experience in China honestly wouldn’t have been the same without our CUMTB partners,” said Jalyn Warren, an IU freshman majoring in human biology. "Developing those friendships really helped me engage and immerse myself in the Chinese culture.

“Hopefully this is not the end of our cultural exchange. I would love to have an opportunity to host them at IU.” 

Read the African American Dance Company’s blog to learn more about their experiences in Beijing.

Participation in the trip overseas aligns with priorities outlined in the university’s Bicentennial Strategic Plan, including student success and global engagement.

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