Twelve red andblack clad dancers stood in a line on the Irvine Auditorium stage, balancing bright red flowers between their teeth. Electric guitar music played and a thirteenth dancer performed a solo in front of the line, spinning and leaping, the bottom of her skirt bobbing up and down against her lower leg.
The dancers were performing “Flower Fairy,” the second routine of the 15 included in Saturday night's Penn Chinese Dance Club’s (PCDC) 11th Anniversary Gala. PCDC, in existence since 2006, puts on the event every two years to celebrate Chinese culture.
PCDC Business Manager and College graduate student Stacy Du said that this year's event drew hundreds of spectators and exceeded the club’s expectations in what she calls the club's "mission to spread Chinese culture.”
Du explained that this event is beneficial for local Chinese community members who can feel removed from their culture.
“People want to find their heritage,” she said.
The PCDC dancers expressed sentimental attachments to the gala as well.
Du danced while growing up in China; however, her parents forced her to quit when she was young so that she would have more time for her schoolwork. She said that she is not the only PCDC member with that experience.
“Now, we have [more] time and more options,” she said about being a student at Penn. “We try to pick up what we left [in China]."
Other students had different reasons for dancing in college. Design graduate student Silvia Fang had never danced before, but she joined PCDC when she first came to Penn. She said that the group has provided her with strong friendships and a positive method of stress relief. GSE student Vivi Chen joined PCDC so she would not have to give up the activity she pursued during her childhood.
PCDC members take their craft seriously. Club chair and GSE student Miranda Zhang said that the dancers performed “Flower Fairy” for the Philadelphia 76ers' halftime show on this year’s Chinese New Year’s Eve, their third NBA performance. She said she plans to contact the NBA again so that PCDC can perform again next year.
The Graduate and Professional Student Assembly (GAPSA) was PCDC’s biggest sponsor for this year’s gala. They also received sponsorship from companies in Chinatown.
As the largest group in Philadelphia devoted to preserving traditional Chinese dancing, Du said, Chinatown businesses donate to “help preserve this traditional treasure.” PCDC sold tickets to schools in Chinatown and at local dance studios as well.
The club also collaborated with several graduate student affinity groups: Pan–Asian American Graduate Student Association (PAAGSA), Students Confronting Racism and White Privilege (SCRWP) and the Chinese Students and Scholars Association. SCRWP helped with publicity, while PAAGSA and CSSAP members helped out on the night of the event.
Of the collaboration with SCRWP, Du said that it “just clicked,” as both groups aim to bring cultures together via communication and mutual understanding.
“Art is something we both love and the best way to bring people together,” she said.
The event has a wider reach than just the Chinese community. Some spectators, like Engineering graduate student Sarvesh Surana, attended the show for exposure to a new form of art.
Feng described the performance as an opportunity to showcase Chinese culture.
“On one side it’s for Chinese people here, but on the other we have people from all around the world,” she said. "Dance is an art that transcends language and boundaries."