Taiwan: “I think you are really special.”

Day 9 highlights: Starbucks with Andye, Tony, and Vika

Note: Thanks to a good friend’s suggestion, I’m trying out bolding key points in my posts for an easier read because I know I tend to write a lot.  Today’s post took a while because I want to share many things I learned tonight that I found touching and momentous.

I could barely wake up today with my sore arms and legs from the rigorous workshops, but I managed to get up for some brunch at an American style diner with Marisa and one of the many Chris’s we know from the hostel.  A few people were going to the zoo today, but I decided to stay in to prepare for my meeting with Tony and Andye.

I met up with Vika and Andye at Ximen, one of the most vibrant shopping and nightlife districts in Taipei, similar to Times Square but with cheaper clothing stores and more variety in restaurants.  We walked over to the four-story Starbucks located near the 7-Eleven (there seems to be a correlation between these two companies because I’ve already seen them next to each other at three different locations) and made ourselves comfy at a table upstairs.  Andye and I chatted for good hour and a half about her dance life and what she sees in her future, while Vika and fellow instructors from First Place Dance Studio sprinkled their thoughts on dance throughout.  Tony came later dressed in more neutral tones compared to Andye’s loud and colorful outfit, debating on whether or not he liked his new ring.  We started our conversation sitting down and continued remembering his history as we got into Rex’s car for No Limit studio.

After talking with these two phenomenal artists, I was motivated more than ever to break out of my shell to interview other dancers during my stay in Taiwan.  Having no clue of where to start my first week in Taipei, I have now conducted five interviews in a matter of days.  I couldn’t ask for anything better…except for another class with Andye and Tony.  Today was sexy day, so both of them had powerful yet seductive routines for us to learn.  I was so ready.

Andye went first today.  I was stoked about learning her routine to “Skin” by Rihanna because I had been obsessed with that song since Maryam showed me Matt Cady and Megan Lawson’s routine to it (see my post about it here), and when I found Andye’s soon after I liked it even more.  This piece focuses a lot on timing.  We were pretty good with picking up the choreography by itself, but it was a mess when we first tried matching it with the music.  It came to us a little easier after listening and watching what beats Andye was hitting throughout the routine.  Here is a video of the finished product from Miss Andye herself:

Song: “Skin” by Rihanna | Choreographer: Andye Jamieson | Performers: Andye Jamieson and her classes at Debbie Reynolds Dance Studio

Now that I had the general vibe of the studio and students, I was able to pay more attention to the dynamics of the teaching and learning tonight.  I think I was one of the few who could fully understand everything Andye and Tony said during their classes.  They would both speak in English as if they were teaching in the U.S., but I think they used more body language to express what they wanted to see so that the Taiwanese could understand more through their actions.

Sometimes, Andye and Tony would ask one of the instructors who was fluent in English to translate what they said into Chinese for the rest of the class.  However, I think it’s still different hearing it directly from the choreographers and decoding the exact meaning they want to express than to listen to a condensed and translated version of their messages.  There were times when Andye or Tony would get so involved in what they were saying that pausing for interpretation just didn’t have the same effect as listening to it straight through.  I was thankful that I could understand both languages because I would be reminded of how valuable their words were the second time around.

Up and ready to go, Tony went straight into teaching us his routine after our break.  For Tony’s dance to “Stranger” by Jhene Aiko, he wanted us to imagine two people who have an interest in each other but have only expressed admiration from far away.  They cross paths again, and the dancer wants to tell the stranger that the desire is mutual.  You can see flirtation, eagerness, yet so much control in his body:

Song: “Stranger” by Jhene Aiko | Choreographer: Tony Czar | Performers: Tony Czar and Pam Ramirez

While yesterday’s workshops were about having fun and showing our individual talent, I felt like today was about encouraging dancers to get out of our comfort zone.  For Andye’s piece, we split into groups to perform as usual, but instead of picking out certain dancers herself, she asked three volunteers to dance in front of everyone, then two, then one.  The first three volunteers were all instructors, so Andye said she wanted only students to go up.

The volunteers were hesitant and shy at first – it’s always nerve-wracking to dance in front of your fellow classmates, especially when you just learned the routine.  When the music started though, these dancers got so into character and looked like superstars.  After the last dancer performed, Andye told us that sometimes in order to improve, we have to push ourselves not just technically but emotionally as well.  It’s easy to get comfortable in a class by learning a routine without being  in the spotlight, but you know the people who strive to be better are the ones who get up front and aren’t afraid to ask questions or put themselves out there.

With “Stranger,” Tony singled Vika out and told her what a beautiful dancer she is.  She is known for teaching hard-hitting pieces at First Place, but tonight she showed her vulnerable side.  Tony asked her to dance with two others, and we watched as she killed the routine.  Then, Tony asked her to dance by herself, to let go and not worry about getting the moves on point.  This time, we could tell that she was in her own world, really feeling the music and dancing only for herself.  Some people got emotional over how honest her expressions were, including me.  Tony went up to Vika and said that this, just now, was true dancing.  It didn’t matter that she had slipped out of the choreography at the end – we were still mesmerized and continued watching her because it was such a joy to see her love for dancing.

Tony chose another dancer to stand in the center of the studio, stretched his arms out on either side, and told him to look up.  He asked the student how he felt.  Unable to avoid the attention given by every single person in the studio, he responded saying he felt very exposed.  Tony looked him in the eye, and said “I think you are really special.”  He explained how he thought the student’s dancing was different in a good way but has been trying to hide it during the workshops.  Tony says by standing in the middle of class like this, he has to face his uniqueness and appreciate his given talent with nothing to hide behind.  The student was then asked to dance alone with Tony and Andye.  You could feel the overwhelming affection flowing from the entire room towards this single dancer.  I still remember my admiration for him from that very moment.

Tony then went up to the front of the class and told us all to not be afraid of who we are.  There are times when dancers try to alter their style to look a certain way, or people change because other dancers tell them to.  Yes, there are opportunities to train and get better, but we should always preserve our own flavor in whatever dance we do.  Tony told us when Lyle Beniga took his first class with him, Lyle confessed that he felt he wasn’t good enough.  Tony paused him and told him he was a phenomenal dancer, and to not ever think that because he has so much potential.  Today, Lyle is one of the biggest dance names in LA and on Youtube.

Andye and Tony told me they are close friends, and I could definitely see it after attending their workshops for the past two days.  Their transitions from one to another are seamless and their teaching styles compliment each other really well.  I’m not sure if they intentionally did this, but their messages also matched a certain theme each day.  Today, they helped us realize that we must overcome our fear of being noticed.  Tony said that he sees a lot of talent in Taiwan, but in order for the rest of the world to recognize this they should be more aggressive and show what they have loud and proud.

Exhausted, I thanked Vika again for everything and took the MRT back to the NTNU area.  My stomach’s growl reminded me I barely ate today, so I grabbed something quick on the way back to the hostel.  I chatted with some friends to digest, then turned in for a very good night’s sleep after another unforgettable evening.

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