Weekend Getaway in NYC

Every time I visit New York, I feel at home. My friends tell me how they wouldn’t be able to handle the hustle and bustle, but that’s exactly what draws me in. Each corner you turn, a new story is waiting to be discovered, whether it be a local art studio, a new café, or skateboarders filming on a Sunday afternoon.

This time, I wandered much of the city alone, which was exactly what I needed to let me mind slip away from reality. Initially an unplanned weekend in the city, I made some of the best memories letting my instincts guide me to the Frick Collection and sipping my first ever cappuccino.

But having good people to share certain moments with is just as necessary, let’s say for a thrilling interactive Shakespeare play or a lazy morning dim sum.

Nova with scallion cream cheese, tomatoes, and cucumbers on a garlic bagel from Ess-a-Bagel. I wouldn't have noticed this little gem if I didn't purposely search for it. The long line was well worth the wait.
Nova with scallion cream cheese, tomatoes, and cucumbers on a garlic bagel from Ess-a-Bagel. I wouldn’t have noticed this little gem if I didn’t purposely search for it. The long line was well worth the wait.

After a long night of catching up with a friend, I needed a pick-me-up the next morning. I rarely drink coffee, but Blue Bottle Coffee was right around the corner, famous for their cappuccinos. I can’t compare with anything else since this was my first cappuccino ever, but it was delightfully warm with a subtle nutty aftertaste.

from Blue Bottle Coffee
Cappuccino from Blue Bottle Coffee

On my way to the Frick Collection, I passed by Central Park and came across Parisian sculptor Tatiana Trouvé’s “Desire Lines.”

An installation of different colored ropes that represent all 212 paths in Central Park
Tatiana Trouvé’s “Desire Lines,” an installation of different colored ropes that represent all 212 paths in Central Park

I highly recommend The Frick Collection. Originally Henry Clark Frick’s house, he intended to build it to display beautiful art he valued. The house is preserved with his furnishings just as if he were still here.

Before our anticipated play at the McKittrick Hotel, my friends and I went to The Meatball Shop in West Village.

Spicy pork meatballs with mushroom gravy over rigatoni from The Meatball Shop. The spices from the meatballs balanced out the gravy and the rigatoni added a hearty touch.
Spicy pork meatballs with mushroom gravy over rigatoni from The Meatball Shop. The spices from the meatballs balanced out the gravy and the rigatoni added a hearty touch.

The highlight of the weekend was, without a doubt, Sleep No More. An interactive theater production by Punchdrunk held in the mysterious McKittrick Hotel, this twist on Shakespeare’s classic tale Macbeth left me speechless with its detailed installments, intricate choreography, and eyebrow-raising storylines. It’s an experience that’s unexplainable in words. You have to be there to see how incredible it is.

What was left from my night at the McKittrick Hotel - my mask and a program explaining the concept behind Sleep No More. Oh, and an obligatory slice from Artichoke Basille's Pizza.
What was left from my night at the McKittrick Hotel – my mask and a program explaining the concept behind Sleep No More. Oh, and an obligatory slice from Artichoke Basille’s Pizza.

You can never pass up a good soup dumpling.

Soup dumplings from Shanghai Café in Chinatown. Their scallion pancakes were also a hit!
Soup dumplings from Shanghai Café in Chinatown. Their scallion pancakes were also a hit!

While wandering our last few hours in Chinatown, we found a skateboarding shoot in progress.

Caught in mid-air
Caught in mid-air

Our last stop before heading back to DC, some sweet treats for sweet people.

Handmade sweets from Doughnut Plant
Handmade sweets from Doughnut Plant

Hip Hop Studios in Taipei

Seeing how helpful my post about dance studios in Beijing is to readers, I’m posting up a list of dance studios I found in Taipei, Taiwan back in 2011.  The warm humid air and scorching sun reminds me of the last three summers I spent in Asia, but I haven’t shared all the treasures I found on the eastern hemisphere yet. Like my other post about Beijing’s studios, this one is inspired by one of my readers who commented on a Taiwan post.

In Ximen, you’ll find IP Dance Skool, known for its locking instructors. When I interviewed dance instructors and students who practiced in the parks, many of them either took classes from or recommended IP Dance Skool.

From what I experienced, most of the notorious studios are located in the East District (Zhongxiao Xinsheng to Sun Yat-Sen stations). HRC Dance Academy, Lumi Dance School, and Merry Monarc are all located near Sun Yat-Sen, First Place near Zhongxiao Dunhua, and No Limit (no link) near Zhongxiao Xinsheng. However, you’ll find students casually practicing at MRT stops like Ximen and Taipei Main Station, and I’m sure they’d be happy to tell you other places closer to the Shida area. Below is a vogue class with Dashaun Wesley at No Limit:

True Fitness gym is near the Guting station and it offers a hip hop class every week as well as ballroom and other group fitness classes. I took the hip hop class my first week in Taipei (click here). A monthly membership is required, but when I told them this was for my research project, they offered me a free trial for this first class and even let two of my friends join me. Wesley, the instructor, has years of experience under his belt, from performing in celebrity concerts to teaching students of all ages. I recommend giving this a try for a beginner lesson.

For the studios I went to, the prices for each class ranged from 320-450NTD, which I think is the average pricing for most studios in the area. The more expensive studios have better-known instructors and space can sometimes be limited, so I think they are worth the extra bucks.

For most studios, you can walk in and sign up for one class at a time a few minutes before they begin. Most places also have packages where you can prepay for a number of classes and take the ones you’d like to try out for your convenience.

July and August are good times to go to Taipei because that’s when the Metro Street Dance Competition takes place. With youth and adult divisions, each group of teams will compete for the finals outside MRT Jiannan Rd. Station. This is a chance to see all the talent in Taipei mixed together and mingle with the dance community.

Featured: 3 Reasons to Travel While You’re Young

Read Jeff Goins’ post: 3 Reasons to Travel While You’re Young

I saw this on my friend’s Facebook page and I absolutely had to repost it. Not only does the author, Jeff Goins, touch on the positives of traveling, but many of his points apply to my life right now. With just 20 days until I become a “big girl,” I have been anything but functional figuring out my next steps. Goins’ words reassured me that I am in fact going in the right direction when my eyes landed on this paragraph:

So if you still have a reasonable amount of control over your circumstances, you should do what really matters. Because life won’t always be just about you.

So true. As the academic year is wrapping up, the most common phrase I hear from my senior friends is “I need to figure out what I want/am going to do.” Another common phrase I hear is “I want to go back to (insert foreign city or country) again.” So DO IT before it’s too late! This is the time when we are young, attractive and healthy individuals, with no back pains to rest out or diapers to change (but don’t get me wrong I adore babies). This is the time when we can just indulge all on our own and figure ourselves out.

While my mom still worries when I go to places by myself, I find it to be the most liberating and valuable lesson. In the times I stayed in Taiwan and Korea on my own, the possibilities were endless. I learned something new every single day in the way I wanted to see it, from the way people communicated to the insignificant differences between mainland China and Taipei. Even traveling with my friends to Southeast Asia opened my eyes up to new adventures. I have never heard from any of my friends who studied abroad to say they didn’t enjoy their time overseas. Squeeze in that last bit of traveling now and maybe you will figure out what you want/are going to do in that time.

I, however, am at a different stage right now. While I would happily book the next flight back to Singapore or take my first walk down Champs-Élysées in a heartbeat, I know this is the best time to take my first serious step towards starting my career. The reason I like Goins’ post so much is because it still applies to my current transition phase. Though I’ve been faced with difficult decisions on choosing what I want to do versus what I should do, Goins reminded me to pursue my real long-term goals which will ultimately make me happy. While I recognize the risk of not liking my decision and possibly taking a complete 180 in a few years, it doesn’t matter because right now I know it’s what I want to do and right now is the best time to make that choice. As Goins says,

Do this while you’re still young. Do not squander the time. You will never have it again.

Thank you Goins. You just made my day. And now I’m craving fresh crab from Malaysia.

Missed Goins’ post up top? Click here to read: 3 Reasons to Travel While You’re Young

Hip Hop Studios in Beijing

And I’m back! I’ve been working on multiple posts trying to organize all my thoughts since returning from China and switching gears for the fall semester, but it’s been a good three months since I’ve fully finished anything and clicked my “Publish” button. I’ve put my reflection of my semester abroad on hold, but for now I’m posting yet another entry on my hip hop experiences in Beijing.

Beginner Hip Hop Class at 嘉禾舞社 (Zaha Club)

The bulk of my blog focuses on the research, interviews, and personal experiences I’ve gained from traveling and dancing abroad. In my last two months in Beijing, I met many dance students and teachers ranging from less than one year of experience to almost a decade of being a full-time dancer. It will take some time, but I’m hoping to put my data together and blog about the hip hop scene in Beijing as extensively as I did in Taiwan (which I’m still finishing on this blog…).

This dance post will be different from my previous ones. A few weeks ago, a reader commented on my site and asked me what dance studios I would recommend in Beijing. As I was typing my responses I realized that I had much more information than for just a reply back, so I decided to post my thoughts here as well. Below are the four studios I visited during my stay in 2012:

1. 舞佳舞
舞佳舞(Wujiawu) Dance Above Family is the first hip hop studio that opened in Beijing and is the home to the hip hop pioneers of China. Needless to say, its style is more old school, focusing on learning the fundamentals of dance and building your way up to find your own style. This studio houses some of the city’s best poppers and nationally known hip hop battlers, including Amo (popping) and Zaki (hip hop). For a good hip hop class, I recommend Zaki (national runner-up of CCTV’s hip hop battle in 2002-2003) and Wood (founding father of the hip hop dance scene in Beijing).  舞佳舞 also hosts the annual international hip hop battle Keep on Dancing in Beijing every May.

Address: SOHU Western District, Building 17 Ground Floor 8826, Chaoyang District (10 minute walk from Guomao station on Line 10 and 5 minute walk from Jianguomen station on Line 1)
Website: http://www.wujiawu.com.cn/

2. 嘉禾舞社
If you’re looking to learn choreography, 嘉禾舞社 (Jiahewushe) Zaha Club is the place to go. They have three locations now, but I suggest going to the one near Guomao (Line 10) or Yonghegong station (line 2 and line 5). I took classes with Bobo, who is one of the most seasoned dancers at Zaha, and he is now teaching at Yonhegong. I can tell from my experience and everyone else’s that he is a big inspiration to the dance scene in Beijing. I spent most of my time here because it is the style I’m most comfortable with, and I was able to learn a lot from the students who came from all different backgrounds. Zaha Club also has a company team called Team Invader who competes at national and international competitions throughout the year.

Address: See the “About Us” section on the main page of the website for the three locations
Website: http://www.jiahewushe.com/main/

3. SPY Dance School
SPY, another veteran of Beijing’s hip hop scene, is right next to 舞佳舞 and is known for its jazz teachers. SPY highlights their sexy and energetic choreography rather than the hip hop fundamentals offered by teachers from 舞佳舞. Our jazz team at Tsinghua invited one of SPY’s instructors last semester to teach a routine to Jessica Mauboy’s “Get ‘Em Girls,” emphasizing strong feminine moves from Beijing’s interpretation of jazz.

Unfortunately, I was unable to find their address or website online, but here is a video of their professional crew to see what they’re about:

4. SDT Dance
SDT Dance is a studio in Sanlitun that teaches beginner hip hop classes and has guest teachers come in for special workshops every few weeks. Jun Quemado from Movement Lifestyle guest taught in 2010 and local professionals visit during the week. SDT allows you to drop in for a free trial of jazz or hip hop on Saturdays and Sundays.

Address: Sanlitun 33 3.3 The five-story building (next to Nali Patio), Chaoyang District
Website: http://www.sdtdance.com/plus/list.php?tid=13

These studios were recommended by my teammates at Tsinghua, but I’m sure there are plenty more in the area if you talk to the teachers. From what I gathered, 舞佳舞 (Dance Above Family) is famous for its battling scene and 嘉禾舞社 (Zaha Club) is well known for its studio training. The dancing social circle is relatively close-knit so if you’ve got more time than I did during my months in Beijing, I would suggest talking to Zaki (Dance Above Family) and Bobo (Zaha Club) about getting more involved. If you find new information, please share! Good luck searching and have fun dancing :)

Note: Photo is property of Jia Zheng. Please credit properly!

Hip Hop in Beijing: Videos of Tsinghua’s DK5 Crew Spring 2012

“Best Energy” at UR Rattan Hip Hop Finals

It’s hard to believe that our school’s hip hop team is having its final performance of the academic year tomorrow night.  Unfortunately I will not be dancing nor performing, but I’ll be sending my endless support to my teammates and friends who made me feel at home this semester.  Take a look at what we’ve been up to these few months!

UR Rattan Hip Hop Finals (videos below)
We received “Best Energy” for the night, and rightfully so!  This was our cleanest performance overall, though there were still some spots we needed to work on.  Out of the teams that made it to the finals, we were one of the few with choreography instead of the more common old-school hip hop prevalent in Beijing.  I choreographed a new piece to Nicki Minaj’s part of “Make Me Proud,” something I wouldn’t have predicted in accomplishing this semester had I not been challenged and inspired by the right people.  Long practices and sleepless nights were dedicated to this competition, but that’s where I had some of my favorite memories with the team. Contestants included Peking University, Beijing LiGong University, Beijing JiLee University.

Click here to watch Round 1 (Team performance)
Leaders’ solos begin at 2:55, our team begins at 6:00
Songs: “I’m Busy” by Mims, “You Make Me Wanna” by Kimberly Cole and Eddie Amador, “Make Me Proud” by Drake ft. Nicki Minaj, “Outta Your Mind” by Lil Jon, “Crank it Up” by Json | Choreography: Michael Ho, Jia Zheng, and choreographer of “You Make Me Wanna”

Click here to watch Round 2 (Solos)
Choreography from professionals and freestyling by Xiao Yu (5th performer).  Special credits to UrbanKnowlogy 101 and Andye J for my portion!

UR Rattan Hip Hop Semi-Finals (videos below)
This was our first competition of the year.  A bit rough, but we pulled it together given our time restraints and limited knowledge of information.  Surprisingly, we received the highest score of the night, followed by Beijing LiGong University in second with their popping routines.

Click here to watch Round 1 (Team performance)
Songs: “Buzzin” by Mann, “Quickie” by Miguel, “Get ’em Girls” by Jessica Mauboy, “I’m Busy” by Mims, “Crank it Up” by Json | Choreography: Michael Ho, Jia Zheng, Spy Dance

Click here to watch Round 2 (Solos)
A mixture of freestyle and choreography inspired by Tessandra Chavez and Brian Puspos.  Michael (the second performer) learned his solo portion from a studio at the east side of Beijing.

Click here to watch Beijing Ligong University’s routine
Their routine is to a popular song about two male lovers, hence the wild responses in the audience.

*Note: We never had proper practices for Round 2 of either competition, so excuse the lack of transitions.

Just at practice:

Our performance at the National Cheerleading Competition is worth watching, but it takes forever to load over here so I’ll have it up later.  In the meantime, enjoy!

Cafes in Beijing: Wudaokou Neighborhood

Finals are officially over!  For the past week, I had been memorizing poems and self-quizzing on about 400 Chinese characters to prepare for my exams.  Though I can complete this mundane task in my dorm room, my bed sits invitingly only five feet away from my desk, which doesn’t help much with productivity.  While we do have a library and a few cafes on campus, I personally prefer to go off campus for studying.  Thus, I resort to biking to 五道口 (Wudaokou) or trekking over to 三里屯 (Sanlitun) with a few friends or to enjoy a nice drink on my own.  It’s much more relaxing to be around cute decorations and friendly service with no sign of smoking outside my window anyway.

Here are my top 8 places to go in Wudaokou (Note: all photos are property of Jia Zheng. Please credit properly!):

1. The Bean Tree
All I can say to this cafe is cute!  It’s right next to a bakery and the bus station towards 清华园.  The cafe is owned by a Korean who speaks basic Chinese but provides great service and cute decorations all over their walls.  I usually get their tea which comes in pots for 25-28RMB with free refills, favorites being their black and mint tea.  They have several sections within depending on if you’d like some background noise or prefer to study in silence, and a smoking section sits near the front of the cafe.  Free wi-fi but it can be spotty at times.  Comfy chairs and plenty of light!

Address: Wudaokou Huaqingjiayuan Bld. 6 North Gate 2nd floor, Haidian District

2. Maan Coffee, Waffles and Toast (漫咖啡)
Heavily Korean influenced as demonstrated by its decorations and loyal customers, this cafe is chic, quiet, and spacious.  One time, the waitress kept a lookout on a bigger open table for the three of us while we waited near a small booth overlooking the window.  Coffee, tea, and fruit drinks are about 25-35RMB while their scrumptious looking toast and waffles range from 15-55RMB.  A teddy bear keeps you company as you wait for your order.  Pointers for having an attractive and fashionable crowd.  Free wi-fi, and complimentary cookies with every drink purchase!

Maan Cafe is on the west side of Wangzhuang Lu, north of Chengfu Lu. From Wudaokou subway station, walk east and take the first left.

3. Cafe Heaven
Yet another Korean cafe, this is easily one of my favorite spots to study thanks to its location, peacefulness, and fruit smoothies.  I usually bike there through our scenic campus roads without worrying about Beijing traffic.  You take the “Stairway to Heaven” up the second floor for this spacious cafe with an ample amount of sunlight and individual desk lamps.  Customers can spend an afternoon working on a project, or you can reserve a study room near the back with your friends.  Here, various animal banks join you as your order is being prepared.  Coffee and tea are around 25RMB, and their even more delicious fruit smoothies are priced at 28RMB (I highly recommend their peach smoothie!).  Free wi-fi, although there are multiple servers and they can be spotty at times.  The walls are lined with bookshelves, so you’ll never be bored!

This cafe is located outside of the South Gate of Tsinghua University to the right, a block down from ICBC.

4. The Bridge Cafe
One of the most popular spots for foreigners, this French inspired cafe is located near the 7-Eleven before you come across the clubs and bars in Wudaokou.  It welcomes you on the second floor with French music and a bakery with cakes and pastries for 20-30RMB and plenty of small tables to study or arrange meetings.  Drinks are about 25-30RMB and their western menu for pasta, pizza and soup ranges from 16-50RMB.  The second floor is where all the food and drinks are made to order, while the third floor is reserved for the smoking section.   It can get pretty crowded as it’s a highly convenient location, but it’s great to get an hour or two of studying done in the morning or early afternoon.  Students can be rather chatty after 10PM.  Service is usually on point.  I recommend their cream of mushroom soup!  Free Wi-fi.

Address: Rm 8, Bldg 12, Huaqing Jiayuan, Chengfu Lu (west of Wudaokou subway station), Haidian District

5. Fet Cafe
This little shop can sit about 10 people at a time, so it’s perfect for those days where I want to get away from the hustle and bustle of Beijing and enjoy a quiet afternoon on my own.  It was opened up by a group of Tsinghua graduates, and now it is run by a nice manager who blends each customer’s smoothie with special attention and slices each strawberry to a perfect bite size for your fruit salad.  You can spend an afternoon here for some quiet studying or relax with a few friends to play Jenga.  They even have a guitar for those who want to play a few tunes while waiting for their order.  Drinks range from 12-18RMB.

Fet Cafe is at the south entrance of 王庄路 (Wangzhuang Lu) on the right, down the street from Maan Cafe

6. 99% Liberty Cafe
This Japanese-themed little room is nested right above Fet Cafe.  It’s unfortunate I’m allergic to cats because they have two adorable ones named Natto (fermented soybean) and Qiezi (Eggplant) who wander about throughout the day.  This was a perfect place to sip on a latte and relax with a friend on a rainy afternoon.  Drinks are about 20-30RMB.  On some nights they play Japanese movies to match their J-pop decorations and photos.

Above Fet Cafe, stairs to 99% Liberty Cafe are behind the main building

7. Space for Imagination
A cozy cafe with a more local crowd, this has become one of my favorite places to get work done.  It’s typically quieter than all others on this list, and it has a great menu, from coffee to milk tea to pizza, all reasonably priced from 16RMB to 48RMB.  It literally is a space for expanding your imagination, with piles of guest books to write or doodle in and even more art books and magazines to browse from.  I like their choice of music, such as Corinne Bailey Rae, Sade, Cara Dillon, and Malene Mortensen.  The owner has a huge and cuddly white husky that pays a visit every so often, to check on the business of course.  Free wi-fi, attentive service, smoking and non-smoking sections available.

Address: 5 Xiwangzhuang Xiaoqu, Shuangqing Lu

8. Cafe Bros
A corner shop with dollhouse-like stairs, this bakery is definitely about quality of food over image.  After dinner, my friends and I will stop by for a slice of their crepe or chocolate chestnut cake.  The owner used to be a baker at a five-star restaurant in Korea, and he decided to open up his own business a few years ago here in Wudaokou.  How fortunate we are to have him here!  Stairs to the second floor can barely fit one person at a time, but this nook is perfect for having one of their fresh fruit juices while getting some work done in the early afternoon.

This humble abode is just a little walk from The Bridge Cafe, the last shop on the block near Subway and SPR Coffee

Other spots to try out in the area:

Ten Years After Cafe
Just a walk from Space for Imagination, this cafe is well worth the endless flight of stairs.  Spacious and quiet with good service, though I personally think the food and drinks are overpriced.  Tables near the window are great for studying in the day, and ones closer to the inside have individual desk lamps for more lighting.  It reminds me more of a house than a cafe with its curtains and pretty tablecloths.  Free wi-fi.

Address: Room 302, Hua Yuan Shi Ji Business Bldg, 88 Shuang Qing Road (above KFC off the main gate of Tsinghua University)

Tous Les Jours
A French inspired cafe but with 2009 Kpop music on repeat on the TV’s, this stop is conveniently placed just outside of the Wudaokou subway station.  It is proud to provide freshly baked pastries, cookies, and breads every morning and if you catch them before you close, you might get a free treat to eliminate leftovers for the night (but to be honest, I wouldn’t go there for the food).  In terms of drinks, they offer, coffee, tea, hot chocolate, and fresh juices for 20-30RMB, and cakes ready to buy between 118-200RMB.  The study space is quite small for its location and foot traffic, but it’s a nice place if you want to make a pit stop and check your email or meet up with a friend.  Free wi-fi.

Address: 35 Chengfu Lu, Haidian District

Charlie Brown Cafe
A charming cafe with Charlie Brown coffee illustrations and murals, but I found it the most typical compared to the previous ones mentioned.  They do have nice tables and plenty of sunlight during the day.  Conveniently placed in the Hualian Shopping Center, this cafe is popular for your daily morning coffee run before heading to work or for a quick stop to meet a friend.  Drinks are around 25RMB.  Free wi-fi and open 24 hours.

Address: 1F, Wudaokou Shopping Center, No.28 Chengfu Road, Haidian District

Lady Book Salon
Located in the same building as Cafe Heaven, this bookstore has a quiet study-room-like space to relax and catch up on a few pages.

1st floor of the building before walking up to Cafe Heaven

Chenonceau Cafe
Half a block down from Cafe Heaven and Lady Book Salon, this Chinese cafe is beautifully designed with white tablecloths, flowers, and has private rooms for booking available upstairs.

Address: 1st floor, Lanqiying Little District, Chengfu Road, Haidian District

Ricci Cafe
Recently opened this spring, Ricci provides a sophisticated feel with its sleek design and small lounge area.  Great for a casual lunch.

1st floor of TusPark, next to the hot-pot restaurant

Hip Hop in Beijing: A Bittersweet Practice

Laowan and Mingjie, the power couple and leaders of our hip hop and jazz crews

I should be sleeping by now since our final practice for our last competition of the semester is in less than seven hours.  Before I do, I want to say how proud I am of the team to have come this far.  In February, some of the members were learning the most basic movements of hip hop, immersing themselves into the culture with no prior dance experience other than watching the occasional Michael Jackson video or dance showcase on the internet.

After nearly 10 hours of practice tonight, I’m stating with confidence that our chosen routine looks the best out of all routines we have performed all semester.  In about 13 hours, we will be on stage for a national competition at our own Tsinghua University performing what we have choreographed and sweated through for the past two weeks.  The competition itself is more for aerobics/gymnastics, but they just added a hip hop portion this year, so we are all curious to see how the judges and audience will react to this new style of dancing.

Throughout practice tonight, I was cheering inside about how our sleepless nights will be over after this weekend.  Then I thought about how much I am going to miss being around this energetic bunch.  I always feel welcomed coming into each practice seeing their smiles and enthusiasm for dancing ready to burst out.  Sometimes I forget how much time we spend together, because we are so focused on working towards the same goal that hours will pass by like minutes.  I will still see them after this competition, but it won’t be as intimate as dancing next to their soaked bodies in the non-air conditioned gym. Yum!

We have a smaller group than usual performing tomorrow, but the ones who aren’t directly participating have helped immensely through the process.  I was touched when David, our b-boy of the group, came and visited to help us film despite his short time available.  Then Xufan, our graduating senior, patiently stayed to help us figure out formations for each routine.  While these members aren’t able to dance tomorrow, they have shown tremendous support and I can’t thank them enough for it.

To get a sneak peek of what we have been doing, click here for our challenge round and solos at the most recent UR Rattan Hip Hop Finals held last Wednesday.  加油 DK5!

Hip Hop in Beijing: When Dedication Surpasses Skill

Having fun during one of our evening practices

Since early April, I’ve had the chance to visit and take classes from several dance studios in Beijing.  I’ve chosen to seek out the hip hop sessions here to see how they differ from learning in a western or Taiwanese environment.  While my main goal throughout this experience is to gain more insight on how students think hip hop is viewed to locals outside of the dance world, and how dancers have personally gained interest in this hobby, I first want to address the amount of motivation and drive I have seen from these dancers in this short time.

The two studios I frequented the most so far were 舞佳舞, famous for their popping and hip hop teachers, and Zaha Dance Club, known for their creative choreographers.  Although these companies have high reputations within the city, I noticed that the teachers still focused on explaining dance steps in a fairly elementary process, such as indicating where to place the right arm or introducing a body roll to the left.  By the end of a two-hour class, we will have accomplished two 8 counts whereas I view it as being taught in 10-20 minutes.  The teachers recognize that this is the best for the class as a whole, where as I see some of the explanations as common knowledge for a dancer.

The routines are relatively simple for studios with renowned professional teachers who have claimed titles at international battles and performed at local dance showcases.  However, I do admire the students’ drive to improve and take advantage of their resources on site.  While students may have a difficult time grasping every concept and movement, they have a desire to understand and eagerly ask the teachers for individual help during breaks or after class.  Sometimes, the teacher will end up staying after the end of a class on a volunteer basis to mentor a student for fifteen minutes, or to simply chat with them about how to practice a certain movement.

This dedication also translates into our team at Tsinghua.  The students are young and have been exposed to a limited amount of material, but their dedication shows in their time commitment and enthusiasm to try new things.  Laowan mentioned that every semester, they will have 100 or so new students signed up on their interest lists.  While it appears that people show great appreciation for this scene, many guys will join for the sake of attracting girls, and many girls show interest because they want to be sexy and effectively lose weight – which is completely understandable, because who doesn’t want these attributes?  The numbers slowly trickle down with each passing week but the ones who remain truly have the desire to dance, and it shows through their cooperation and willingness to learn.

Hard at work

In the past month, we have had four of our seven total performances for the semester so far.  Each practice is led with intense training and high energy with an equal amount of fun and inside jokes.  Routines are drilled into us until the wee hours of 3-4AM and there is no question that teammates will practice on their own after we disperse.  While it takes days to produce a presentable show, there are rarely any signs of complaints because they like what they are a part of.  Finding a practice space is usually our biggest obstacle – student organizations compete for a spot in the gym, so if we’re lucky we can stay for two hours at a time.  Then we migrate to the second floor lobby, and finally move to the ever so reliable C Building that is open 24 hours where we can have our midnight dinners and last-minute runs of our routines.

Xufan, our oldest and cutest member!

Despite the amount of work accumulated within everyone’s majors, my teammates are willing to sacrifice a few hours of sleep to better the team as a whole.  While our usual practices are held two to three times a week for three hours each, we dedicated each minute of our free time to perfecting our routine during competition week.  I am proud to say that it paid off, proven with the highest score received for the night at the semi-finals for UR Rattan Hip Hop Competition at 北京吉利大学 (Beijing Geely University).  This shows that even with time constraints and shortage on training, my teammates’ passion and determination for hip hop has brought our Tsinghua team farther along into the scene than ever before.

Click here for a video of our first performance.

May Holiday: Visit to the Olympic Park

Relaxing on the bank and enjoying the view!

On May 1st of every year, Chinese are given a three-day break to celebrate Labor Day, and it is always strategically aligned on a weekend so workers have five consecutive days off.  Us lucky Tsinghua students (and I assume some other Chinese college students) have a full business week free, totaling to nine days of traveling and recovering from the grueling mid-term mark.

Instead of booking a flight or overnight train ticket to southern China, I decided to stay in Beijing for the week and visit places I wanted to see but “never had time.”  I’m now flipping through over 1200 photos just from the past seven days, and I still have two full days left!

One of the most peaceful trips of this week so far was to the Olympic Park (line 8 on the Olympic Green stop), which is best viewed at night.  I visited during the day two weeks ago for Wang Lee Hom’s tour, but the architecture and designs were overshadowed by the Beijing haze.  At night, the sky is as clear as it can be (for Beijing standards), and the National Stadium (Bird’s Nest) and the National Aquatics Center (Water Cube) are lit up so they are more visible.  The tourist rush dies down around 9pm, and by 10:30pm the grounds are almost bare, exposing the biggest piece of emptiness that I’ve yet to see in the city.

The Bird’s Nest is surrounded by the clean man-made Dragon Lake, but what we personally think looks like a seahorse.  This side of the park doesn’t seem to receive as much foot traffic, which is a shame because it’s more beautiful than the commercialized entrance grounds in front of the Bird’s Nest.

Hip Hop in Beijing: Condensed Observations

On the first day of our student organization fair in March, I immediately scouted the dance team in front of Zijing Cafeteria, took out my pen and registered my name for the hip hop, jazz, popping, and breaking interest lists. Since then, it’s become habit to leave Tuesday and Thursday afternoons open for hip hop practice led by a Master’s student whom we call Laowan.

This week, we will be practicing every day in preparation for a competition on Friday against a dozen or so other universities in Beijing.  I’m nervous to see how our end product will look like, especially since we are just now ordering costumes and shoes. However, Laowan and Mingjie, the jazz team leader, are so relaxed that there’s really no point in worrying.  A German student named Michael has choreographed two songs for our routine, and little did I know that I would contribute my own choreography as well. The jazz team was in search for a new dance, so I decided to pitch in and offer my routine to “Quickie.” It felt great being able to teach and see them grow, but it required three times the length of teaching the same routine to Urbanknowlogy 101 back at Mason. Their lack of experience is made up for in commitment and passion.  For the last three days, my teammates stayed focused and practiced the routine with minimal breaks, which they also used to ask for individual help.

I’m reserving my thoughts on the dancing at Tsinghua until after the competition. On another note, I finally had the opportunity to try a class at 舞佳舞, one of the most famous studios in Beijing known for their popping and founding of Keep On Dancing (KOD), an annual battle event held in Beijing. After taking Zaki’s hip hop freestyle class last night I felt more reassured that Beijing does actually have an established dance scene – I just have to travel for it. It’s a completely different atmosphere out in the professional studios. The age group is relatively similar, but the dancers’ styles, confidence, and movements blatanly show that they have experience and are serious about training.

There are so many things I haven’t touched on yet, but I wanted to jot down these thoughts while they’re fresh in my head. The last two months I only knew what the Tsinghua team knew about the hip hop scene in Beijing, which isn’t much. From my experience showing my routine this past weekend to the visit to 舞佳舞 yesterday, it’s as if I’ve hit a milestone of starting my research on hip hop again. The resources are limited compared to Taiwan, but I can definitely work with what I’ve found so far. Until next time, wish us luck on Friday!