For November, the Office of International Advisement engaged with Can Wang, a third year student in the dance program from Jinan, Shandong, China. Read on to learn more about her love of piano and the arts, her experience as a student leader, and her advice for other international students.
According to our sources, piano inspired your beginnings in dance. Can you tell us more about how your study of piano and dance have intertwined, and created the performer you are today?
I started consciously being influenced and attracted by music and dance at the age of 3. I fell in love with the sound of the piano when I heard it in the kindergarten for the first time, and I told my mom that I wanted to learn it (I didn’t know the instrument is called “piano”. My mom figured it out after she went to see the piano in the kindergarten). My parents bought the piano for me when I was 4 years old, and I became the first kid that plays the piano in my neighborhood ( because neither playing instruments nor dance are popular in my neighborhood back then, but now there are more and more kids that are playing instruments and dancing). I was taking dance class in kindergarten too. When the piano and dance started to co-exist in my life, I would improvise dance for the piano music I listened to, and improvise on the piano for the dance I learned. It seemed natural to me to connect them, and they became my best friends.
Playing the piano at a young age not only enhanced my sensitivity for music, but also helped me build my patience, which are a very important skill to have for a dancer. No matter what I do—choreograph, dance or teach, patience and sensitivity for music are always there to allow me to explore deeper into the possibilities, and come up with new ideas.
You’ve have previously performed works by Andrea Miller, Helen Simoneau, Katarzyna Skarpetowska, Nacho Duato, Janis Brenner, Jacqulyn Buglisi, Martha Graham, Merce Cunningham, Michael Parmenter, and Jose Limon. Did any of these experiences have a strong impact on you? And if so, how?
Those experiences are significant to my study at Julliard. Working with choreographers and studying repertoires broaden my understanding of dance. There are many reasons to dance, and dance works are made from questioning “why we dance”. Choreographers and rehearsal directors come into the studio and share their interests and questions with us, and we start to explore and develop dance works altogether. As we are on stage, the dance works become languages we use to communicate with audience.
In addition to your pursuit of contemporary dance and ballet, you have skills in Chinese traditional dance. For our readers who are not familiar with this form of dance, could you please tell us more about how it is characterized and the style? How have you worked background in Chinese Traditional dance into your work now?
When I was in China, I’ve studied Tai Chi and Chinese traditional dance. Chinese traditional dance is consisted of Chinese folk dance and Chinese classical dance. There are 6 different types in Chinese folk dance which are symbolic of each geography, climate, daily labor, agriculture and religion. Each type of Chinese folk dance has its own temperament, and a lot of the movements have specific meanings because they are manifestations of their daily life.
Chinese classical dance is a revival of ancient Chinese dance. It was mixed with the gestures and postures of Chinese martial arts and Chinese opera, and it emphasizes the use of the focus and coordination of the movement and breath. Similar to Tai chi, the movements are the result of the flow of the energy which are usually circles in different directions and dimensions.
The influence from Chinese traditional dance is strong and visible when I dance and choreograph. The movement patterns are deeply remembered by my body. As soon as my body moves, it would repeat the patterns naturally and unconsciously.
It seems that you’ve had many years of experience of working with teenage dancers in Beijing, how did you become involved with this educational outreach program? What do you like about this program?
Working with teenage dancers and performing with National Ballet of China for their annual educational outreach program are two separate activities I did in China. When I was studying at the secondary school of Beijing Dance Academy, the National Ballet of China needed young dancers to perform with the company for their outreach program while half of the company was on tour. It was a performance we give in colleges and universities all around China. It included lecture on the history of Ballet and also history of Ballet in China, followed by the performance of excerpts from the Western and Chinese Ballet repertoires in a chronicle order. I loved the idea of bringing ballet into campuses to make it accessible for young audiences.
I began working with young dancers when I was a teenage dancer myself. My dance teacher from my hometown Jinan, has always encouraged me to help dancers who are younger than me. I’ve been going back to my teacher’s studio every summer since I was ten, and the students I’ve helped are now professional dancers studying in the secondary schools and dance academies, and working in ballet companies in China and abroad. This past summer, I created two contemporary dance solos for two 12-year-old male dancers for their school’s competition, and I rehearsed a ballet variation for two 13-year-old female dancers for their school’s showing. I’ve been learning immensely from the young dancers I’ve worked with in China. It helps me to refresh and reorganize the knowledge that has been increased in me throughout training and education from different culture. It gives me opportunities to practice my observation and communication with individual dancers, and it makes me feel grateful for the education I’ve had and also responsible for sharing what I’ve learned to the young dancers.
You were an Orientation Leader this year. What prompted you to apply? What was the best part of the orientation leader experience for you? What would you suggest to students who may like to apply to become OLs next year?
When I was a freshman, my first impression of Juilliard was from the orientation leaders. I remember how excited and helpful they were, which made me to be an orientation leader since then.
Being an OL is amazing and challenging experience to me. I learned that I have to think about both positions of being a freshman and an OL before making a decision, so that I can really understand them before helping them with their needs. It also offers a time and space for me to discover what my strengths are as a leader and how I can function in the OL community to make the orientation successful.
To the new OLs: to understand what type of leader you are is equally important as being supportive and selfless in the OL community. Make yourself available for helping new students and let them know that you are happy to be here with them.
In addition to being an OL, you are now a colloquium mentor. What are some of the benefits of colloquium? What is something that you learned? What do you like about being a mentor?
I think colloquium peer mentor serves a similar goal as the OL, which is to help first-time undergraduate students adjust their new life at Juilliard. What’s unique about being a colloquium peer mentor is that I’m connecting the faculty and new students, like a trail that connects the top and the bottom of a mountain. It’s hard to get to the mountain top while standing on the bottom and vise versa, but it becomes achievable when there’s a trail in between. I like being supportive, and I enjoy being trusted by people. It was necessary to let new students know that I’m here for them when they need me.
If you were a tour guide of your hometown, which places and what things do you think we should see and do?
My hometown is Jinan which is the capital city of Shandong Province (Shandong is also the hometown for the philosopher Confucius and the China’s First Lady Ms. Peng). Jinan is also the “city of springs” as there are 72 springs in the city. It is also why Jinan hasn’t had a subway system, because the government wants to protect the springs underneath the ground.
In Jinan, you can visit the natural and historical attractions such as Bao Tu Spring, Qian Fo Mountain/Mountain of Thousand Buddha, Da Ming Lake; eat great food on Fu Rong Street; go to see acrobatic performances of Shandong Acrobatic Troupe and Quyi— a performance art consisted of narrative storytelling, staged monologue and dialogue; shopping and going to movie theaters can be a pleasant and overwhelming experience too.
What is a difference that was shocking to you when you first arrived in the US? Where is your favorite place in NYC?
As I was living in Beijing for school for many years, the tall buildings and city-like life style of NYC didn’t surprise me much. The most shocking and confusing things are the intangible things such as relearning people’s body language and facial expression, processing a different language all day long, interpreting people’s humor, trying to remember the names of people, class, food, concepts and objects, learning the rules of different social situations, understanding a different value system, rediscovering who I am in a new place…I’m still learning to understand them while I’m constantly confused by them. At the beginning, I felt overwhelmed by even the simplest things in my life, and it was so hard to catch them up. Since there hasn’t been Chinese dancers at Juilliard, I understood that it’s my responsibility to learn from the base, and to give myself time to catch things up little by little. I’ve been learning and growing immensely from this process, and I know that I’m in a place where it allows me to be patient with myself and make mistakes, so that I can calmly go through confusions and learn from mistakes.
My favorite places:
Where do you envision yourself in 5 years, 10 years, 20 years?
In 5 years: Intensely dancing and performing in the US or Europe in order to be familiar with the operation of a professional dance world.
In 10 years: Keep deepening my discovery as a dancer and performer, get a master degree on dance in the US or Europe, to prepare myself for being a teaching artist.
In 20 years: Keep dancing in the US or Europe, and hopefully I can start teaching in China a few times a year to share what I’ve learned throughout my career.
If you were not a dancer, what do you think you would pursue instead?
When I was 4 years old, my mom asked me: “do you want to be a pianist in the future?” I said “yes of course!” Then my mom asked: “if you want to be a pianist, you will have to work hard to go to Juilliard, so that you will be a wonderful pianist to perform all over the world.” I said “oh yes, I want to go to Juilliard to be the best pianist in the world!”
In this case, I probably would pursue a career as a pianist if I didn’t dance. But I also wanted to be a diplomat when I was in elementary school because I really liked English.
Reflecting on your time here at Juilliard, what is some advice you would give new international students?
Be open to the new world and be patient with yourself.
If you make mistakes, have fun with them! They will be your teachers to guide you to a better place. And don’t forget that there are many people who are happy to help you.
Trust that your identity is your energy source and backup. It makes you become who you are today, and it’s always a reference for you while you are adjusting to a new life.
Learn everything from everywhere and everyone, not only in your class and practice room, because everyone is an artist nowadays. What defines you as an artist is how you live your life and whether you’ve developed your own life style.