By Ka-nang David Leung
To this day, I still cannot fully understand how dance happened to me: a normal, Chinese teenager who came from a humble, conventional Hong Kong family, with everyone around me telling me, or at least alluding in the direction, that I must work and study hard to become a happy winner in life.
At present, I marvel at the fact that it was already 28 years ago when that happened, and where I have been, where I am now, because dance happened to me at the ripe young age of 19.
I have quite a few stories to share, but since many of them would have little to do with you, at least at first glance, I am choosing to share what I feel is important to us all.
CALLING IN LIFE
Prior to my dance career, I never valued athleticism much, and felt that physical practice was a waste of time because real success had everything to do with doing well in academic studies, as well as being knowledgeable and “brain-smart”. As a boy who did exceptionally well at school, the expectation from my family, my peers and my teachers only added more concrete to build the foundation of that belief.
When dance happened to me in my second year in university, my somatic experience of it completely flipped my world upside down. There was a feeling that I could not explain which ran through my nerves and my veins, calling me back for more of it, and I ended up spending more time in dance practice than in academic study. I became a renegade from the original plan that my father had for me, which was to become a medical doctor.
My dear reader: have you ever had a calling in life? Now, I invite you to take a moment for yourself, take a deep breath, and listen to that answer inside your heart…
BODY OH BODY
Do you feel confident about your body? What is your body image in front of others?
My first dance theory class with Anne Riordan at the University of Utah struck me with a strong message on the white board: “dance is for everybody”, Anne wrote. It did not take long for me to realize that this was not true at all, at least not in the world of professional dancing, as I began to learn about auditions through first-hand experience.
As a non-athletic Asian male with a small stature and close to zero pre-professional training in dance, my first year of training at the University of Utah proved to be more than physically challenging. I could not get into groups with other peers and was always turning in solo works in composition classes.
Little by little I learnt about my unique ways of moving, and the solo works prepared me for my first solo piece in the year-end student performance held in the studio. I still remember the thundering applause and the hugs and kisses I got after the performance, along with the happy and grateful tears I shed.
Looking back, I am thankful for everyone of my peers and my teachers then. Life has taught me that, the body image that I project of myself brings out positive or negative responses in people around me. I am the seed of these responses, and, ultimately, I am the one who decides whether these responses are positive or negative.
My dear reader: may I invite you to imagine to(or physically) put one hand on your heart and the other one on your belly and, with a deep breath, say, “I love you, my dear body”? Do it a few more times if you wish. How do you feel?
AS THE SOUL MATURES
Having found my favorite thing to do in life did not mean that it was going to be smooth sailing all the way. Trials and tribulations in my career knocked me down many times, and it has always been the simple joy and bliss of dancing with my whole being which would literally bring me back on my feet and keep me going. The more this would happen, the more I would feel a deepened rooting in my relationship with dance. Such a deep rooting allows me now to see the beauty of dance in simplicity and everyday life.
Nowadays, I would often joke with my students, “what I love so much to teach now were all things that I really hated to do in the beginning.” Life has gifted me with all the things, people, and experiences I need to mature as a person and in my soul. My first experience with Feldenkrais’s Awareness through Movement classes left me only with cold shudders in the deep winter of Salt Lake City; my first classes in Skinner Release Technique bored me to my core so much that I fell asleep many a times, and the list goes on…
Amidst all the mixed emotions and feelings, there was a light that kept me going. I feel that it is a sacred bond between our being and our inner calling to dance, to rejoice in moving in our own colors and cadences, to flow through life with many reminders from our sacred dancing moments. These are the moments when we are truly ourselves, and that preciousness speaks through all cultures, ethnicities, genders and abilities.
My dear reader: have you danced with your sacred self today?
TAKE A MOMENT
“Take a moment, put your hands on your belly and chest, and just notice how you are breathing.”
I would never have thought, almost three decades ago, that my answer to my true calling in life would bring me back to such humbling simplicity, such profound wisdom in just being, in how we may be able to share the dance with many, many people. I have shared my dance in various ways in a dozen countries, with hundreds of people from all walks of life. Every time I ponder on it, the first feeling that comes is gratitude. What has a beginning always has an end, and while I have no idea when, where, or how my end will come, I am full of gratitude for what dance has given me. My mission is to share the gospel, the wisdom, the joy, that dance has to offer to anyone who is willing to receive them.
Having learnt from pioneers and visionaries such as Juliu Horvath, Nancy Stark Smith, Bonnie Bainbridge Cohen, Ruthy Alon among many venerable others, I have learnt much to help me cope in the face of pain and dis-ease. Wise and knowledgeable ones such as Thomas Myers and Art Riggs, along with many of my Asian teachers in the sacred art of bodywork, have taught me various practicalities to help ease others through their own discomfort and difficulties. We all share the same challenges as human beings, and through many meditations on that I have cultivated a soil in my heart for compassion.
Practice simply, practice lightly, practice often.
May our next breath bring us a little bit closer together in compassion and understanding, in the co-creation of the sacred art of dance.
May our next heartbeat bring us a little bit closer together in our spirit and our hopes, to embrace and sustain a shared sacred space for dance, cyber, physical, or otherwise.
May our next step bring us a little bit closer together in our embodiment and creativity, in how we relate to the robust support from gravity.
Ka-nang David Leung
David Leung was born and raised in Hong Kong in the 1970s. Dance came into his life when he was 19 with Jacky Yu as his first teacher in modern dance. He received his professional dance education in the USA and Hong Kong. He has shared his dance in various capacities and settings in the USA, France, Australia, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Hungary, Poland, Ukraine, Malaysia, Taiwan, China, Thailand, et cetera.
David is an experienced lecturer for the School of Dance of the Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts, while having lectured extensively for the School of Drama. He also lectures for the Medical Humanities program at the Medical School of the University of Hong Kong as a Teaching Artist Associate with the Absolutely Fabulous Theatre Connection (AFTEC). He has been a guest instructor for the Master in Expressive Arts Therapy program offered at the Hong Kong University.
He firmly believes that dance plays a vital and sacred role in holistic education and holistic healing.
Editor note: for more information about David Leung’s training we are adding links here:
Feldenkrais’s Awareness through Movement classes https://feldenkrais.com
Skinner Release Technique http://www.skinnerreleasing.com
Juliu Horvath https://www.gyrotonic.com/about/juliu-horvath/,
Nancy Stark Smith https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nancy_Stark_Smith,
Bonnie Bainbridge Cohen https://www.bodymindcentering.com/about/bonnie-bainbridge-cohen/,
Thomas Myers http://www.secretlifeoffascia.com/tom-myers/
Art Riggs http://deeptissuemassagemanual.com/artbio/,