There is no air-conditioning. The studio is wrapped in heat as girls try to catch their breath, chests heaving from the dance they just performed with the heat lingering in the air of the small practice room. For hours at a time they must dance with perfect precision, the heat and discomfort of their bodies being contorted must be forgotten. Through the sweat, they must make their craft seem effortless.
For junior Jenny Fan, this is not uncommon; before the age of seven, her parents enrolled her in acrobatics. This activity is both an art and a sport. Acrobatics is the performance of extraordinary human features including balance, agility and coordination. Fan started this journey at a young age, and explained how her culture helped shape her passion for dance.
“When I was little I was enrolled in something fondly dubbed ‘Chinese School.’ Every Sunday I would go to Solon High School for several hours. In the morning students were required to attend one assigned class about the Chinese language–which I still don’t know very well–and culture. Other classes were a completely optional part of the school system, and my parents decided to enroll me under Zhang Lao Shi as an acrobat student,” Fan said.
Being so young, Fan did not make the decision on her own. Her involvement in the activity started with her parents. Fan tells how this decision has better involved her understanding of herself and her ancestors.
“It was just one of those things that [my] parents threw me in because they weren’t sure what other activity to put me in. For once it turned out really well. For a long time I just did it out of obligation to my parents, but in recent years, as I’ve grown up, Chinese culture has become increasingly more fascinating to me,” Fan said.
While practicing for hours in the studio, the students become friends through their interests and love for dance and acrobatics. Although they all have different aspects of the sport that are their favorites, Fan explains what her favorite part of acrobatics is.
“Acrobatics has taught me physical discipline. I remember running cross country in middle school, and I’m on the tennis team now, but this is different. No one cares how ridiculous you look when you’re struggling for breath in the middle of a long run or a hard match. But when you’re performing, you have to at least try to make it look effortless,” Fan said.
The acrobatic team Fan is on does attend competitions, but not regularly, and when they do, their school is sent an invitation to attend and they either have to decline or accept it. Fan explained what the judges are looking for during a competition.
“We’re judged on technical aspects, artistry, synchronicity–standard criteria for dance. Some of the dances are drawn from cultural sources, so they would also be looking for authenticity,” Fan said.
Fan’s group dedicates time towards performing. Fan described what it is like to get ready for performance with the group.
“We always meet up a couple hours before the performance begins, and it’s a hectic rush to slap some makeup on your face and throw on your costumes and stretch,” Fan said.
While some dancers perform with recitals or competitions, Fan’s school has a more traditional way to show how the girls have progressed.
“We perform at least twice every Chinese New Year season–once at Solon High School for their celebration and once in Columbus. Every May the group participates in the Cleveland Asian Festival, and in between we have a smattering of performances here and there. For instance, we performed for Margaret Wong in Cleveland earlier this year,” Fan said.
Coaches are a large part of any athletes life. From teaching them how to become a better athlete, to helping them value life lessons, coaches help their students according to their needs. Fan spoke about her coach and how she has influenced the girls.
“She’s always pushing us to be our best. If we’re low on energy and we’re having a particularly bad day, she encourages us. She explains that it’s okay to slouch and relax for now, but as soon as the music flips on, we have to deliver a decent performance even if she’s the only audience,” Fan said.
Every coach has a different method of teaching, Fan explains what she appreciates about Fischer.
“I really appreciate her diligence. She dances so much during the week and handles all of our complications. A lot of our costumes are ordered from China, and any alterations she does by hand. It’s incredible, and our group doesn’t show appreciation for her enough,” Fan said.
Fan’s coach, Chaoxia Fischer has been teaching acrobatics since she first moved to America in 2000. She and her sister Angie opened a nonprofit dance studio for girls to learn different styles of dance. Fischer has taught many girls how to dance, but she noticed something different in Fan than most other dancers.
“Jenny is possibly the most diligent of all the students that I teach right now. Although she can be quiet at times, she never backs down from a challenge. She’s been a model student for the whole ten years that we’ve been teaching her, starting at LingYun Rising Star and as one of the first students when I opened [another dance school],” Fischer said.
Fan also balances acrobatics with school and playing on the tennis team. She plans to stay with Rising Star for her last two years of high school and perform with them until she graduates, after high school she would like to better develop her life skills without the intensities of dance weighing upon her.