For many classical Chinese dancers, the NTD International Classical Chinese Dance Competition is practically a rite of passage, a challenge almost everyone wants to face in order to face themselves. For some, it's a personal Everest.
Since its inception in 2007, the competition has come to set a new standard for the ancient art form, with past winners of the competition including some of the best dancers of Shen Yun Performing Arts, the top classical Chinese dance company internationally.
"I've seen so many Shen Yun dancers; as soon as they join the competition, everything about them just shines when they're performing by themselves on the stage," said Patrick Feng, who participated for the first time this year. On Sept. 8, he performed in the adult preliminary round, portraying Zhang Sanfeng, the legendary martial arts master who is said to have invented tai chi.
Mr. Feng joined the competition for the opportunity to challenge himself and improve his craft and artistry, and in the weeks of preparation leading up to the competition, he gained confidence that everything would go smoothly.
Then he took to the stage, and his costume beard fell off.
"Our dance teacher always tells us, you will come across difficulties in your dance—the first thing you have to do is search within yourself," he said.
He realized that confidence had turned into complacency and even competitiveness as he scoped out the rest of the field and started mentally critiquing his fellow dancers. This wasn't why he had set his heart on joining the competition—he had originally applied in hopes of improving himself.
"You're not here to show yourself off; you're here to show the beauty of classical Chinese dance, to display China's grand culture. And in order to do that, you have to have a pure heart," he said.
With that in mind, Mr. Feng said the technical portion of his performance after the narrative dance went much more smoothly, and he was able to do it with a calm heart.
The DecisionGuanxiang Guo had studied dance for nine years and stopped in order to pursue university studies. He knew about the competition and had long wanted to join but never got the chance.
When he saw it was being held again in 2023, with just over a month to prepare, he decided he would prepare a dance and apply.
"Even though I stopped dancing, I never lost my passion for it. I thought, if anything, this would be the perfect way to cap off my career," he said.
On top of only having about a month to create and learn a new dance, Mr. Guo had stopped dancing for a few years and had to get back into performance condition.
It was no easy feat, but with "love, hard work, and faith," he pulled it off. On Sept. 8, Mr. Guo performed in the adult preliminary round and made it into the semifinals.
The story Mr. Guo prepared for his narrative dance spoke to his situation.
Ban Chao came from a long line of renowned historians, but war was at the country's doorstep. In Mr. Guo's piece, he portrays the historical figure torn between the decision to put down his pen and take up a sword—torn between honoring his ancestors and serving his country.
"I felt it mirrored my own situation," he said. "Do I put my studies and work on hold in order to start dancing again and dedicate this whole month to trying to join this competition?"
After he decided to partake in the event, he spent every free hour in the studio sorting out his feelings as he listened to the music and created the movements to accompany it.
"I thought, in the future, I'll have university and then a job. A chance like this may never come again. And, this is the main platform that offers us a chance to promote the art of classical Chinese dance," he said. "I'm completely satisfied with my decision."