BWW Featured Dance Studio: CHEN DANCE CENTER
The Chen Dance Center, located in the heart of Chinatown in Manhattan, is dedicated to serving the Asian-American and New York City dance community. For over 35 years, the Center has provided moving experiences in Asian-American history through contemporary dance, artistic creation, arts education, and presentation. In addition to a professional modern dance company (H.T. Chen & Dancers), the Center's school seeks to channel students to explore their creativity through dance, all while illuminating the richness of the Asian-American culture and history.
I had the lovely opportunity to speak with Dian Dong, Associate Director of the Chen Dance Center.
Q: Can you speak about the early beginnings of The School of Chen Dance Center, and how it got started?
A: In the summer of 1980, the School welcomed its first students at 70 Mulberry Street (the former P.S. 23). There were free classes for the local summer program, and low-cost classes taught by H.T. Chen, Elizabeth Sung, and Ernesta Corvino for children, teens, and adults. It was a vibrant start attended by families who worked in the sewing factories, local businesses or open air markets. Martha Hill, founder/director of the Dance Division of Juilliard, nicknamed it the "Chinatown Juilliard" because many of our colleagues from Juilliard taught dance or piano here.
Q: What is the goal the school has for its students and surrounding community?
A: The goal was to bring professional, compassionate, and highly-skilled teaching artists into the heart of Chinatown and encourage the students to flourish through sequential training and opportunities to perform. But more importantly, the program builds self-esteem, artistic expression, encourages collaboration, and develops skills in problem solving and critical thinking.
In addition to the year-round classes for approximately 200 students at 70 Mulberry Street, Chen Dance Center also provides a free After-School dance program (grades 3-5) for 80 students for 22 weeks, and Early Childhood dance classes (K-2 grade) for approximately 280 children for 30 weeks at P.S. 42 on the Lower Eastside. For us, artistic expression comes first. But we also know that movement is essential for child development and these programs provide for healthy physical, social, emotional, and cognitive development.
Q: What is the curriculum of the school?
A: The School currently offers Ballet, Modern Dance, Hip Hop, Creation and Performance, and Piano. In the past, we also offered Martial Arts and traditional Chinese dance.
Q: What is the relationship between the school and H.T. Chen & Dancers?
A: H.T. Chen & Dancers is a professional company that tours and performs. Every year, select students are invited to perform with the company in various productions, and some have even toured with the company appearing in child roles. There have also been students who went on to professional careers and performed with the Company.
Q: What is something about the school you are proud of?
A: The School has a high retention rate with students staying in the program until they go to college, then returning after they graduate to continue taking class. Our biggest joy is seeing returning students who return years later to enroll their own children in the program. At one point, there were three alumni on our Board. Time and again, we've seen these children grow up to become valued community members with a heightened sense of humanity and respect for others.
To learn more about the school and their program offerings, please visit their website at www.chendancecenter.org.
Photo Credit: Ezra Goh Photography