In the United States, world-class dancer Steven Wang discovers the true depth of his art and its power to tell the stories of the voiceless on stage
It had been a few months since Steven Wang had spoken to his parents, located on the other side of the world in China. He knew that every time he called, the Chinese authorities would listen via wiretaps, so he avoided calling too often.
He started by asking simple questions, as he always did. In these conversations, Wang couldn’t really tell her parents about her new life in America or her recent experiences as a lead dancer in world-famous theaters. The information could become ammunition for the Chinese regime, which keeps a watchful eye on those like Wang and his family who have been branded enemies of the state because of their faith.
Wang’s mother and father were repeatedly arrested and spent intermittent periods in prison for their belief in a meditation practice called Falun Dafa, a self-cultivation discipline with meditative exercises and moral teachings. based on the principles of truthfulness, compassion and tolerance. In 1999, the Chinese communist regime banned the practice amid the movement’s growing popularity. Across the country, hundreds of thousands of people were rounded up and detained, often tortured while incarcerated.
On a fateful day in November 2009, Wang’s mother told him that his father had passed away. After his last imprisonment in 2003, his health deteriorated considerably, no doubt due to the torture. He died of kidney failure in September 2009. “That day, I hid in an empty warehouse and cried to myself for a long time,” Wang said. He regretted not having been able to see his father one last time.
But Wang knew he had a bigger mission at stake: in the land of the free, he would tell the stories of millions of people like his parents who still face persecution and perhaps mortal danger because of their refusal to give up their faith. Through the language of dance, Wang conveyed the resilience and courage that many Falun Dafa adherents embody.
“I think when my father was in prison, did he suffer similar torture? I imagined how a practitioner, or my father, would endure such suffering. He would then try to show this suffering on stage.
More recently, Wang learned that her mother was detained on July 7, 2022, at the Changsha No. 4 Women’s Detention Center, possibly for distributing Falun Dafa brochures, according to the report. Falun Dafa Information Centerthat follows cases of persecution.
Wang later realized that he was also facing a form of persecution: the burden of uncertainty, invisible pressure, and suffering from loved ones. He was trying to channel the emotions he was feeling through dance. “I hope people will understand the truth,” he said.
A deeper meaning behind the dance
Wang was intrigued by dance from an early age. He grew up in Hunan Province, a place known for producing top-level gymnasts. But gymnastics training was grueling, and somehow young Wang felt that the sport was not for him. In 1996, when he was about 9 years old, Wang told his parents that he wanted to try dancing. His father took him to a local arts center. When he saw the group of young classmates in their dancing outfits, he felt this was the right place. Wang excelled in his class and was eventually accepted into a professional dance academy in Chongqing city, hundreds of kilometers away, for high school.
Soon after he started dancing, Wang’s parents started practicing Falun Dafa. The practice had quickly spread across the country, with nearly 100 million adherents by the late 1990s. father had disappeared.
In July 1999, the communist regime launched its persecution campaign against Falun Dafa. Wang was too young to fully understand it and was away from home. But he knew that people like his parents were arrested and imprisoned because of their faith. During the 2001 Lunar New Year holiday, Wang’s parents were both arrested. He and his three older sisters were left alone at home. “We were like orphans,” he recalls.
Seeing that the children had no one to take care of them, Wang’s aunt and uncle stayed with them during the vacation. “They took pity on us and decided not to return to their hometown to [Lunar] New Year and stayed with us. It left a deep impression on me. I felt for the first time that our family was not whole,” Wang said.
Later that year, Wang and her sisters visited their father in prison. Elder Wang sat behind a clear barricade as the guards watched carefully behind him. Inmates were not allowed to speak; they could only write messages to their visitors on a blackboard. “It looked like skin covering bones. He looked very weak. It was a memory that Wang would never forget.
At boarding school, he was protected from the realities of the Chinese regime’s persecution. Meanwhile, her mother and father tried to evade arrest again. In 2008, while Wang was enrolled in a dance school in Chongqing, his mother discovered Shen Yun Performing Arts, a burgeoning performing arts company centered on an ancient art form called classical Chinese dance. Classical Chinese dance, with its unique gestures, postures and movements, has been passed down through the ages. Its roots go back to the imperial courts and theatrical performances of ancient China. Shen Yun, based in upstate New York, seeks to revive traditional Chinese culture through dance and music. Wang had previously learned similar dance techniques in China, and his mother encouraged him to apply for an opportunity to train and study abroad with Shen Yun.
Wang was accepted. Everything went well for his trip to America. It was there that he understood the true meaning of his job. In China, almost everyone kept their minds focused on progress. “In this society, you think about how to get a good job after graduation, how to get a good job and a good salary,” Wang said. He didn’t think beyond graduating from college, earning a stable salary as a dance teacher at a school, and then earning extra money offering private lessons.
He hadn’t considered the greater significance of what dancing could be. “I had no idea what classical Chinese dance really is until I joined Shen Yun,” he said. Through the stories of legendary heroes and men of great virtue in Chinese history, Wang learned what true kindness, humility and reliability mean. He learned that personal cultivation is essential to improve his technical skills: “I had to be very humble. I had to be able to take criticism no matter where it came from.
In China, where the communist regime instilled atheism in the whole society, “when they teach you history, they talk about how each dynasty did wrong, what mistakes they made.” “They wouldn’t talk to you about the good stuff,” Wang said. This affected dance training. “The more negative things you learn, the more the dance also becomes more negative, darker.”
Shen Yun performers have the creative freedom to explore the beauty of centuries-old traditions, the positive moral lessons passed down from generation to generation, Wang said. “I realized that traditional things are cleaner, more beautiful and have more flavor. My attitude was full of diligence and positivity.
There were long days and nights spent rehearsing and perfecting his skills. He also suffered a knee injury. But he knew that self-discipline was the key to improvement. “I only had the idea of changing. I didn’t feel tired. I felt that my life was very rewarding every day.
represent the truth
Since the winter of 2008, Wang has toured the world with Shen Yun in over 1,000 performances. As a principal dancer, he portrayed the main character in several plays that depict the modern plight of Falun Dafa practitioners in China.
During the 2010-2011 season, in an issue titled “Opening the Gates of Heaven,” Wang portrayed a practitioner who goes to Tiananmen Square in Beijing to let the public know that Falun Dafa is a righteous practice. . The police quickly charged and snatched the banner he was holding (it read “Falun Dafa is good”), beating him until he lost consciousness. The adherent’s unwavering faith moves the celestial beings who use their powers to revive him. Those who witness the miracle praise the immense compassion shown by the celestial beings. Inspired by divine blessings, Wang’s character expresses courage and joy.
In 2017, Wang portrayed a father trying to protect his young child from furious beatings by Chinese police officers. “At the time, I was trying to think from my father’s point of view: to protect my family, what would he do?
Wang is grateful that his new home country cherishes the freedom that is so freely trampled on in China. “Here in the United States, I can choose my belief and follow any spiritual practice without having to fear persecution,” he said.
He also feels honored that by playing historical Chinese characters, he can show virtuous qualities that people can learn from today. “These are universally recognized. Respect and believe in the divine. Be sincere with people. Be humble. Practice kindness and love. Be passionate about your work, be bright and optimistic. Such values have been eroded in China by the communist regime, but Wang hopes for the chance to change that: “As a proud American citizen, I hope that one day when the Chinese Communist Party falls, we can perform in China and bring back all the traditional values that were once part of the Chinese people.
This article originally appeared in American Essence magazine.