Published: 16:09, September 21, 2023 | Updated: 16:15, September 21, 2023
PDF View
Star dances through adversity to help others
By Chen Nan

Senior people featured in the photo exhibition at the opening ceremony of Angel's Smile in Beijing on Friday. (WANG XIAOXI / FOR CHINA DAILY)

A photo exhibition, titled Angel's Smile, launched by Liu Yan Arts Special Fund, is taking place in Beijing from Sept 15 to 29, bringing children with impaired hearing, orphans and children with rare diseases, into the spotlight.

Initiated by dancer-choreographer Liu Yan, the project, first launched in 2011, also highlights the elderly.

Considered one of China's leading classical dancers, at the peak of her career, Liu severely injured her neck during a rehearsal for the opening ceremony of the 2008 Beijing Olympics. The accident left her paralyzed from the waist down, and she had to bid farewell to the stage and adjust to life in a wheelchair. However, this didn't stop her from continuing to dance and trying to push the boundaries of the art form.

After withdrawing from the stage, Liu established the Liu Yan Arts Special Fund in 2010 to help students living in poverty, orphans and the children of migrant workers, through arts education.

With the support of the Beijing Dance Academy, which Liu works with, the project benefits children through dance training.

"Dance therapy is not just for children. This year, we invited senior people to join in the project, which helped them to relieve stress and stay healthy," says Liu, who graduated from the Beijing Dance Academy in 2003.She won national awards and appeared in galas as a solo dancer.

Dancer-choreographer Liu Yan (front), along with guests, opens the photo exhibition. (WANG XIAOXI / FOR CHINA DAILY)

The senior people, who are featured in the photo exhibition, are in their 60s to 90s.

"I didn't expect senior people to embrace dancing so warmly, and they dance just like children with a happy smile. Thus, we took photos of them, which are featured in the exhibition," says Liu.

The dancer-choreographer says her research on the topic of dance therapy started in 2010, two years after her stage career ended. She notes that it allows her to "continue to dance in a different way".

She also studied with Zheng Xiaoyun, director and research fellow at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences' Institute of World Religions. The result of those studies was a book, published in 2014, Dance With Hands, which focuses on the hand gestures of Peking Opera — a traditional Chinese art form. Her second book, Impression of Hands, was released in 2021, and is about her research on hand gestures in classical Chinese dance, with a focus on the murals of Dunhuang's renowned Mogao Caves in Northwest China's Gansu province.

"She never stops continuing to dance and trying to push the boundaries of the art form. She is a great example, which inspires her students," says Chinese Dancers Association president Feng Shuangbai, who was also Liu's professor when she pursued her doctoral degree at the Chinese National Academy of Arts.