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Flying Silk performs traditional Chinese dance on UNC's campus

Seanna Chen, Katherine Zhang, Grace Chow, and Carina Lin pose for a portrait in the Coker Arboretum on Friday, April 15, 2022. Chen, Zhang, Chow, and Lin are members of UNC's Flying Silk, a Chinese dance group that focuses on ribbon and fan dance.

Seanna Chen saw Flying Silk Dance Troupe perform for the first time when she was a senior in high school.

Chen was visiting her cousin and attended the Journey Into Asia cultural showcase hosted by the Asian American Students Association at UNC.

As she watched the Flying Silk dancers, waving colorful silk ribbons and wooden fans, she knew she wanted to audition for the group.

"I knew that as soon as I came onto the UNC campus, this is something that I really wanted to do," Chen said. "So I tried out for it and somehow made it onto the team."

Now a junior, Chen will be a co-captain of the troupe next year.

Flying Silk is the University’s only traditional Chinese dance group. They participate in multiple cultural showcases, including JIA and the Mid-Autumn Festival hosted by the Chinese Undergraduate Student Association.

For Chen, joining Flying Silk was important for her to connect with her culture and share it with UNC's campus community.

"Our mission statement has always been to spread awareness and educate the Carolina community on the diversity of Chinese culture, especially through dance," she said.

'Proud of the end result'

Flying Silk specializes in fan and silk ribbon dancing, and has recently started to include propless dancing.

“This year we had an entire section on propless dancing, which was also very, very fun,” Chen said. “It shows a lot of different styles of what Chinese dance can be.”

The group performed its new choreography, “Dawn” at this year's JIA in February and the Duke Chinese Dance Showcase last week.

Senior Brianna Li, a choreographer, said this was her favorite performance.

“I choreographed the middle section of the piece mostly and I was really proud of the end result," she said. "I really liked dancing it too, so it was something I really enjoyed."

Shara He, a senior co-captain, said the pandemic challenged the group leaders to change the way the troupe was structured. This included having virtual tryouts, practices and performances throughout the 2020-2021 school year.

“Even though it was completely virtual we were trying to find ways that we could stay connected as a team,” she said.

Prior to "Dawn," Chen said she had only performed live once during her first year at UNC.

After a year of virtual performances, members of the club were excited to perform in front of an in-person audience again. The biggest challenge the team encountered along the way was coordinating practice times.

Senior Vivi Wang, also a co-captain of the team, said she returned home to China during the pandemic. 

“During COVID, I went back to China so there’s like a twelve hour time difference,” she said.

Other team members were studying abroad, Wang said, so figuring out what times everyone could meet virtually was a new challenge to navigate.

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But the challenges brought on by the pandemic made this year of in-person performances even more special, He said.

“Having that year being virtual also made this year a lot memorable too just because we all got to experience again what a full year of being in-person or somewhat normal looks like,” He said.

'Showcase our culture'

Looking to the future, Flying Silk hopes to continue performing on campus and beyond, and spreading awareness of Chinese culture to the larger community.

“I think it’s a really important club to have at UNC as well to kind of showcase our culture and our heritage and be able to share that with other people at UNC who either know about it, or who might not know about it and want to learn more about it,” Li said.

While the troupe’s mission is to educate community members about the diversity of Chinese culture, Chen said it also gives members the opportunity to immerse themselves in their own culture.

“This is also sort of something we do as well for the Chinese students who didn’t grow up with their own culture and for them to also be proud and be aware of how diverse and how beautiful our culture can be,” she said.

Wang said the bond she has formed with other members has been the best part of her Flying Silk experience.

“This club gave me a sense of a family,” she said.