Western Educators, Chinese Students:  How Shall We Meet?
by Tony Yu Zhou

Panel discussion at Dance Therapy Summit of World Arts & Emodiment Forum (WAEF 2023)

It all started 20 years ago in Delft, the Netherlands. I still remember very well that day when I walked out of the sport center and entered the culture center of the university, where I made an adventurous switch from functional movement to expressive movement – modern dance. This art form started to create more flow between the dualities in my life and helped me to understand more about Yin and Yang which was deeply rooted in my Chinese culture background.  

In 2005, I brought dance therapy to China, with my Dutch colleague Zvika Frank.  Afterwards, since 2010, joined by Joan, Christina, Marcia, Rosa Maria and other Inspirees faculty, we have developed a systematic dance therapy program in China.  In 2015, I was invited to speak at the ADTA Annual Conference in San Diego with our students and teachers. The title of our presentation was The Circle of Learning: When West Meets East. Today, eight years later, on this Summit panel, we are having the same conversation on West meet East.

It is a constant exploration, dialogue, building connection between body/mind/spirit, self/society/nature, and Yin-Yang duality. During this whole process in the past 18 years with dance therapy, I feel grateful to have met my western teachers who showed me other part of the world and duality, inspired me, supported me and Inspirees on what we do in China. It is a shared mission and vision coming from the inner Te (the Virtue in Chinese) which has brought us to this journey.  People come and go but there are some people stay in your life.  It is a blessing.  

Learning and working with my western teachers and colleagues help me to understand my culture identity and values in other perspectives. The approach in dance therapy is instrumental to embody the Yin-Yang duality in a creative process I hardly experienced in my previous life and career as a Chinese and a biomedical scientist. The anger, confusion, conflict, disappointment, separation and all these so-called ‘dark energies’ have become a valuable part of Yin-Yang duality in the creative transformation. In the dance therapy facilitated by my teachers, I was given the permission to explore the whole part of Yin-Yang which makes me a freer and more creative person. I have gained a deeper understanding of the value of gentleness, surrender, and modesty, which are interpreted, appreciated, and preserved differently in Eastern and Western cultures and contexts.  I realize the higher/faster/stronger things in the modern culture are not necessarily stay longer.

My background as a scientist and now working in creative arts education and therapy field in the east and west offer me unique opportunities to think and reflect on the strength and limitation of western and Chinese culture. While empowered by DMT to strengthen my self-consciousness and individualism, I have realized the west oriented psychology had challenges in resolving the social justice problem and other issues on a more macro level.  During the Covid pandemic, people started to go back to nature and many of our colleagues turn their eyes to ecology-informed psychotherapy. This reminds me the important belief of Human-Nature Harmony (天人合一) in Chinese culture and philosophy. We are reminded we need to go beyond self-focusing as an individual body as well as a species, and understand the world in a bigger dimension, as Chinese ancient philosopher Zhuangzi taught us and is shown in the background image I am using now from Zhuangzi’s story.  Currently, we see lots of tensions and conflicts in the world, also between China and the West. How we can have a more equal, inclusive and extensive dialogue instead of one dominated by the west, to create a harmony between East and West, Yin and Yang, individualism and collectivism, self-focusing and social responsibility and contribution is becoming so timely and necessary.

I always refer to the WWI and WWII period when lots of western thinkers and educators going to China, to search for inspiration and possible pathway to tackle the social problems in their home countries.  The history seems repeating all the time. The flow and mutual learning between east and west will continue. I am a firm believer in Tao embedded in nature.  Art is a gift of the nature not a patent owned by human beings.  20 years ago, I was attracted by art and entered it from science world because of the inherent “truth, kindness and beauty” in art, and the excitement of finding more possibilities for the harmonious resonance between human and nature. This is why Inspirees has always emphasized the value of body, mind and art instead of only using art as a tool.  Hope we all are able to embrace the power of dance, art and nature, and have faith in them.

I am glad we meet in movement, and I got sublimated in art eventually.  I came from the nature and eventually go back to the nature.

I will end my sharing with the image and metaphors in this story of Zhuangzi.  I would like to thank my West teachers who cleared the fog and shown me other side of the world.  I am the earth, I am the ocean, I am a fish, and I am a bird. Eventually I return to my native culture, and I see and embrace myself in the mist and rain of nature.

(This is part of the panel discussion of the Summit. The Conference Proceedings of WAEF2023 is available on request)

(Read 42 times, 1 visits today)