UCLA Spotlight




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UCLA Chinese Cultural Dance Club

  • By Mary Chao
  • Published Mar 1, 2004 8:00 AM

At first glance, it looks like a ballet class: little girls in pink leotards, tights and ballet shoes, standing in straight lines and concentrating carefully on their movements. But there is an important difference. Many of the young dancers are of Chinese ancestry, and they are learning the traditional dance forms of China. Their teacher is a UCLA alumna and their “big sisters” are UCLA students who belong to the Chinese Cultural Dance Club.

Since February 2000, the Chinese Cultural Dance Club has been dedicated to sharing Chinese culture through dance. With their elaborate costumes and disciplined dance routines, they are often asked to perform at events both on and off campus. This year, the club has expanded its outreach to the community through a unique mentorship program: the Big Sis/Lil Sis Program.

Many of the “little sisters” belong to Families with Children from China - Southern California, a local support group for families who have adopted children from China. Besides teaching them dance, the big sisters mentor in other ways – homework, tutoring, and serving as role models for what it means to be a Chinese American.

Jaclyn Tan is a fourth-year math management student and the Big Sis/Lil Sis Program coordinator. She started working with the little sisters last year as an assistant dance instructor. Tan likes the fact that the UCLA students and their little sisters “connect with each other in ways that sisters do.”

She has organized weekly tutoring sessions and is planning events such as a tour of the UCLA campus and a day of arts and crafts. Tan sees benefits for the UCLA students as well as the younger girls: “It also gives the student members a chance to be more involved with the community and share with their ‘little sisters’ what they know.”

The parents of the little girls acknowledge the benefits of the newly established program. “My daughter Gwen is so excited to have a college sister,” Debbie Henderson said. “From her perspective she has a friend focused on her for chatting about pop culture, answering questions about dance or college life, or anything else that pops into her head.”

Marianne Urbancsik, mother of 8-year-old Courtney, is something of an exception: She is not a member of Families with Children from China. But she joined the Chinese Cultural Dance Club as a way of connecting to Chinese culture. She calls the Big Sis/Lil Sis Program “just wonderful.”

Big Sis/Lil Sis participants will be cheering each other on as they prepare for their upcoming performance. This year, the Chinese Cultural Dance Club’s annual dance production, Lotus Steps, 2004, will be held in Royce Hall on April 27.

Tan has continued to assist the little sisters during their dance lessons, in addition to coordinating the program. She hopes that the girls will grow comfortable sharing their experiences with their big sisters, creating lasting relationships that will extend beyond the duration of the program.

As Martin Montgomery, father of 7-year-old Regina, shared, “I think that at an age when these girls are becoming aware of ‘growing up,’ it is a good thing to have college students as role models.”

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Copyright © Mary Chao