Friends who meet through dance, stay friends for a long time. When words fail, there is gesture, and motion, time and space to spell the hopes of the human heart.
20 years have passed. Last summer, I saw Jimmy and his wife Mo, in London.
Long before there was an American dream, there was an 11-year old boy from Guiyang, who was selected for gymnastics training. After about 2 years of very tough training, Jimmy did not make the final cut. I was too tall, Jimmy said. His father was an actor with the Beijing Opera. In Communist-Mao China, that meant Jimmy was also of the wrong background, for national sport.
Jimmy returned to regular school, and secretly attended a dance audition. My father had suffered before and after the Communist Party took over China, as an artist. So he was against my being a performer. I was also always a top student. I wanted to stay in the City, and not be sent to the countryside to work as a farmer- Mao called that, re-education. There was no other way to stay in Guiyang after high school, but through dance.
In 1972, Jimmy earned a place in the Guiyang Dance Troupe.
Initially, he was frustrated…because I was not good anymore, everyone was good-looking and smart, most could dance, turn better than me…. My dream was to catch up, and become the top student again.
Jimmy recalled being happiest touring around Guizhou province, because we had more food, good food to eat! The dance group received preferential treatment as they were ambassadors for Mao and Jiang-Qi’s ideals, through dance propaganda.
His worst moment then was, the frustration of never being cast as the “good guy” in propaganda ballet, even if he could now dance better. I was too skinny, not tall enough… not good-looking enough…
After the 1989 Tiananmen Massacre, Jimmy became increasingly disappointed with China, and sought to leave. Language, cultural differences, financial instability, and the constant moving were the obstacles he faced, in America. These days, Jimmy’s biggest challenge of getting on with colleagues at work, motivating them as a team, seem almost benign.
I still love dance…maybe it is the only career I know. I feel it is a life-long learning experience, so I am not bored yet. But growing older is very scary for dancers…
My advice to dancers? Plan your retirement as early as possible…don’t wait until you are old.
Dance has been a great career… very challenging, but very rewarding as well. I don’t worry so much about growing old now, especially when I see many of my peers ageing too… I am not alone.
But I want to keep humble. I want my body to look younger than its biological age. I want my heart to be young as well. I always have hopes for my professional and personal lives. I still have many dreams to accomplish… one step at a time…
- Jimmy Hao teaches, directs and choreographs dance, at a college in California.
- All photographs belong to Jimmy and used with his permission.