Grace Lin felt emotionally shut down until a sunbeam touched her in the form of classical Chinese dance
Grace Lin’s smile fills the room when she talks about how much she loves to dance. But her joy is hard won. Years ago, family struggles and bouts of depression made her wonder if she would ever find a reason to feel happy. Then Lin discovered classical Chinese dance and traditional Chinese culture. When she dove into their depth and beauty, her heart felt freed. Now Lin is a lead dancer with Shen Yun Performing Arts, and shares her artistry and light-heartedness with the world.
Stepping out of darkness
Grace Lin grew up in Taiwan where her father, a professional musician, sparked her love of music. “Whenever I heard music, the cells in my entire body felt like they were dancing.”
But those moments didn’t last. “When I was a child, my family underwent tremendous misfortune. My father left. I could not bring myself to understand nor accept that. I became pessimistic, introverted and stopped trusting my family.”
Lin exhibited worrying signs of depression. As this went on longer and longer, her relatives brought her to doctors while her friends could only listen and offer their understanding. “I have always been very grateful to my friends. They helped me through that period of darkest days.”
Just when Lin started to wonder if she would feel this way for the rest of her life, a sliver of light appeared. A relative called to tell her there was an audition in her area for a classical Chinese dance school: New York’s Fei Tian Academy of the Arts. Lin, who had taken dance classes before, auditioned and was accepted.
“Even after I was admitted, I had no confidence in myself. I did not think I would be able to become a professional. I just felt a little interest in dance, and going to New York seemed fun.”
Still feeling low, Lin found the strength to board the plane alone and move into her new school. But she carried on as if she had never left Taiwan, closing herself off. ‘They don’t want to be burdened by me,’ she thought.
To Lin’s surprise, when her classmates learned about her pain, they made a special effort to take her out and have heart-to-heart conversations with her. “I found them very different from people elsewhere,” Lin said. These near-strangers made her heart melt and gradually she overcame her depression.
Culture and grace take centre stage
Next, Lin faced a new type of pain: stretching her inflexible legs and back farther than she ever imagined she could. Encouragement from her new friends was instrumental to her success, she says. Without them, she probably would have given up.
Together, she and her classmates mastered the art’s fundamentals and began to grasp its profoundness. “In traditional Chinese culture, there are many guidelines, including for people’s conduct. In classical Chinese dance, every movement has a name and strict criteria right down to the dancer’s emotions and demeanour. Every detail must be accurate and in place.” These traits are vital, Lin explained, for the audience to feel transported by the dance.
While enlightening to these principles, Lin completed her studies and was invited into Shen Yun’s touring company. At this new level she realized, “I’m not just dancing, but disseminating the essence of authentic Chinese culture to people around the world.” She became determined to perfect her technique and inner bearing.
Two years into her touring career, Lin travelled to Taiwan to perform. It was the first time most of her family and friends saw her since she left a shy, pain-ridden girl.
“Everyone thought I had ‘transformed from a sparrow into a phoenix’ flying to stages around the world,” Lin said. “They told me that I carried a powerful aura with me.”
This homecoming gave Lin the chance to express her gratitude toward her family. “Maybe because I’ve left home, I’ve learned to cherish things after losing them.” She told them how much she appreciated their care during her most difficult times.
Her family was touched and surprised. “I never would have opened up like that before,” Lin said. “That combined with how bubbly and at ease I was around everyone, they told me it was as though I had exchanged my soul with someone else.”
With the hope of helping others, Lin recounted the moment when she figured a way out of her previous darkness and confusion. “I felt that I did not have any of the good qualities I saw in others. I envied others for being able to master dance movements so fast. I wondered why I was not that smart. I later found that, even if I learn things slowly, as long as I advance step-by-step and don’t give up, I arrive at success. I stopped placing so much importance on what other people think. If people say that I’m not good, I can change for the better. If people say that I am good, I can become even better. When I realized this, I no longer felt inferior.”
Photography by Larry Dai