Location Home > Project on the History of R.O.C.> Literature and Artistic Development> Articles> The History of the Body──Dance Performance (Ya-Ping Chen)
Table of ContentsArticles
  Literature and Artistic Development

The History of the Body──Dance Performance (Ya-Ping Chen)


           Dance, which uses the body as a medium for expression, is closely connected with human life and intellectual activity, therefore, it is often expected to fulfill social functions -- be  religious, ritualistic, educational or entertaining. Just as sculpture, painting, and music were influenced by modernism, dance started to explore its spirit and context as an independent art form in the 20th century, and the past one hundred years  became the most flourishing era for dance performance in human history. In addition, as dance is inseparable from the body and mind, it is one of the means powerful individuals and authorities use to manipulate and control people’s bodies, minds and beliefs; while, at the same time, dance is also the most direct instrument for people to express their longings for liberation.

No matter in modern China or in Taiwan, the development of dance performance started at the beginning of the 20th century. It was closely related to colonization, the definition of a nation, the pursuit of modernity, and the interaction with western culture. In this article, the development of dance performance is illustrated by time periods, with the focus on the history of its development in Taiwan after 1949. Although the development of dance performance in China and Taiwan respectively before 1949 will also be discussed, it is only in the form of a rough outline based on the historical facts. Due to limitations in the existing documentation (written records, photos, oral histories and image records) before 1949, it is difficult to explore the detailed context of individual works or to provide a comprehensive understanding of them.

For dance performance in Mainland China from the late Ching Dynasty to the war against Japan, there were three essential developments, (1) The performance style of “opera dance” was formed as the dance element in traditional operas was emphasized and increased; (2) folk dances were collected and altered to be presented on stage; (3) western dance was introduced to China, including ballet, modern dance, and rhythmic dance in child education, etc. On the other hand, dance in Taiwan during the same period developed in accordance with the ruling policy of Japan. In 1920, dance was included in the curriculum as part of physical education in elementary and middle schools. Although this policy was intended to strengthen Taiwanese people’s physique and general health to be used for Japan, it opened the door for Taiwanese to experience aesthetics in dance, and provided an opportunity for the expression of ideas and emotion through dance.

The development in Taiwan after 1949 can be divided into four periods, (1) 1950-1960, the era of folk dance, (2) the late 1960’s -1970’s, the arrival of modern dance, (3) the 1980’s and 1990’s, diverse development, and (4) the present period in the 21st century, dance in contemporary time.

In the period from 1950 to 1960, entertainment and recreational activities were encouraged in the military in order to provide comfort and cheer to the 600,000 officers and soldiers who had retreated to Taiwan with the Kuomintang government. Dance was one of the most promoted activities among all. Additionally, the Commission for the Promotion of Folk Dance was established in 1952, and a national competition for folk dance was held every year. Folk dance thus permeated throughout the society, and dance, either as a leisure activity or performance, had never before been so embraced by the public in history.

In the 1960’s, the increasing number of visits by modern dancers and dance groups changed the dance scene in Taiwan, and visits by two Chinese-American dancers, Al Huang and Wong Yen-lu, were especially notable. Their work shared a common characteristic in the blending of local elements with modern dance techniques and choreography. Moreover, the second wave of study abroad also occurred during this period. Instead of Tokyo in the first wave under the Japanese, the United States was the most popular destination. The world-famous dancer Lin Huai-min was one of the dancers who went abroad to study during this time.

The development of dance in the 1980’s vibrated with the frequent conflict and agitation between multiple social forces. The import of post-modern dance, such as that of the German Tanztheater, of the United States and of the Butoh dance of Japan, inspired aesthetic thinking that was substantially different from that of classical modern dance. A few issues gradually came into the spotlight during this time: (1) the re-examination on the recognition of Chinese culture, (2) the connection between dance and society, and (3) body culture. These issues were later further explored and developed in the 1990’s.

Modern dance in Taiwan today, after the development of four decades since its formal arrival in the 1970’s, is not only established in Taiwan but is also a part of Taiwanese native culture. Furthermore, not only does the renowned Cloud Gate Dance Theatre of Taiwan under Lin Huai-min frequently win prominent international awards, many other dancers, choreographers, and dance groups are also invited to perform in arts festivals worldwide. Moreover, dancers of the new generation are more courageous than ever in seeking to embrace the world in the form of recognition in international competitions or high achievement in well-known international dance companies. Nevertheless, in spite of the international fame and recognition that the Cloud Gate Dance Theatre and other advocates have earned; domestically, dance performance still sits at the edge of the cultural map. Many issues and challenges, such as the strengthening of the connection between dance and society, expansion of the audience, and the nature of the interaction with other humanistic subjects, await attention and resolution.


‧TEL: (02)2939-3091#80611 ‧FAX: (02)2938-7803 E-Mail:sthv@nccu.edu.tw 地址:11605台北市指南路2段64號政治大學社資中心二樓
NO.64,Sec.2,ZhiNan Rd.,Wenshan District,Taipei City 11605,Taiwan (R.O.C)