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Dance class links kids to Chinese culture


LAST WEEK, a room at the east Columbia library was filled with little girls in traditional Chinese clothing, dancing traditional Chinese dances and singing traditional Chinese songs. The children, ages 4 to 6, are participants in a Chinese dance class taught by Owen Brown resident Xiao Fang Xu.

Many of the children in Xu's weekly dance class have been adopted from China. The class is one way their American parents help them connect with their Chinese heritage.

"They would get the dancing and songs in school if they were still in China," said Long Reach parent Bob McMahon,whose daughter, Elizabeth, 6, was adopted from China four years ago. "This class gives her a chance to interact with other Chinese children her age." McMahon is a former chairman of Families with Children from China, an area networking organization.

The children glided around the room with ribbons and fans, and sometimes with a bit of giggling. Xu gently but firmly ensured that the girls paid attention, understood the choreographed movements and held their fingers correctly.

Ellicott City resident Caren Ferris said her daughter, Genevieve, 5, is enjoying her second year in Xu's class. Genevieve was adopted three years ago from China.

"I try to expose her to many different things," Ferris said. "She's also learning to ice skate, play piano and tap dance. She enjoys her other activities, but she's always enthralled when she comes to this class."

One reason Genevieve enjoys the class is that she respects her teacher, said Ferris, who is pleased that Genevieve has such a good role model.

Xu has been a professional Chinese classical and folk dancer for more than 40 years. She was born in Shanghai and graduated with the highest honor from Shanghai Dance School. She performed for President Richard M. Nixon during his first state visit to China and danced in 15 countries for the Arts Delegation of China.

Xu arrived in the United States in 1985 as a visiting scholar at Ohio State University. The Chinese government allowed her to take only a meager amount of money. It was the dancing that kept her going, Xu said.

She didn't understand English, so she studied ballet with a teacher who spoke French. After becoming more fluent in English, Xu taught Chinese dance at Brigham Young University in Utah.

Xu arrived in Columbia nine years ago. Her goal is to preserve the Chinese performing arts and form a cultural bridge, she said. In 1996, she founded the Hua Sha Chinese Dance Center, a nonprofit organization that trains nonprofessional dancers. The troop has performed at the Kennedy Center, Walters Art Gallery and Columbia Festival of the Arts. Xu also teaches tai chi at the east Columbia senior center.

"I really enjoy what I'm doing now," Xu said. "It's a dream come true."

The Hua Sha Dance Center and the children's class will perform at Florence Bain Senior Center in April, along with the tai chi class.

Information: www.huasha Information about Families with Children from China,

Get involved

Have you ever gotten angry about something happening in your neighborhood? Or thought, "Someone really should do something about that!" Well, this is your chance to make a difference.

The villages of Long Reach and Kings Contrivance are seeking three candidates each for positions on their boards. The villages of Owen Brown and Oakland Mills also are seeking candidates.

"This is a terrific opportunity to be involved at a grass-roots level," said Anne Dodd, Kings Contrivance village manager.

Board members' responsibilities include setting policies and goals for the village association, overseeing the village budget and acting as an advocate for the community.

Nomination petitions can be picked up, starting Friday, at the village centers. Village board elections will be held April 19 and 20.

Information: Laura Heinrich, Long Reach Election Committee chair, 410-772-7372; Kings Contrivance, 410-381-9600; Owen Brown, 410-381-0202; Oakland Mills, 410-730-4610.

Reflections winners

Congratulations to the two Jeffers Hill Elementary School children who won the county PTA Reflections competition.

Third-grader Jenny Coffman, took first place in dance composition. First-grader Anirudh Changkakoti took fourth place for musical composition. The two will go on to the state competition. Winners will be announced in May.

Morning sweet treat

The Dasher Green Elementary School PTA will sell doughnuts in front of Owen Brown Community Center from 7:30 a.m. to 9:30 a.m. Thursday.

Proceeds will benefit the school.

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