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Cultural treasure

By Chen Nan in Beijing and Hu Meidong in Fuzhou | China Daily | Updated: 2022-06-13 05:56
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Lei collects inspiration at a She village in Xiapu county, Ningde, last year. [Photo provided to China Daily]

The songs of the She people are usually about their daily lives, such as working on the farmland and picking tea. Their dances are choreographed for special occasions, such as those worshipping their gods and ancestors, and weddings and funerals.

At the age of 14, Lei joined the local She Song and Dance Troupe, a performing arts group founded in 1988 that highlights the ethnic group's music and dance. It had been her dream to become a dance teacher since then, so Lei studied choreography at the Beijing Dance Academy for three months in 2018. After returning to her hometown, Lei prepared to launch her dance studio. Its name, Hanier Dance Art, came from She language, in which shanha is what She people call themselves and nier is a nickname for young girls in the culture.

Lei Lingli, dressed in traditional She clothes, gives a dancing class in Ningde, Fujian province. [Photo provided to China Daily]

"To my surprise, many children joined my dance studio and over half of them are not from the She ethnic group," says Lei, who now works with five teachers and teaches over 100 children.

"The local government has been doing a great job protecting and promoting She culture, so I guess that's why people let their children learn She music and dance as a way of art education," she adds.

Lei says many children of the ethnic group cannot speak their language, which has no written form, making it difficult to pass down.

"When we teach the children to sing folk songs, we teach them to learn the lyrics first. We translate the lyrics into Mandarin and once they understand the lyrics, they become interested and learn fast," Lei says.

Lei is keen to promote the ethnic culture. In February, Lei joined a fashion show on She culture as a director. Besides choreography, she works with local inheritors of intangible heritage to showcase traditional clothes and accessories of the ethnic group. The traditional clothing has embroidered images of the phoenix. There are subtle differences in the dresses of the She people in different regions. The fabrics, colors, shapes, patterns and craftsmanship all carry the aesthetics of the She people's worship of the phoenix totem.

"The clothes and accessories, just like the songs and dance pieces, are an extension of the nonverbal stories we share about the She people," says Lei.

Chen Wenting, 23, met Lei during the fashion show in February and now is a teacher in Lei's dance studio.

"I was always interested in music and dance of the She people, so I taught myself to sing and dance since I was a teenager," says Chen, who is an ethnic Han native of Ningde.

"Lei is finding beautiful and innovative ways to represent and honor the She ethnic group," Chen says.

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