Chou Hui-tan: a dancer who dances Hakka stories

Chinese Name
: 周惠丹

Born: March 31, 1937

Birthplace: Miaoli County (Northern Taiwan)

Chou Hui-tan, a Hakka dancer who was a student of Taiwan's modern dance pioneer Tsai Rui-yue (蔡瑞月), has been engaged in dance creation and teaching for decades. She has not only cultivated many talents for the Taiwanese art world, but also is the founder of Hakka dance. Chou once said that traditional Hakkas only have songs, no dances. However, in 1979, after her first high-profile tea-picking dance performance was held and received highly positive recognition, Hakka dance officially entered the art halls. Since then, she has devoted herself to the choreography and promotion of Hakka dance.

Born in Miaoli in 1937, Chou liked to dance since she was a child. However, in the conservative Miaoli community where she lived, she had no chance to receive formal dance training until she met Tsai, who was invited to teach in Miaoli. After a short period of training, Tsai returned to Taipei, but Chou still went to the capital at least once a week for several years to study dance. In addition to immersing herself in dance, studying under Tsai also allowed her to explore various dancing forms and nourished in her an appreciation of the beauty of dance and an enthusiasm for art. This influenced the way Chou taught dance later. Finally, with the encouragement of Tsai, Chou started her own dance class in Miaoli in 1961, and began her career of dancing, teaching and choreography.

In 1979, the World Hakka Federation held its conference in Taipei for the first time, and invited Chou to arrange Hakka dances. So she looked for elements from Hakka operas for inspiration and choreographed the first Hakka tea-picking dance, which included references to her previous life and growth experience. The performance received rave review. Since then, Chou’s dance group has been invited by the Taipei City Government to perform every year. She has been committed to the creation and promotion of Hakka dances about life, festivals, and nursery rhymes, and also personally travels to Hakka communities to teach dance.

For Chou, the basic concept behind the choreography of her dances is portrayal of Hakka people’s life. This is completely different from the concept of modern dance; her method can be said to be innovating the traditional. Hakka dance is a form of art to tell the story of the Hakkas. Since 1990, Chou began to compile a series of dance works with classical Hakka styles, incorporating the customs and immigration history of Hakka villages.

The works include "Journey of Hakka Immigrants (客家山河路)", "Hakka Nursery Rhymes Dance (客家童謠舞集)", "Deep Love for Hometown (原鄉情濃舞之華)" and so on. After the dance performances, she was highly recognized by all walks of life. Her dance troupe was also invited to perform in Japan and Spain, allowing her to bring Hakka dance to the international stage and raise worldwide awareness about Taiwanese Hakka dance. In 2007, Chou won the Hakka Contribution Award, which recognized her contributions to the promotion of Hakka culture and to the art of dance performance.