Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Teaching the Grace of Chinese Dancing Brought Her to Pittsburgh

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Teaching the Grace of Chinese Dancing Brought Her to Pittsburgh

Article excerpt

Grace is the product of hard work. Through Chinese dance, Yanlai Wu instills grace in her students by making it clear to them: You need to work hard.

She learned it early, right after she moved to Beijing at age 12 as one of 25 children selected to train at the most prestigious dance school in China.

She knows the professional world of dance inside out. She has performed on many stages across the world; she mostly teaches these days but still serves the one and only - the art of Chinese dance.

She made it to the top in China and then there were no more summits to climb - except to carve out her own path in the U.S., and eventually Pittsburgh.

It hasn't been easy.

Yanlai was taught to seek perfection in dance - it's what made her so successful. In this new country, she discovered that perfection may not always be an achievable goal, either in her students or her business.

Yanlai fell in love with dance as a little girl in her native Yunnan province. At 11, she moved to Shanghai to go to school and live with her grandparents. One day she was chosen to audition for "beautiful ladies" from the Beijing Dance Academy and became one of three from Shanghai chosen to attend.

She stayed for 12 years. A typical career path for someone like Yanlai would have been to join a local troupe and perform. Yanlai was thinking of leaving Beijing and moving to Shanghai, but the school administration wanted her to continue onto a college level as a dancer.

After the two-year program at that level, she joined the Young Troupe of Beijing, "which was the top of the top," she said. "I was lucky to reach that point, but when you make it, that's it - there is nowhere to go. So I felt lost. What's next for me?"

The next stop was the United States - in Houston - where Yanlai saw her professional habits through other people's eyes. Soon after she started teaching at Houston Dance Academy, she was called into the principal's office. Her students were complaining. Yanlai was never generous with positive feedback.

"I have never worked with amateurs before that," she said. "If you are professional, no one says you are good. …

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