In the 1st of my body celebration series, I was fortunate enough to sit down and have a chat with dance artist Jane Chan. Originally from Hong Kong, Jane trained at The University of Surrey and prior to that, she studied ballet, modern, jazz, tap, Chinese folk and classical dance. I asked her the challenges she faces with her body shape within her industry and how being "Ugly" helped her to celebrate her body.
Ese: Describe Your Body Shape In 3 Words?
Jane: (size) 8, Female and Honest.
Ese: What Made You Go Into Your Industry?
Jane: I've been dancing since I was 3yrs old. I don’t remember this but my Mum told me that I asked her to take me to lessons.
I was born and bred in Hong Kong till I was 17. I received my education from A Levels to further education in the UK. My parents knew very early on that I wasn’t really suited for the education system provided in Hong Kong and it was them who persuaded me to study in the UK .
I attended a boarding school in Brighton that had a really good reputation for their academic and performing arts studies. My passion for dance continued to develop there. I pretty much knew that dance was what I wanted to pursue as my career. I went to University of Surrey to study Dance and Cultures and it was there I met my teacher and employer Amina Khayyam who continues to inspire, nurture and support my practice. After finishing my masters at University of Surrey, I was asked by Amina if I wanted to join her company (Amina Khayyam Dance Company). I also run my own classes focusing on Kathak and contemporary techniques as well as posture, alignment and wellbeing exercises for beginners or anyone who enjoys moving and dancing.
Ese: Have There Been Any Challenges You've Faced About Your Shape Within Your Industry?
Jane: Yes as I wasn’t not your typical skinny dancer but to be honest it wasn’t much of a problem for me. Unfortunately in dance (particularly ballet) one may face critiques on one's body shape. I can understand it because it’s the aesthetics that dancers as well as the industry are living up to,but it does not mean I agree with it. Ballerinas, like Misty Copeland are challenging the “ideal ballerina” and "ideal body" which is great. As a dancer you are predominately working with your body but it doesn’t necessary equate to being stick thin. To me, how your body looks is important but it is more important how you feel in it. Also, as dancers, it’s how you use your body to tell stories of our time. Overall body shape in dance was never really my focus, technique, stamina and fitness are. I use to be a chubby kid but I didn’t let that stop me aiming for my aspirations to becoming a professional dancer. I would say watch what you eat, because what you eat in is what you give.
Ese: At what Point Did You Start To Accept The changes Within Your Body Shape?
Jane: I’m still learning to accept it. I know my body will never be perfect but never mind (laughs). To be honest no one has the ‘perfect body’ so its just a matter of embracing your imperfections. It’s a life long journey that’s never going to end. I’ve been very fortunate to be surrounded by people who have never pointed fingers at me, or tell me I need to lose weight. That made a huge difference, because negative messages transcends towards your attitude about yourself.
Ese: Do You Think Your Culture Has Changed Its Attitudes On What The Conventional Body Shape Should Look Like?
Jane: I would say so, especially in the past 10 years. I am generalising here, Hong Kong is very big on trends and if there is a new craze such as a new diet, new exercises everyone will follow, which can be a good thing as it encourages people to eat better or exercise more. I think in every culture there are stereotypes of beauty including ideal body shapes. In Hong Kong the slim girl will be favoured over the girl who is bigger but we also have to realise that even a size 8 girl come in so many different body shapes. Joyce Cheng is a well-known singer in Hong Kong, the main stream media labels her as the fat, ugly girl etc but recently she spoke out about her body shape and how she accepts the way she is and wants girls to own their shape and not be affected by media on how you are suppose to look or behave. I definitely respect women like her for sharing their experiences in embracing their body shape. I think my generation is beginning to see pass the whole body image discrimination, accept and celebrate all types of body shapes.
Ese: How Do You Celebrate Your body Shape?
Jane: I celebrate it through dance, also just being me; embracing all sides of me. I’m learning about my body everyday. There are times I am not happy about my shape but I’m human. We all need to have respect for ourselves and others. I celebrate my body through martial arts too. Having strength in my body takes a lot of discipline and focus, martial arts and dance definitely taught me that. In London you can easily feel vulnerable walking down the streets especially at night but through learning martial arts, I feel stronger and I am able to hold my head up high and walk down the street boldly. I’m also part of a modelling agency Ugly whose ethos is everyone is beautiful and I love that as it celebrates culture, body shape and race. It celebrates the difference within all of us. Participating in events and projects that acknowledge, appreciate and accept differences whether its performances, projects or everyday life such as working with artist Zadie Xa and Sweet Design Studio are ways for me to celebrate my body as well as others. Making connections with people with all walks of life is important and inspiring for me.
You can now buy a Jane's card here