The UCLA-based Chinese Cultural Dance Club works with area youth, including children adopted from China.
Author Tiffany Keng has been involved with CCDC's Lotus Steps performances and is now public relations coordinator for CCDC.
It's Monday night dance practice in Bradley International Hall, and six to ten year old Chinese girls are bouncing up and down in their pink leotards, eagerly pushing their way into the dance room as they chatter to one another. Chinese cultural music soon flows through the air. Outside, waiting parents are sitting on the ground talking casually to one another. None of these parents is of Chinese heritage. I've come to interview them. As they gather around me in a circle, these moms from a group called FCC begin to chat excitedly about Chinese dance and their special Chinese daughters adopted from mainland China.
Families with Children from China (FCC) is an international organization of families who have adopted children from China, providing educational and cultural resources, in addition to other activities and services. Consisting of a network of over 100 chapters, FCC also promotes the welfare of children remaining in China's orphanages and to educate others about adoption and multiracial families.
“FCC is a wonderful community for all these families to come together. It's a great way for our child to connect with peers that have a very similar story to theirs, so they can have a safe haven with kids who experience the same thing, they can rely on each other,” says FCC mom Chris Medmick. “Some of the girls actually came from the same orphanage.”
A few years ago, FCC moms in the Los Angeles area found out about UCLA's Chinese Cultural Dance Club and contacted artistic director Josephine Louie. “I e-mailed her about who FCC was and about our interest in the club. She was so excited --- and replied saying she wanted to collaborate with us,” recalls Jeri Floyd, chair of FCC SoCal. That year, Josephine invited the FCC girls to be part of the club and to perform in CCDC's annual production, Lotus Steps. For many FCC moms, this was a perfect opportunity for their Chinese daughters. As Floyd notes, "I was a dancer when I was young, so this was a perfect combination of letting my daughter learn dance and to integrate the Chinese culture into her life. Soon after joining CCDC, our girls were following the big college girls around, asking questions.”
This initiated the Big Sis Lil' Sis program, which paired each FCC girl with one of the older members from CCDC, who served as mentors and tutors. Every quarter, social gatherings were held for big and little sisters to get to know each other. Additionally, tutoring sessions were held each week where the girls received help on their homework. It became very meaningful experience for both young and old.
Ruth Smarinsky shares: “For the longest time, Leslie just wanted to have blond hair blue eyes, because that's the only people she was surrounded by. But CCDC allowed her to identify with older Chinese girls. She told everyone that her ‘big sister' was really her big sister, it meant that much to her to have that role model. Leslie talks about her big sisters with such fondness.”
“It gave these girls a chance to have older Chinese girls to look up to. Someone that's just wearing jeans [as opposed to the traditional Chinese dress, which they presumed all Chinese girls wore] and can share about her college experience.”
Josephine, the artistic director, holds an especially dear role for all of the FCC families. “The girls got to learn something really authentic about their culture, it was really special to work with someone like Jo, because she made it fun but also taught them about discipline and dedication. She shared lots of experiences about moving here as an immigrant, about setting goals, and challenged them to set goals for themselves --- The fact that our kids were dancing on stage at Royce Hall at such a young age was such a special privilege!” Jeri shares with warmth. “Being at all the rehearsals and the big performance, it made the girls feel like they're part of something bigger.”
Over the past 4 years, FCC has truly become part of the CCDC family. At the numerous dance practices, the young girls are often seen following the older girls, asking them questions, “Do you have a boyfriend?” “What's your family like?” As Mika Yokoyama, coordinator for Big Sis Lil Sis program, explains, “It allowed special friendships and bonds to form between two generations, and I think we all really learned from one another.”
“Rachel always says that she wants me to drive her to UCLA even when she gets into college,” Jeri Floyd says toward the end of our conversation, “and that she hopes CCDC is still there for her to be a part of. By then, she'll be the longest member ever, having been part of it for 12 years! I think CCDC's connection really helps her, and someday she will hopefully be comfortable enough in joining a Chinese association, without feeling deprived.”
Who knows? Perhaps in ten years, these young Chinese girls prancing around in their pink leotards will be the leading dancers of Chinese Cultural Dance Club, and will have a trail of new young FCC girls trailing behind them.
Other articles on CCDC and Lotus Steps include: