Transdisciplinary multicultural dance education: Teaching Chinese American students Chinese culture through Lion Dancing

Chan, Mei Hsiu
Journal Title
Journal ISSN
Volume Title

The purpose of this study was to document the process of change in overseas Chinese students' understanding and appreciation of Chinese culture through Lion Dancing workshop. It was confined to examining the methods used to teach 14 volunteer Chinese American students, ages 11–14, who live in the Dallas and surrounding area. The workshop was conducted at the Dallas Chinese Community Activities Center in Richardson, TX, in January 1998.

Lion Dancing, one of the most significant and popular traditional Chinese festival dances, has been an integral part of the Chinese culture for more than two thousand years. It is not only a symbol of power, but also a performing art capable of introducing overseas Chinese students to Chinese culture.

The methodology was qualitative inquiry and grounded theory which utilized the ethnographic procedure of participant observation for collecting and interpreting the data. I gave my subjects a pre-workshop questionnaire in order to determine their initial level of knowledge and understanding of Lion Dancing and its related culture. I divided the curriculum into seven categories: (1) historical background and literary sources; (2) mythological stories; (3) aesthetic/symbolic values and meanings of the props, masks, and costumes; (4) religious beliefs and ritual ceremonies; (5) musical meanings and exercises; (6) artistic dance techniques related to the Lion Dance; and (7) self/group creative process which was underscored by the traditional learning spirit of cooperation. The students had hands-on experience with how to play traditional Chinese music instruments and how to perform the Southern style of Lion Dancing. At the end of the workshop, I gave my volunteer students a post-workshop questionnaire.

Data collection took several forms: Class activities and subjects were videotaped; and I recorded personal notes after each class. Some students and parents were individually interviewed. I applied Glaser's and Strauss's four steps for analysis, and compared the students' class reactions of expression, observable behavior, conversation, and reflective responses. The pre and post-questionnaires were compared; and stated comments, observable behavior, my participant-observation findings, students' final lecture demonstration, performances, and the parental commentary were analyzed. The triangulation technique helped me examine the relationships and assess the reliability of the material to formulate my theoretical insights.

I also explored the history and significance of Chinese culture, religion to better understand the ongoing popularity of the dance as well as developed an examination of the concepts of multicultural education in the United States. Application of Wissler's the nine culture universals was the basis for organizing the curriculum content. I applied Whitehead's and Dewey's educational concepts, and Gardner's theories into my lesson plans and pedagogy. Students learned and related to Chinese culture through comprehensive sensory media that focused on individual potential and learning styles.

The outcome of this study suggests the usefulness of a transdisciplinary pedagogy in cultural education, particularly related to dance and culture learned through positive, hands-on learning experiences. This study constitutes a first step in the development of an effective global educational paradigm that may diminish the cultural dissonance children experience when adjusting to a host culture. It is my belief that one mission for education is to build a sense of self awareness and respect by honoring the integrity of the child's native culture.

Communication and the arts, Education, Chinese-American, Culture, Lion dancing, Multicultural dance education, Teaching