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Chinese Culture in NJ Schools

Nai-Ni Chen Dance Company

Chinese Culture in NJ Schools

A Model Arts-In-Education Program


Goals of the Chinese Culture in Schools Program

  • To educate the students and community in Chinese Culture.
  • To utilize a successful collaborative process which involves school children, teachers, dancers, artists, and parents.
  • To replicate the Westminster Academy in Elizabeth model in Elizabeth, Hillside, Verona, Maplewood and Paterson.
  • To provide classroom teachers with curriculum materials and professional development seminars which link dance with the study of the Visual and Performing Arts, Social Studies, Mathematics, Science, Language and Arts Literacy and World Languages while meeting NJ Core Curriculum Content Standards.
  • To develop and provide resources on Asian culture.
  • To present an All School Family Festivals that will involve children, teachers, parents and the larger community to give a broader context for understanding and participating in the arts.

Addressing School Needs

This program addresses the following needs:

  • Builds a diverse cultural identity for the school,
  • Attracts excellent teachers with commitment to creativity,
  • Assures parental involvement through student participation and performance,
  • Meets core curriculum content standards,
  • Prepares local citizens for the global village.

Development History

Over the past ten years the Nai-Ni Chen Dance Company has offered programs for educational institutions throughout New Jersey that meet the affective and curricular needs of classrooms and children.  Many of our programs have promoted a better understanding of Asian American cultural heritage with a broad impact in the arts and dance.  As early as 1992, we began seeking ways to make a deeper impact on children and teachers, recognizing that to realize the company’s mission we would need to build an alternative model for working with schools. Through the Westminster Academy project in Elizabeth, the company has been able to effect in-depth changes in the school through globally oriented, multidisciplinary perspective on education utilizing our creative process.

In 1995, when Nai-Ni was commissioned by the Lincoln Center Institute to develop Peach Flower Landscape, teaching artists worked with her to create a study guide.  Classroom teachers who viewed the dance created curricula exploring concepts such as the way Taoism and Confucian thought are expressed through movement and how such values can be integrated into classroom life.  Enthralled by the interweaving of many elements of Chinese culture into a colorful production, teachers submitted an unprecedented number of requests for Peach Flower Landscape to be performed in the Lincoln Center Institute’s affiliated schools.

Encouraged by the possibilities of teacher, student and community participation in art and learning, we began to search for a New Jersey School district where we could pursue, in partnership, an interdisciplinary curriculum that could evolve organically from the company’s work.

In 1997, the Elizabeth School District was identified with the opening of a new neighborhood school.  During 1998, the company provided Westminster Academy in Elizabeth several professional development seminars, a large resource box of Asian materials and curriculum materials developed in partnership with the teachers.  During 1999, the company provided: several field trips to museums with Asian Art galleries and our performance at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center, several teacher workshops, several in-school performances and over 70 class room workshops in dance, art and music which culminated in a day long event called China Day! Similarly this past year the company provided workshops in movement and art, which culminated in a Lantern Festival on March 24, 2000.

Using curriculum developed in Elizabeth, during 1999, the company provided over 40 classroom workshops to students in grades 5 and 6 of the George Washington School in Hillside.  The spring and fall sessions of workshops culminated in two public performances with both the students and company performing for fellow students, parents and the general public.

The Elizabeth model was also applied this past fall in Paterson in partnership with the New Jersey Community Development Corporation’s Family Friendly Center in School #2.  The program was kicked off with a free performance of The Art of Chinese Dance, which was followed by 8 movement workshops for students in the 2nd and 3rd grades.  The program ended in a Festival in December with the student’s performance with the Dance Company, Chinese craft demonstrations and Chinese food.

Program Summary

Nai-Ni Chen Dance Company seeks to continue developing the model in Elizabeth and apply that model to other needy school districts such as Hillside, Verona, Maplewood and Paterson.  There are several phases to the Elizabeth model:

  • Teacher/Artist/Scholar Exchange Phase.  The company presents a series of five seminars designed to bridge the gap between education and art, Asian and European philosophy, eastern and western forms as well as the spatial, visual and the spoken.  These workshops utilize NJ based Chinese and Chinese American scholars, artists and facilities.
  1. Bridging the Gap, Between East and West, Artists and Teachers.  Workshop introduces the curriculum development process.  Teachers and artists exchange their view on arts and education.  Workshop leaders: Nai-Ni Chen, Artistic Director.
  2. Roots of the Chinese Perspective.  A workshop exploring underlining philosophical tenets of the dance poem, Peach Flower Landscape particularly the Chinese philosophy of Taoism, Confucian ideals. Focused on Classroom applications.  Workshop Leader: Terri McNichol.
  3. The Chinese Language.  An introduction to various aspects of Chinese culture.  Workshop Leader:  Wei-Ling Wu, Assistant Director of the Secondary School Chinese Language Program at Princeton University.  Site: Newark Museum.
  4. The Aesthetics and Technology of Making and Producing Dance.  A behind the scenes look at Peach Flower Landscape. Workshop Leaders: Nai-Ni Chen, Choreographer, A.C. Hickox, Lighting Designer and Technical Director.  Site: The New Jersey Performing Arts Center.

Implementation Phase.  A series of classroom visits featuring the company’s dancers and guest artists designed to enhance the curricula.  These activities culminate in a Family Festival in which children and their parents participate in the celebration of a Chinese Festival.  These festivals include: Chinese New Year, Lantern Festival and the Harvest Moon Festival as well as celebrating Asian American Heritage month in May.

  1. Opening Reception and Performance introduces the students to the company and the excitement of learning Chinese.
  2. Visual Arts Visits introduces students to the written language, calligraphy and visual arts in folk and court forms.  Emphasis will be placed on the folk form, which will be used for the festival.
  3. Craft Artist Visits introduces the student to the joy of Chinese handicraft such as paper folding, knotting and lantern making.  In the process, introduces the history of China and tells the stories behind the crafts.
  4. Performing Artist Visits features a series of music and dance artist classroom visits which results in a Chinese Festival.
  • Evaluation and Improvement Phase. Using student/parent and teacher feedback forms and artists evaluations, we will evaluate student’s artistic and educational outcome through comparisons with other districts.  In this phase, the company will introduce some of its new works and work-in-progress to the teachers involved, and discuss future plans with the school.

In Elizabeth, we have found that this model works.  We plan to continue providing classroom workshops, which culminate into a All School Family Festival.  Dance Company staff attends faculty staff meetings to work with the teachers to further develop the curriculum.

In both, Hillside and Paterson the programs were well received and there is interest in continuing our workshops and festival performances.  Introductory workshops have been provided in Maple wood and Verona with interest in expanding the program.


Over the past few years, the company has created a model program that brings together community resources in New Jersey to achieve district and school wide involvement in the arts, greater pride in a diverse student population as well as foster teaching excellence and creativity.

Support from Lillian P. Schenck Fund will allow the company to expand this program.  The company has already established an excellent reputation in these areas.  With this support, the company can then afford to hire additional artists and administrative personnel to bring the dance and culture into schools that otherwise cannot afford such programs and services