Wolverine has retractable claws. Spiderman shoots webs from his wrists. Iron Man’s hands are equipped with repulsor rays. And Shen Yun’s female dancers? We have orchid palms.
I can still recall my first dance studio with perfect clarity. The piney smell of the long wooden barres. The rows of quaint oriental windows, tempting us with views of sunshine in the summer and snowflakes in winter. And the giant floor-to-ceiling mirrors— the very ones through which I used to gaze skeptically at my younger, awkward-er self.
Naive and uncertain, I didn’t know what to expect from this whole new world. But curiosity and fascination quickly erased any trace of reluctance in me. I was crossing the threshold into 5,000 years of marvelous stories and legends, history, literature, art, and knowledge of every pursuit. (Not to mention some very good food to boot.)
But before delving into any of this, lesson one was... “The very definition of feminine grace,” as our teacher called it. And given that Chinese people have long considered orchids (蘭花 lan hua) a symbol of elegance, it all makes sense.
The noble orchid lives deep within China’s mountainous valleys. Its delicate blossoms and ambrosial perfumes spread beauty and pleasure wherever it takes root. Countless generations have seen and loved the gentle orchid, and lifted their brush pens in praise. Even the eminent Confucius himself was among the spellbound crowd.
Wouldn’t you agree then, that an orchid makes the perfect companion for a dancing maiden’s hand?
‘Orchid Palms’ (lan hua zhang)
With its great versatility, classical Chinese dance is able to convey just about anything imaginable. So forming the hands into a pair of orchids is no preposterous feat.
This is how I remember “Orchid Palm 101”:
Start with your hand relaxed but not lax. Press the straightened middle finger and thumb close toward each other. The other fingers should edge in toward the middle finger laterally, but not all on one plane. This brings out different layers of the orchid's petals. Use a dab of force and extend your finger digits to conjure a fresh, blooming flower.
Your hands must retain this form while dancing, but not to a point of rigidity. Don’t forget: flowers are living things and must breathe and dance as well!
Always at Hand
As a tiny tot in school, one of the first things I learned was the English alphabet. I still use that lesson 365 days a year. Likewise, not a day goes by now that I don't need my first dance lesson, my orchid palms, constantly by my side.
I’ll be sharing a few more classical Chinese dance 101’s in future blogs, so see you then!
August 21, 2014