In Memory of Choreographer Hsueh-Tung Chen, 1947-2022

June 27, 2022

Choreographer and teacher Hsueh-Tung Chen passed away at the age of 74 on June 12, 2022. Chen was born on June 23, 1947, in Shanghai, China, and raised in Taipei, Taiwan, with his five siblings. After moving to New York City to study modern dance, he graduated from the Juilliard School in 1976 and received a master’s degree in dance education from New York University in 1978.

H.T. Chen. Photo by John Lee, courtesy Dian Dong.

At Juilliard, he met his wife, muse and collaborator, Dian Dong. Martha Hill, the director of the Juilliard Dance Division, insisted that Dong be Chen’s interpreter, which was the beginning of their many years of working side by side. Together they created Chen Dance Center, a vibrant cultural center in New York City’s Chinatown, which housed a dance company, theater space and the dance school H.T. Chen and Dancers, Arts Gate Center and Mulberry St. Theater, respectively. Plans for restoring the building are underway after a devastating fire, and classes and rehearsals have been relocated. Chen and Dong’s daughters continue the family tradition in the arts, with Evelyn performing with Sleep No More and Yeeli working in arts administration.

As a choreographer, Chen created contemporary dances through the lens of social justice as well as on traditional and personal themes. Laura Molzan of Broadway World wrote of Chen’s 2015 work South of Gold Mountain, a tribute to 18th- and early-19th-century Chinese immigrants to the U.S., that it “shed a light on the untold stories of immigrants that are far more common than foreign, and that light shone brilliantly.” Jennifer Dunning of The New York Times spoke more broadly: “Mr. Chen has long been one of New York dance’s most persuasive storytellers, addressing issues of acculturation well before they become fashionable in dance.”

Chen was an advocate for the performing arts, serving on numerous panels. He believed in the transformative power of the arts to lift the human spirit. His company conducted extensive educational programming and outreach in communities nationwide, as well as in Europe and Asia. He received numerous awards and recognition for his work, including a Bessie Special Citation, a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Organization of Chinese Americans, and a Mid-Career Award from the Martha Hill Dance Fund. 

Chen was passionate about gardening, coin collecting and befriending every dog in sight. He possessed a childlike wonder and approach to life, which led him to see beauty and art in everything and everyone he crossed paths with. He planted seeds of art wherever he was so that the arts will continue to thrive in the next generations.

In addition to his wife and two daughters, Chen is survived by three of his siblings, numerous nieces and nephews, friends and extended family. A celebration of his life is being planned for the fall of 2022.