Yuan Yuan Tan in John Neumeier's The Little Mermaid. Photo by Erik Tomasson, Courtesy SFB

Yuan Yuan Tan on Fate, Feeling Behind & the Joy of the Creative Process

I think fate brought me to dance. My mom had dreamed of becoming a dancer, but was discouraged by my grandfather. At 10 years old I ended up being one of a couple thousand kids to be selected to audition at Shanghai Dance School. I had all the criteria they wanted.

But my parents disagreed whether or not I should pursue ballet. So I didn't start until one year later. I felt behind. I had never seen ballet and had no idea what my classmates were doing. But when you enter the school, you basically have a job already. You graduate and then go straight into a company, just like in Russia. So I never questioned that ballet was my path.


Today, dance shapes who I am in every way. I've learned that the mind is so strong—and that I am quite stubborn. At one point I had labral tears in both hips. The doctor suggested arthroscopic surgery. He said the chance of recovery was 25 percent and it could take up to two years. When I understood that there would be no guarantees, I refused to do the surgery. I rested for two weeks, then I retrained myself to know what my body needed. About a month later, I returned to the stage.

One experience that really shaped me as a dancer was working with John Neumeier on The Little Mermaid in 2011. John is not only a great choreographer, but also such a mentor and acting coach. Every step he creates has a meaning. The Little Mermaid changed my perspective as a performer—he brought out so much artistry in me. As a dancer, the final joy is onstage, but the process is also such a joy. Seeing the changes in the studio little by little, I think that's beautiful.

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CalArts dance students. Photo by Josh S. Rose, Courtesy CalArts

4 Reasons Interdisciplinary Education Can Make You a Stronger Dancer, According to CalArts

After years spent training in their childhood studio, it can be hard for dancers to realize exactly how many pathways there are toward career success. The School of Dance at CalArts aims to show its students all of them.

Built with the intention to break barriers and bend the rules, CalArts' interdisciplinary curriculum ensures that students take classes that cover an entire spectrum of artistic approaches. The result? A dance program that gives you much more than just dance.

Last week, Dance Magazine caught up with Kevin Whitmire, assistant director of admission for CalArts School of Dance, and recent alum Kevin Zambrano for the inside scoop on how an interdisciplinary curriculum can make you a stronger artist. Watch the full event below, and read on for the highlights.

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July 2021