acrobats (december 5, 2011)

When my sister and her family were visiting in August we took them to see the Chinese Acrobats.  Our family had seen them many years ago when we were on our trip round the world. I had remembered being quite impressed, but when the show opened with a bunch of women dressed in big Vegasy, yet fully covering, costumes complete with huge feather headdresses, I thought, “uh oh! things have really changed, boys are not going to like this!”

3 minutes later two men came on stage, set up an arch of stairs and climbed to the top.  One man did a handstand, the other balanced on his shoulders and they proceeded to hop down, and then back up the stairs. Hard to describe, but it was incredible to watch.

For the next hour we were completely mesmerized by fantastic feats of flexibility, strength and coordination. I am including more photos than usual with this email as a picture really is worth more than a thousand words (my words anyway) in conveying how marvelous it was.

These acrobatic shows have long history, being performed for over 2000 years. People incorporated whatever items they had at hand in their performances.  They still do, using things like chairs, hoops, bowls and bicycles.  These were not posh shows.  They were usually staged outside, and were not typically performed in theatres until after the Communist takeover in 1949.  Mao is rumoured to have loved watching them. Additionally, they were approved of by the powers that be because it was difficult to integrate a political (or subversive) message into the act, unlike traditional plays. They can be used for propaganda purposes too. One current ad for a troupe says it “reflects the industry, resourcefulness and un daunting courage of the Chinese people!”

Children start training when they are 4 or 5, learning basic skills and become specialized by age 9 or 10.  They move in ways you really can’t imagine is possible for a human body.  These are incredible athletes.  Acrobatic work is considered a part of Qi Gong training.  This a Chinese breathing and mental control discipline whose goal is too help focus ones attention in order to keep the body and mind working in harmony. It can be similar to yoga, and includes Tai Chi and Kung Fu under its umbrella.

When the show ended the boys said ”we must bring every visitor here!”  Not a hard task. There are over 120 troupes and more the 12000 performers in China, who often travel to other parts of the world.  We’ve ended up having many visitors this fall and have added acrobats to our must see list even though the boys now find it a bit boring… UGH!

We have had our first snowfall in Beijing. A good quarter inch!! All extracurricular activities have screamed to a halt.  Driving has become even more treacherous and frightening.  Today I had 8 people in front of my house desperately sweeping up every flake.  Chowder went completely ballistic, racing from door to window and back again, barking like crazy!  Quite a change from our old Toronto days when I remember shoveling in April!

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