CAAM Dance

By Beatrice Rothweiler & Julie Ha Truong | CAAM CDT | January 2023

The Chinese American Association of Minnesota Chinese Dance Theater (CAAM CDT) will celebrate the 2023 Chinese New Year season, and its 30th Anniversary with an original new, 90-minute program at the O’Shaughnessy the weekend of Feb. 4 and 5.  Entitled “Radiance,” this live, in-person event under the artistic direction of Jinyu ZHOU (formerly artistic director of Zhejiang Song and Dance Theater) illuminates the stage with a diversity of Chinese dance styles.

CAAM CDT dancers will perform several original world premiere works choreographed by ZHOU, artistic director; Lili Teng, retired artistic director and Ao LIU, performance director; who are all international award-winning dance artists and choreographers.

LIU, former soloist for world renowned Yang Liping’s dance company, (also known as the “Peacock Queen”), who joined CAAM CDT in 2022, will perform a new dance to honor her mentor (Yang Liping).  The community dancers of CAAM CDT will also delight the audience with not-to-be-missed performances that celebrate both the Chinese New Year and CAAM CDT’s 30th anniversary!

The program consists of rich and colorful classical dance effusing elegance and charm, ethnic dances exhibiting sprit and character as well as contemporary dance revealing new directions while fusing traditional elements.  CAAM CDT has built a reputation in arts and dance circles with its entertaining, professionally choreographed and marvelously executed programs on stage.  CAAM CDT is also recognized for its welcoming and inclusive work in the broader community with its extensive outreach in schools and in the community.

As part of the preparation for this celebration, China Insight asked the Ha family to write about the three generations of their family who have danced and help build community at CAAM CDT over the years.  

Interviewer: Julie Ha Truong

Interviewees: LiCong Ha (Thong Le Ha), Julie’s mother & Amy Ha Truong, daughter of LiCong Ha

Julie: It is my pleasure to interview my mom and sister today as we reflect on 30 years with CAAM Dance Theater, which has been a huge part of our family’s life.  We were dancers for our entire childhood.  We even became teachers for over 10 years.  For me, it was a place where I could exercise, connect with my cultural heritage, and connect with people passionate about storytelling through dance.  I remember spending my high school and college weekends teaching hundreds of dancers, many of them were adoptees from China.  Some of them looked at me eagerly and asked me if their biological mom looked like me.  My heart is so full thinking of them and knowing many of them continue to dance into their high school and college years. 

Let’s start the interview.  Mom, how did this all start?  How did we get so involved in CAAM Dance?

LiCong: Though we were immigrants from Vietnam, we are ethnically Chinese.  We were looking for a place for you and Amy, our daughters to learn about Chinese culture and dance.  Later, you did many community performances, as volunteers to share Chinese culture with American audiences. Back then it was a big investment – in time and class fees, but it was a priority.  As you became older, you became dance teachers and even helped manage performances, and were spokespeople/emcees to share Chinese culture.  Through the experience, you learned many life skills.

Julie: What were some life lessons learned?

LiCong: There were times that were difficult, as it required a lot of practice and some of the dances were quite challenging.  We also had to work with many different types of people – parents, students, artists, schools & businesses that we performed for.  It took a village.  There was extensive coordination of volunteers and parents to put on full-scale productions and hundreds of community shows.  I could see you both learning a lot of leadership, perseverance and volunteerism skills. 

Julie: CAAM Dance is where I had my first nonprofit job.  Teaching and managing.  Today I have my own consulting firm where I support nonprofits in meeting their missions.  In many ways I thank you, artistic director Shen Pei, and CAAM Dance for those initial opportunities. 

The teachers, board, and parents have worked so hard to make CAAM Dance an anchor in our community for so long.  CAAM Dance has been a pioneer in Chinese dance.  They are one of the longest-standing and strongest dance schools for the last 30 years.  You were integral to helping grow CAAM Dance, having served on the board and as a key volunteer since its inception in 1992. Why was it so important to be so involved in a dance program?

LiCong: What started as a dance program became a way for all of us to learn, appreciate, and share Chinese dance as an art form and its cultural history.  We invited a renowned choreographer from China, Shen Pei.  She was so touched by the dedicated parents that she moved to Minnesota to join us in our mission.  She also elevated the artistic quality of our dance theater.  It was an all-hands-on-deck experience, from coordinating classes, to sewing costumes, to putting on theater productions.  Even your grandma made hundreds of costumes (that’s 4 generations!) and your dad helped with props, video recordings, and staging.  It didn’t stop with our immediate family.  All of your cousins and even your husbands joined CAAM dance!  It really was an activity for our entire extended family!

Julie: What are you proud of today?

LiCong: It’s really touching to see you & Amy’s daughters also dancing.  We now are three generations of Chinese dancers!  When you and Amy became teenagers, you joined the adult dances and I have such great memories of us dancing together.  I look forward to many more!

Julie: Amy, what did doing Chinese dance mean to you? 

Amy: It was a place to hang out with friends, to connect with people who have similar backgrounds and interests, and who loved the art of Chinese dance.  As a child I was quite self-conscious and quiet.  It built my confidence and broke down barriers.  When I felt a lot of pressure from school, I found dance to be a way to lift my spirits.  I became better at time management too!  People understand what you are going through.  Today I’m not a dance teacher – in fact, I run a dental office.  Being an entrepreneur can be stressful, but I still find time to dance, currently with Ao LIU, who is an amazing dancer and teacher.  I rely now on dance to relieve stress.

Julie: Your daughter, who’s 6, is now an active Chinese dancer.  She’s also in jazz and tap dance.  What’s unique about Chinese dance?

Amy: She can meet other friends interested in Chinese dance. With her current teacher, retired Artistic Director Lily Teng she learns about her cultural heritage, and practices her Chinese language skills while learning dance forms that quite different than western dance.  The lines are more curved and flow differently. The music is quite dynamic and ranges greatly.  There’s a lot of storytelling behind each dance and even each dance move.  My daughter loves dance of all kinds – she is so joyful when she’s dancing with friends.

Julie: What have you noticed about CAAM Dance Theater today?

Amy: The teachers are all very strong dancers and teachers from China.  They are kind yet effective teachers!  My daughter is in such admiration of other dancers, including the teachers and fellow students. She loves watching dance so much that she recently asked to stay and watch the next class of students dancing after completing her own two hours of Chinese dance.  I had always hoped she would be interested in Chinese dance but I never imagined she would love it this much!!  She is always stretching and doing dance moves wherever she is. 

Julie: Amy, as a previous dancer, dance teacher, and now dance mom, what advice do you give your CAAM dancers today?

Amy: CAAM Dance is more than just dance.  It is an important part of learning about diverse cultures, a place to meet life-long friends, and be stronger mentally and physically.  It’s also a place you can volunteer and learn other skills, such as teaching other students or helping to put on theater productions.  Most importantly it’s a place to have fun and be proud of what we can accomplish when we work together. 

Julie: Mom, what do you wish for CAAM at this 30-year anniversary?

LiCong: This year especially, we have 3 excellent teachers at CAAM dance.  ZHOU has created original choreography for our group using classic dance movement with contemporary interpretations.  

I look forward so much to the dancers putting forth their best efforts on stage at this year’s Chinese New Year and 30th anniversary production.  All their efforts will really shine!  I hope more people will be moved to come and learn Chinese dance.  Personally, after retiring and starting my own financial services company, I have even come back to dance.  It is for people of all ages and backgrounds.  We are always looking for volunteers to join our dance community – there are so many roles.  It’s fun and rewarding.  CAAM Dance has been like family to us for 30 years and we look forward to celebrating with the community!

 

“Radiance” is supported by Minnesota State Arts Board, Metropolitan Regional Arts Board, St. Paul Foundation, as well as generous individual and organizational financial donations and countless hours of volunteers from the CAAM CDT community. 

Tickets $30-5 are available online.  Until Jan. 15, a 50% discount is available with the code “RAD” at check out online.

Venue: The O’Shaughnessy at The College of St. Catherine, 2004 Randolph Avenue, St. Paul, MN

Date/Time: Sat., Feb.4, 7 p.m.; Sun., Feb. 5, 2 p.m.

Please contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. for further information.

 The Ha Truong family

Julie Ha Truong, MPP, started dancing at CAAM CDT in 1992.  Today, in her free-time, she can be found teaching and sharing Chinese dance and culture with students/audiences across the country.  She is also the founder of a California-based nonprofit consulting firm.  She returns to Minnesota often to perform with her family’s Ha-Family Lion Dance Troupe.

LiCong (Thong Le Ha) is the heart behind her family’s commitment to CAAM CDT and sharing cultural and family values.  Being an immigrant from Vietnam, it has been important to preserve her family’s ethnic Chinese heritage, linguistically and culturally, while sharing it and integrating with American culture.  She is a giver, a bridge-builder, and a visionary.  She’s a recipient of the Council on Asian Pacific Minnesota’s Lifetime Leadership Award.  She owns a business in the financial industry.

Dr. Amy Ha Truong, DDS, is the owner of a dental clinic in Oakdale, Minn.  On her off hours, she and her family can be found dancing and performing.  It is a way for them to stay active, engage in cultural exchange, and give back to their community.  Her 6-year-old daughter was an award-winning dancer at the age of 5.  She and her husband partake in dance classes and community-based performances with CAAM CDT and the Ha-Family Lion Dance Troupe

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CHINAINSIGHT (CI) is published monthly ((except July/August and November/December are combined) by China Insight, Inc., an independent, privately owned company started in 2001 and headquartered in the Twin Cities area of Minnesota.

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