China study abroad inspires BYU student to create dance company

Students from the China study abroad program perform a dance choreographed by Benjamin Cuque at Minzu University in Beijing. (Benjamin Cuque)

BYU dance junior Benjamin Cuque said his life-changing and unique experience at the China dance study abroad program, inspired him to start his own dance company.

“I created a dance company after my study abroad, where I choreographed Chinese classical, ballet and contemporary dance,” Cuque said. “We perform in retired centers where the seniors cannot afford to see a performance or where their physical condition would not allow them to go out of the center.”

Cuque is from Guatemala and came to the U.S. to study English. He said he wants to use dance as a way to reach and bless people’s hearts through his dance company.

“This study abroad helped in my inspiration as what I wanted to do with dance and what I wanted as a dancer,” Cuque said. “I learned so much from the culture and their appreciation toward the art field. I felt and shared the same spirit and passion for dancing.”

The China Dance study abroad is a six to seven-week program that offers students cultural experiences and opportunities to collaborate and interact with dance students in China.

Students will take and or observe classes at world-renowned professional dance academies in China, including Beijing Dance Academy and Central Minority University. Students will be housed in a hotel in Wu Xi and in dormitory-style accommodations at the Beijing Minzu University.

The cost of this study abroad is around $4,400 to $4,600 which includes housing, food, classes, flights within China, local transportation, and international health insurance coverage.

Students need to take four courses to participate in the study abroad. First students need to complete DANCE 243R and 244R. Once they are accepted, students need to register for DANCE 341R and are required to take IAS 201R, an international, cross cultural preparation course.

Once the application is complete and a fee of $35 is paid, applicants will be interviewed.

The program is designed to foster exploration, innovation and increased global awareness that will enhance dance skills, knowledge and critical thinking.

The program began in 2002 and is available to BYU students and anyone who meets the requirements of the program. This program runs every three years and will be available again in 2019.

Associate professor and China dance study abroad director Jiamin Huang has been on this study abroad program six times and said over 150 students and faculty members have benefited from the program.

“I think the most important thing is to understand the people and culture,” Huang said. “They can expand their learning experience beyond the classroom by opening their mind to embrace new cultures, which really enhance their learning outcomes.”

BYU Asian studies student Mary Stradley also participated in the 2016 China Dance Program.

Stradley said the program helped her understand Chinese culture and dance in depth.

“We got to experience through actually learning cultural dances, like traditional fan dance, and learned different dances from minority groups like Mongolian and Tibetan,” Stradley said.

Stradley said she enjoyed interacting with the Chinese students and making personal connections.

“I was one of the three who spoke Chinese, so I was an interpreter. I got to get to know the people that we worked with really well,” Stradley said. “Making those connections with other people was my favorite part.”

Stradley said students should go to China to understand what it is really like there.

“It is an eye-opening experience to what China is really like,” Stradley said. “Even if you don’t speak their language, or you’re scared of the food, it is really worthwhile.” 

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