University of Wisconsin–Madison

Broadway jazz dance class helps international scholar find her footing in Madison

Dance performance

Some say dance is a universal language that can communicate nuanced thoughts, ideas, and identities. For Beijing native Bing Sun, dance has also been a way to get acquainted with American culture during her first few months in the United States.

Sun arrived in the U.S. in early September, eager to start her work as a visiting scholar at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. Though she’s here to study early childhood education in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction, she has learned many valuable lessons in Broadway Jazz Dance Fundamentals, a class offered by Continuing Studies.

Friendship and freedom

International scholar Bing Sun
Bing Sun: ‘In jazz class, there isn’t a correct or wrong way to dance.’

In addition to learning about a uniquely American form of expression, Sun has come to appreciate the freedom that jazz dance provides.

“In jazz class, there isn’t a correct or wrong way to dance. We don’t need to dance exactly the same as the teacher does,” she explains. “I feel free to express my own feelings. And I always feel cheerful when dancing to lively music, which can make people forget about the unhappy things in life for a little while. This kind of experience seems to be part of American culture.”

The class has also given Sun a place to make friends with other lifelong learners in the community. She has forged relationships with people from a variety of backgrounds, including university teaching staff and retired Madison residents. Sun has also benefited from the kindness and support of the instructor, Cindy Severt.

Sun says Severt has helped her relax as she adjusts to a new culture and learning process.

“What I like most about the class is that Cindy teaches us professional movements with simple instructions,” Sun explains, noting how Severt uses basic movements as building blocks for more complex ones. “It’s wonderful to learn not only how to dance, but to see how a dance can be created from a basic movement.”

Each time the class meets, the group learns to dance a short piece. The piece changes from week to week, exposing students to a range of movement styles and musical genres.

This approach also removes any pressure students might feel to memorize what they have learned in previous sessions. In other words, the class is a good exercising in living—and dancing—in the moment.

Leaping into the unknown

International scholar Bing Sun
Sun has expanded her horizons by hiking and camping with Hoofers.

Finding a fun, welcoming way to participate in American culture has helped Sun feel more comfortable and confident in other social situations as well. In her first few months on campus, she took a backpacking and camping trip with UW–Madison’s Hoofer Outing Club, started attending a local church, and began volunteering at the Madison Children’s Museum. Sun even participated in a thoroughly American tradition: a Thanksgiving meal with a local family.

Each experience has helped her feel more connected to the community and more inclined to try something else that piques her interest.

“I’m a person who is always wanting to try something new,” Sun explains. “Now I’m planning to write a book about Chinese people in Madison. I’ve interviewed three people already.”

Learn more about Continuing Studies dance classes on the Dance and Movement webpage, or contact Jessica Courtier at jessica.courtier@wisc.edu with questions. Classes begin in February, and registration is open now.

Featured photo by Matthew Piatt, Creative Commons 2.0. Other photos courtesy of Bing Sun and Cindy Severt.