Cherish each moment
Courtney Lopes' love of dance has taken her around the world and awakened in her a new dance passion.
The 20-year-old is a dance major at the Conservatory of Dance at SUNY Purchase in New York, but she is spending time studying in Taiwan. This past summer she danced around Mexico.
Last June, she was one of 12 students from dance conservatories in New York who raised enough money to travel to four different Mexican cities in their dance troupe 'Juntos'.
“We started in San Miguel de Allende where we taught workshops at many orphanages,” said Ms Lopes.
“We taught the kids basic dance movements and encouraged them to gain the confidence to perform in front of a crowd of hundreds.
“It was the most touching experience and the bond that we made will last forever.”
After their work in the orphanages was complete they then went to Guanajuato, which is a very rural and less economically developed city.
This was followed by Mexico City and Queretaro. “In each of these cities, we performed many times in front of hundreds and hundreds of people,” she said.
“The look on the audience's faces after our shows was extremely satisfying, as we were able to share our love for dance with them, which was something they were not very used to.”
As word of mouth travelled about Juntos, many venues asked them to fit more performances into their schedule.
During their stay in Mexico City, they also trained with a professional modern dance company called Apoc Apoc.
“They taught us a very intensive class each morning and then taught us part of their repertoire.
“It was great working with such dedicated dancers who love nothing more than to dance, just as we do.”
With the dancing aside, sightseeing didn't go astray, as they went to see many beautiful churches, Diego Rivera's murals, and climbed the Pyramid of the Sun at the Aztec Ruins.
“We were thoroughly indulged in the Mexican culture by supporting their dance styles, eating the most authentic Mexican food, and trying so very hard to learn their language.
“The experience was unforgettable and I am already planning to do it again next year.”
She was selected from 60 SUNY Purchase students to study abroad.
“Each year, after a long application process, students from the dance department are chosen to study abroad in four different countries.
“This year, the competition was hard as only two students were chosen for each country and 60 students applied in total.
“I am so grateful to say that I was chosen to study in Taipei, Taiwan. I am now studying at the Taipei National University of the Arts (TNUA), which is the number one arts school in Taiwan, especially for their dance programme.
“Taiwan is the most amazing place I have ever been, and my experience here has been so incredible, it's hard to put into words!”
Each day she takes about three or four dance classes and she has rehearsals about four times a week.
“I am taking my regular ballet, modern and choreography classes, but I have also been lucky enough to dive into the Chinese culture, and take some very traditional classes.
“Twice a week, I take an Eastern Chinese dance class, kung fu, and a swords class.
“Eastern dance is probably the hardest class I have ever taken in my life, because of the detail and strength needed to succeed in the technique, but I already feel the benefits it is having on my dancing.
“Kung fu is my absolute favourite, as we are learning the true fighting technique, but relating it to a dance form making it move more fluidly throughout space.
“The swords class is also really great, because it teaches many different kinds of sword dancing; the movement is very controlled and beautiful.”
Because of her involvement, she and the other exchange student were given the opportunity to audition for the upcoming annual showcase, which is unheard of, she said.
“Exchange students are rarely given this opportunity.
“We both made it into the piece, and have lead roles throughout its entirety and I just recently performed an Aboriginal dance in the annual Kuan du Arts Festival hosted at TNUA, which was quite the experience.
“We had to learn a traditional Aboriginal chant with specific tones and melodies to follow throughout.
“It was a lot of fun, and a very touching moment, as every single student, from every department held hands in many circles, performing the traditional dance and chanting the songs. It was a powerful moment for all of us.”
Her life in Taiwan has definitely been an adventure.
“It's from the very ethnic and unfamiliar foods, to the high mountains next to the busy city life.
“The people here are very welcoming, and eager to teach the foreigners their language. The dancers are highly trained professionals, and I could not ask for better training.
“I cherish each moment that I'm in Taiwan, and am glad I have until January to continue this journey.”