Bodies in motion: Marie Chong brings summer dance to Seattle

By Vivian Nguyen
Northwest Asian Weekly

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Marie Chong is the founder of ARC Dance Co. (Photo by Paul Sanders)

Some people find it difficult to balance their work and personal life. It requires a certain level of dexterity to maintain balance. For artistic director and former professional dancer Marie Chong, it’s a way of life in her work — literally.

Raised in Tacoma, Chong first found inspiration for recreational dance after watching her first Summer Olympic Games as a child. The movement and dance found in the gymnastics event inspired her to move from a young age. Her parents signed her up for a ballet class shortly after and she took to the form quickly.

When she became a teenager, Chong decided to pursue the art form as a whole, which led to exploring other genres and pursuing dance as an adult. Chong trained at ballet schools in Tacoma and Seattle, and eventually went on to chase a professional performance career for 10 years that took her across the United States, Canada, and Europe.

Although Chong is a master in different types of movement, ballet is the genre that anchors all her passions and experiences.

“Realistically, ballet is the foundation for all movement,” she explained. “No matter what dance genre you go into, the reality is that you need a good comprehension of classical ballet. Classical ballet is like the ABCs of reading. It gives you the ability to spell words and to form sentences — or in this case, choreography.”

Chong’s fascination with movement evolved from the art of classical ballet to adopting a more scientific approach to dance through the study of biomechanics and kinesiology. Dance kinesiology is the study of the human body in motion, particularly in regard to dance performance.

She currently has certification in Pilates and kinesis, and sees herself as a “movement specialist,” or someone who has a strong assessment of non-verbal communications. She has become more focused on the science behind movement, and her current work oversees helping people understand their movements.

“I would have a [client] walk in front of me and I’d make an assessment of what their specific movement was like,” said Chong of her thought process to biomechanics. “From a scientific standpoint, the human body has habituated patterns. We get out of bed the exact same way. We do the same things over and over. Some of these continued movements create pain, and that’s where I come in — to help people address that pain.”

Chong is personally familiar with pain and physical movement. She retired from professional performance 15 years ago, citing the physical demands of the profession as taking a toll on her body.

“It’s like the career of any professional sports player,” said Chong of her retirement. “Professional dancers live though 30- to 45-week seasons, which is basically a year, so they are essentially using their body every day. It’s grueling.”

Her retirement led her back to Seattle, where she realized that the city’s dance scene, at the time, was limited in its offering to professional dancers. There were no companies that offered dancers a performance opportunity in a professional environment and across a range of genres. Chong launched ARC Dance Company in 1999 to address these needs. The dance company aims to educate and foster well-rounded dance professionals through the foundation of classical ballet and performance.

ARC Dance Company is gearing up for its upcoming program titled “Summer Dance at the Center,” a mixed bill repertoire featuring emerging dancers from ARC Dance Company, as well as work from other directors.

“It’s a great opportunity to make dance accessible to audiences that may not be very familiar to it,” said Chong of the production.

Despite running her own dance company, Chong also found time to pursue her longtime dream: Working for the theatrical and circus arts entertainment company Cirque du Soleil.

In 2011, Chong was the artistic assistant and director of Cirque du Soleil’s “KOOZA” show, which took her all over the world. For 16 months, Chong oversaw and maintained the artistic integrity of the show, from integration of artistic staff to stage production to artists.

“It’s great to say that I ‘ran away to the circus,’” joked Chong about achieving her dream.

“Working with Cirque du Soleil was fascinating because I was exposed to several different languages daily, and at least 20 different ones from around the world. So I think there’s more for me with travel,” said Chong, of how she sees her directing and dance career evolving.

She also expressed interest to one day direct a musical on Broadway, or even to continue exploring her biomechanical movement interests in some greater capacity with the Olympic Games.

Should Chong find her way to the Olympic Games, it would be a full circle for her and her dance career. (end)

“Summer Dance at the Center” will run from July 17 to July 19 at the Leo Kreielshemier Theatre at Seattle Center. All performances begin at 8 p.m. For more information, visit www.arcdance.org and www.brownpapertickets.com.

Vivian Nguyen can be reached at info@nwasianweekly.com.

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