Aerobics master makes the right moves despite crippling disease
What do you do as an aerobics choreographer and trainer, and what have been some of your achievements?
I teach aerobics at the Beijing Sports University and also help the organisers of the Beijing Olympics select and train the Games' official cheerleaders. Also, I have a part-time job with the Beijing Disabled People's Association helping put a troupe of deaf dancers through their paces and choreograph a new dance show for them.
As for achievements, I have a cabinet full of trophies representing various choreography prizes, and my students have excelled in aerobics competitions both in and outside the country.
What does it take to be a good aerobics choreographer?
You have to be music-savvy in the first place by acquainting yourself with all genres of music and having the knack to employ the right music for a certain routine.
On top of that, you have to really learn about the human anatomy. Kinematics - knowledge of the way things move - also plays an increasingly important part in the development of aerobics choreography.
For instance, in the days of Jane Fonda, who founded modern-day aerobics, choreographers were pre-occupied with dramatic moves and big follow-throughs.
But, over the years, scientists have helped us learn more about our body and come to realise the harm that practice does to the human joints, leading to a trend toward more soft and smooth moves in the choreography.
So we need to keep a close watch on that area and be ready to rectify our mindset in line with progress.
How has aerobics become a popular daily exercise for a significant portion of Chinese urbanites?
Aerobics was introduced to China in the late '80s, along with disco. After years of stagnation it has gained momentum through the burgeoning gym industry over the past decade.
It has also rid itself of the tag of being a female-only exercise, a stereotypical image that choked the growth in its popularity in initial years. Today China has 10,000-plus licensed aerobics trainers with hundreds of thousands of regular exercisers coming under their instruction.
Some say the future of the sport lies in whether it can make it into the Olympics, which I can't agree with. I think aerobics, with its accessibility, is meant to bring ordinary people joy and fitness. Competitive aerobics might give rise to glory and pride but not the same kind of sheer joyfulness embodied in the amateurism.
Has your disability ever affected your career?
I contracted polio at the age of two. But no disease can kill a person's inner passion for music, if he or she is born with it. I learned piano and accordion in my childhood and got a job as a pianist at a military-affiliated troupe in Beijing when I turned 20. In my days as an army artist, I also developed an interest in dancing choreography and taught myself this discipline.
In 1987 I came across the biggest turning point of my life. At their invitation, I helped one of China's earliest aerobic teams prepare for the country's first domestic aerobics competition. I choreographed the team's dances and composed the music, and then found myself incurably in love with the sport.
Throughout my career, there have been people who have fixed an uneasy gaze on my left foot, which was crippled by the polio, instead of my achievements on the stage. I really can't complain too much because it's the social reality in China. I think the best response to unnecessary sympathy or prejudice is to leave them alone.
What is your life like outside of the aerobics class?
I raise four cats and two dogs in my apartment. But I regret to say that I don't spare enough time for them. Even at home, I bury myself under piles of record labels and aerobics videotapes. I really don't know what else I can do outside of aerobics and I'm glad that I have lasted so long in the business.