US dance students learn classical Thai dance in Hua Hin

Photo: The Nation/ANN

Seven Students from Webster University in the US recently spent two months in Thailand to learn about Thai classical dance and followed up their classes by creating and designing their own performance. Titled "East Meets West", the show blended Thai moves with international dance.

Isabelle Lande, Abby Contreras, Izzy Pic, Marissa Beccard, Shannon Haubrich, Tyra Korpf, and Corbin Hall explored the theory and practice of Thai classical dance with Patravadi Mejudhon, Thailand's national artist in performing arts, and Beckah Reed, professor of dance and artistic director of Webster University in St Louis.

Thai classical dance class was added to the university's International Dance Course in 2010, which rewards its graduates with a bachelor of fine arts degree in dance with a modern emphasis.

"I've studied dance since the age of three and feel that Thai dance allows me to see another side of the world. When Webster University offered the Thai classical dance class here, I leapt at the chance. It was hard, very hard, and in some ways similar to ballet. It's a bit like meditation. You pose, stop, slowly move and control your breathing while moving. I like the curve line of the arm and hand pose; it looks beautiful," Contreras, 21, told XP.

"I've always been interested in foreign arts and culture and spent my first semester learning in East India. When I heard that Webster University was offering Thai classical dance class here, I knew it would be perfect for my ballet narration.

Thai classical dance has helped me enormously in building my movement vocabulary," said Tyra Korpf, 22, who collected 1,000 dance poses and movements in her toolbox for her professional arts and choreography design.

"Thai classical dance is similar to Indian dance but differs in the acting out of the story line and the articulation of finger and hand. After completing Thai dance class, I now know how women make the lines."

"I didn't know anything about Thai classical dance and when I first started, it was like I was learning dance for the first time. Now I realise that Thai classical dance is every bit as strict as ballet. You must learn the right and wrong position of your arm, hand and fingers. Although I have studied dance for 20 years, I've found it very exciting," added Hall, 23, who plans to work as a professional dancer.

The students showed how well they had mastered the new discipline in their live performance, "East Meets West", which was staged at Vic Hua Hin on July 6.

"This year is the third Thai classical dance class for Webster students. It's offered once every two years. The students that come are at a progressively higher level. We teach them the ideology and history of the basic of Thai classical pose, which they need to practice in class. In Western dance, the arms are usually kept straight to express determination while Thai classical dance focuses on curved lines to demonstrate relaxation and satisfaction. They learned to bend their knees and sit on the floor and take it slowly, which is contrary to Western dance, which is performed fast. Understanding and giving respect to each other is another purpose of this class," said Patravadi, who is better known as "Khru Lek."

Webster University in Thailand, an extended international location of Webster University in St Louis, Missouri, encourages students to appreciate the culture in the different countries where they study.

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