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Trainees take acrobatics skills home

Another batch of trainee acrobats from developing countries left China this month after studying for a year at the Hebei Wuqiao Acrobatic Art School.


A foreign student hones her skills at the school. [Photo/China Daily]

Bilal Fofanah, 15, from Freetown, capital of Sierra Leone, was one of them. He said he was excited to be going home but sad to be leaving Wuqiao county, in northern China's Hebei province, which is regarded as the cradle of Chinese acrobatics.

The school has trained nearly 400 foreign students from 23 developing countries since 2002, when a cultural exchange program was launched by the Ministry of Culture and the Ministry of Commerce. However, concerns have been expressed about their career prospects after they leave.

Before Bilal arrived in Wuqiao, he was a middle school student who practiced hip-hop dancing. "It was the Chinese kung fu films I watched that attracted me here," he said, mentioning martial arts stars such as Jackie Chan.

He started to learn acrobatics as a hobby at 13 when a friend got to know an acrobat and persuaded him they should learn together.

Bilal said he thought acrobats were just as cool as martial art stars, but his parents disapproved. "They scolded me for learning useless things, complaining that I couldn't bring any fortune to the family by performing acrobatics," he said.

His parents also criticized him for not helping with the housework, because as a novice he ached all over after practicing basic skills like somersaulting and handstands.

Yet their attitude toward acrobatics changed when Bilal was chosen for the one-year course in China. "They're supportive now because they know I may have a future in acrobatics, since the art form is greatly valued and can be taught well in China," he said.

Like other students, Bilal started training at 8 am each day and would spend about six hours a day practicing basic skills and different circus acts.

Through hard work and willpower, after a year's learning and practicing Bilal now can perform amazing acrobatic feats, such as juggling hats and controlling a rotating Cyr wheel.

"I like the feeling of performing on a stage when audiences cheer and applaud my movements," Bilal said. He was keen to show people back home and in other countries what he had learned, but said he wished he could have stayed in Wuqiao longer to learn more.

"I miss home but I don't want to leave China," he said.

There were 35 international students-from Tanzania, Ethiopia, Sierra Leone and Laos-on his one-year course at the school in Wuqiao, which attracts dozens of international students each year.

Ethiopian Yeneneh Tesfaye, 35, was one of the earliest foreign students, studying acrobatics in Wuqiao from 2004 to 2006.

Mu Hongyuan, deputy director of the school's international exchange program, said Tesfaye had used what he learned in China to found an acrobatics school in his homeland that now has more than 100 students and teachers.

"Tesfaye and his students have brought Chinese acrobatics to Africa and Europe in the past decade in circus tours and have performed various acrobatics shows," said Mu, who has kept in touch with Tesfaye.

Qi Zhiyi, vice-president of the Hebei Wuqiao Acrobatic Art School, who has been engaged in acrobatics training for 34 years, said, "The traditional art form is one of the most important cultural bridges connecting people from countries across the world."

He said Chinese acrobats are regarded as among the best in the world in terms of technique, performance design and apparatus.

"Acrobatics is a universal art," Qi said. "People from any place around the globe-young or old-can enjoy it, without barriers of language, politics or geography."

In addition to students from developing countries who visit Wuqiao through cultural exchange programs, acrobatics enthusiasts from countries such as the United States, Finland, Mexico and Bulgaria also enroll at the school.

"Somehow they had heard about or watched Chinese acrobatics and decided to come," Qi said.

But problems have emerged as growing numbers of international students acquire acrobatic skills from China.

Qi said most of the foreign students arrived in China as individuals, rather than as members of acrobatics troupes, which made it harder to sustain careers after they left.

"Most acrobatics shows need to be performed by a team," he said. "It's hard for one student to carry out a whole performance, which makes it hard for the student to find work with a circus and easy for him or her to give up the career."

To tackle the problem and allow more acrobats have the opportunity to learn Chinese acrobatics, the Hebei Wuqiao Acrobatic Art School is establishing branches in foreign countries including Laos, Ethiopia and Sierra Leone.

"We will send acrobatic teachers and cooperate with local counterparts to cultivate skilled acrobats, especially troupes," Qi said.

Students coming to Wuqiao as a team will also be preferred, he said.

Source:China Daily  Editor:Lucky

(Source_title:Trainees take acrobatics skills home)