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Chinese seniors united by love of dance

The Hokien Huey Kuan dance troupe from Sydney during their Lunar New Year rehearsal.
The Hokien Huey Kuan dance troupe from Sydney during their Lunar New Year rehearsal.

ABC: Lisa Clarke

Almost every week for the past decade a group of like-minded senior women who hail from the Fujian province of China, get together in Sydney to dance.

The Hokien Huey Kuan troupe don't consider themselves to be professional dancers but have a mutual love of the art form.

For founding member Lillian Zhang dancing is in her blood.

Now 77 years old, she began dancing in middle school and hasn't stopped since.

"I was born that way probably," Ms Zhang says.

"My friends and family all around me all enjoy dance too."

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Watch the Hokien Huey Kuan group dance at the City of Sydney Lunar New Year Celebrations in Sydney ABC: Lisa Clarke

Being born into a family of performers and Peking opera singers, it's no wonder Ms Zhang can't stop the music.

Ten years ago when she began the dance troupe in Sydney there were only six members.

Now there are over 20 women in the group; the youngest member is 50 years old, and Ms Zhang at 77 is the oldest member.

"We look after each other all the time. For the older members to dance it's a bit harder, but we still want to be involved, so we carry everyone else's belongings when they're performing, or if they need a touch up on their nose we will do it right away. So this is what we do as older members."

- Lillian Zhang

Whether young or old, the women have forged a strong bond.

makeup
Applying makeup backstage at Customs House before the big Lunar New Year performance in Sydney.

ABC: Lisa Clarke

"I have good girlfriends in the team, and when we get together we're always happy. There's never any conflict. For our particular group it's quite fortunate everyone gets along," says Ms Zhang.

"Everyone is quite united as a group because we want the same things, we're interested in the same things, we're passionate about the same things."

Team member Tian Chen isn't quite as experienced as Ms Zhang, having only danced for around five years, but that hasn't stopped her from diving into the group feet first.

"Dance is really a symbol for getting old," Ms Chen laughs.

"I guess when most of us were young we were too busy, with career and family, but now that kids are grown up we have time."

- Tian Chen

Ms Chen has been living in Australia for 30 years and is thankful she is able to participate in the dance troupe, after not having similar opportunities living in China.

"When we were young in China there was a cultural revolution. I didn't have much choice. Not like here in Australia. When you have money you just send your kids to dance school regardless of whether they have talent or are beautiful enough," explains Ms Chen.

For the City of Sydney Lunar New Year celebrations at Customs House Square the Hokien Huey Kuan troupe performed a piece called the Cutting Flower Dance, which they had been working on for over a year.

Zhang
Choreographer Ms Zhang leads the Hokien Huey Kuan dance troupe in rehearsals.

ABC: Lisa Clarke

As lead choreographer Ms Zhang looked at other dance performances done by professional groups for inspiration.

The story of the dance is based around an ethnic Muslim minority tradition of the Hui people.

"Tradition is that before a girl gets married, all her bridesmaids and girlfriends have a gathering to say goodbye to the single days, and create decorations to stick on the windows as a blessing to draw good spirits over for celebration," says Ms Zhang.

Putting the dance together for Ms Zhang and the group was tough "because this piece in particular is a combination of movement and facial expressions".

"It's a way for us to convey what we want to say to the audience," says Ms Zhang.

"When you do a good performance together it makes us all happy."

Hokien Huey Kuan
The Hokien Huey Kuan dance troupe step out in front of a large crowd at the Lunar New Year celebrations in Sydney.

ABC: Lisa Clarke

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