Taiwan has produced dozens of fine dancers over the years. Some have been able to carve out a professional life at home; some have gone abroad to pursue their dreams. A very talented few have gained fame dancing with internationally renowned companies. Lin Wen-chung (林文中), now 34, was about as unlikely a candidate for that last category as one could meet, at least as a child.
Lin was not someone who grew up wanting to be a dancer. He refused to take dance classes as a youngster because "dancing was for sissies," he said when we met in September when he was in Taipei performing at the National Theater with the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company.
Then there was the bacterial infection in his heart that developed shortly after he began his compulsory military service. That put him into the hospital for months and doctors ended up having to replace the infected valve with an artificial one. The ordeal got him out of the military early, but also left him wondering what to do for a career.
Lin was not totally unfamiliar with the world of dance growing up. After all, his mother Tsai Li-hua (蔡麗華) was a dancer/choreographer and founded the Taipei Folk Dance Theater (台北民族舞團) in 1988. She had repeatedly tried to get him interested in dancing as a child. But it wasn't until he saw Mikhail Baryshnikov in the 1985 film White Nights that he changed his mind about dance, especially men who dance.
But Lin was still more interested in theater and design. He wanted to go to the National Institute of the Arts (NIA) to study costume design, but the competition for spots in the theater department is tough.
"My mother suggested trying for the NIA dance department because it would be easier to get into and I could switch departments later," Lin said.
So what happened to change his mind?
"I don't remember. I don't know how I passed those five years … , they were so hard on me; most of my classmates had been dancing since they were three or five years old," he said, laughing. "After I entered school I never thought about it again. I don't know why. Maybe for me dancing at that time was so challenging, so much fun. It was almost impossible for me; it was just 'try another day, try another day.' I really didn't have the time to think too much."
Lin did realize, however, that he wanted make a career of dance. But first, after graduation from NIA, he had to do his two years of military service. Then he got sick and heart surgery appeared to end that dream. Lin was left at loose ends after getting out of the hospital.
"I went to interior design school for a few months because I though it would be impossible to dance professionally," Lin said. "But I always wanted to be a choreographer, more than to be a dancer."
His parents pushed him to go to the US for graduate school.
"After a few months at interior design school, my father [a professor of sports physiology] told me to go take the TOFEL, go get a [graduate] degree and then come back and be a professor," Lin said.
So Lin signed up at a TOFEL cram school by the Taipei Train Station, took the exam and applied for graduate school.
"I went to Utah … it's among the top three [dance schools] in the US. I didn't want New York or California because there are too many Chinese [students there] … . I wanted something different," Lin said.