Tue, Feb 13, 2018 - Page 4 News List

PROFILE: ‘I never look back,’ celebrity dance teacher says

By Liao Hsueh-ju  /  Staff reporter

Dai Yu-mei, a member of the Saisiyat Aborigine community from Hsinchu County’s Wufeng Township, holds a fan with an embroidered flower and butterfly design on Jan. 26 in the county.

Photo: Liao Hsueh-ju, Taipei Times

Dai Yu-mei (戴玉妹), an 88-year-old Saisiyat woman born in Hsinchu County’s Wufeng Township (五峰), has devoted most of her life to teaching people how to sing and dance.

Dai left for Taipei at the age of 15 and at the time was the only Aborigine student at Taipei Female Normal School.

She could only speak the Saisiyat language and Japanese, and had to spend time learning Mandarin and getting used to her new surroundings before she could focus on her studies.

Dai’s outstanding singing and dancing skills helped her gain special approval to directly apply for the Department of Music at National Taiwan Normal University.

After graduating from university, the school hired her to teach music and aerobics.

She was later sent to the Philippines by the government to sing and dance as part of cultural exchanges, and took her students to perform in Japan and other nations.

Dai also performed for military personnel and served as a director for a cultural task force teaching song and dance.

She worked as a choreographer in the movies Wu Feng (吳鳳), Song of Orchid Island (蘭嶼之歌), Romance at Sun Moon Lake (日月潭之戀) and Love of Carter (馬車夫之戀).

Dai also instructed singer Yang Shiao-ping (楊小萍) and other celebrities when she worked at the Unite Hotel music hall.

As Dai has taught many famous singers and actors, she is well-respected in show business.

“I was very strict when instructing them, but the achievements of my students and their care for me is my greatest comfort,” Dai said, adding that she receives greeting cards from her students on her birthday every year, and some of them bring her a red envelope or a birthday cake to celebrate with her.

Dai said her father was a police officer and she had to leave her home at a young age and learn to rely on herself.

Whenever she missed her parents, she would hum a song called Try Hard to Climb Up a Mountain (努力,爬上山) to encourage herself and relieve her homesickness, she said.

Dai said she is grateful for all the people who have helped her along the way, allowing her to do what she loves for a living and contribute to society.

“I am a barrel of laughs for everyone,” she said, adding that she was a teenager at Chingchuan Hot Springs in Wufong, where former warlord Chang Hsueh-liang (張學良) was placed under house arrest by former president Chiang Kai-shek (蔣介石).

She said she would lead other children in singing and dancing to entertain Chang, military personnel and police officers.

They would even cry when they heard songs that reminded them of their hometowns, Dai said, adding that Chang loved her singing and even taught her Mandarin.

She found out Chang was an important person only after she went to university, Dai said, adding that when they met by chance in Taipei several years later, when Chang was no longer imprisoned, both wept while embracing each other.

Dai said she asked him: “Why has your hair all turned white?”

Her husband and son have passed away, and her daughter is living abroad, but calls her every day, Dai said, adding that although she lives alone, she has an optimistic perspective.

“I never look back. Every day of my elderly life is full of sunshine,” she said, adding that she lives every day happily with a visit to a coffee shop to read the newspaper, listen to music and chat with friends.

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