By Megan Waugh
When you meet new artist in residence dance instructor Shih Kun-Chen, you know immediately that you’ll never forget him. Not only does he have contagious enthusiasm and invigorating positivity, he is a talented storyteller, both through his words and his dancing.
I was lucky enough to sit down with Shih and hear his story over a cup of coffee late one afternoon. During this time, I learned many interesting facts about Mr. Kun-Chen. For instance, Shih didn’t initially begin his performance career as a dancer. He was a vocal major in college and taught music to elementary school children in his native country, Taiwan. His dream, however, was to be a professional singer, and he was determined to achieve it.
Shih says he knew if he were going to make his way as a vocal performer, he would have to have to learn how to move on stage. He began taking dance lessons at a private school where he started to blossom into a talented performer.
While on summer vacation, Shih attended the American Dance Festival where he witnessed a variety of different dance styles and performances. The festival opened his eyes to possibilities that exist in dance.
“Attending the festival was a big turning point in my life,” he said. “My dream shifted, and I was now focused on putting dance at the center of my performance; I wanted to be a professional dancer.”
Upon fully realizing his new ambitions, Shih quit his teaching job and went to Austria to study and perform at Tanz Atelier Wien. He was with the atelier for four-and-a-half years until he left to audition for professional dance companies. Shih auditioned for a company in the Netherlands and another in France. Ultimately, due to visa complications, Shih returned to Austria and joined Tanztheatre Homunculus, a Viennese dance company.
“I remained with Tanztheatre Homunculus for eleven years, until loss of government funding resulted in the company ending,” Shih said. “We were like a family; this enabled us to understand each other’s talents which added to our chemistry on-stage,” he said.
Since Tanztheatre Homunculus, Shih has been invited to perform in numerous productions and has taught many dance workshops. He describes himself as a nomad, constantly moving about, sharing his talents with audiences throughout the world. Shih even landed an acting gig in an adapted version of King Lear, a role he says didn’t highlight his true talents.
“I’m not a good actor,” he said. “If I mess up on stage while dancing, it is easy for me to improvise without the audience noticing. When I mess up lines, I can’t do an improvised dance move to fill in the space. That acting experience was my first and last,” he said, laughing.
In 2011 while freelancing with a dance company in Taiwan, Shih met Chung-Fu Chang, associate professor of dance at CSU and Director of CSU Tour Dance Company. When the opportunity arose, Chung-Fun invited Shih to do a two-month dance residency at CSU. Shih started his residency in March and will be on campus through the end of April.
“Shih brings a spectrum of contemporary dance experiences, fusing European and Asian styles, and a unique artistic discipline for our program, said Chung-Fu. “We are so honored to have a performer of his caliber share his deep knowledge of dance with faculty and students.”
The goal of Shih’s residency is to let students experience his techniques and artistry. He says he wants students to explore and discover various ways to initiate movement that help them access tools for experiential/concept-driven performance.
“I teach in a way students aren’t used to,” Shih said. “I really encourage the students to try combinations, thinking through their movements and difficulties. I observe and help them along only after they continue to struggle. Students often think in terms of pleasing the teacher, but I want them to learn that this is for them, not for me.”
Shih says he has already seen significant growth and development in both his intermediate and advanced dance classes. He is very impressed with what CSU has to offer and is enjoying his residency.
This international residency has been made possible through the generosity of Colorado College Dance Professor and Former Director of Asian Studies Program Yunyu Wang, Former Director of Asian Studies Program, Professor Joan Ericson, and the Taipei Artists Village Artists-in-Residency Exchange Programs of Taiwan.
“I really like the atmosphere here at CSU,” he said. “I have a lot of freedom to teach new and different choreography and the students are very motivated to learn. The facilities here allow for inspiration and creativity; the dance studio is one of the finest I have seen at a university.”
If you have the opportunity to meet Shih Kun-Chen, or if you are one of the lucky student dance majors in one of his workshops, make a point to soak up the experience to the fullest. Let Shih’s enthusiasm and happiness rub off on you, and let him teach you what it really means to follow your dreams.