A Day in the Life on Tour
On tour, my day starts much like any other—with the same alarm and the same fumbling to find the snooze. As I slowly regain consciousness, my first foggy thought forms: Is today a hustle-bustle day or a day of ease? But as soon as my brain really powers on, the answer strikes me and is enough to zap the sleepiness from my bones—it’s opening night.
Good morning, world. It’s time to start.
Hotel to theater. The dancers depart on our tour bus for the theater. (Note that the production and set-up crew—kudos to them—already left a couple hours ago.) I’m a breakfast person, so I like to wake up with enough time to fuel up before the long day. Some, the non-early birds, opt to climb aboard with a Dixie cup of robust brew and to-go toast instead.
Warm-up class. Without the convenience of large dance studios like we have at headquarters, having a good class on tour demands resourcefulness and flexibility.
At many theaters, we resort to using the lobby. Here, handrails make excellent barres (without which, we can rough it with concession counters, tall chair backs, or even doorways). Yoga blocks on staircases help us stretch over-splits. And we’re as happy to see a reflective elevator door as we would a full-length mirror.
However, some lobbies have low-hanging crystal chandeliers—watch your head during jumps. Others have slanted flooring—an excellent test of balance. Marble lobbies, especially in the winter, are unforgivingly icy on dance-shoed feet; but use their slipperiness to your advantage, and you can double the circles you spin! Carpet is more comfortable to stretch on, but a few hundred kicks later you’ll see the toll on toes of your shoes.
Lunchtime is when many precious moments are shared, whether it’s raving about the amazing roast tenderloin, sampling a decadent dessert creation, or sharing funny stories. I also love lunch because it’s a break from our intense morning routine. Afterwards, we saunter back to our dressing rooms sipping post-lunch drinks. My favorite? A big hot chocolate.
Next, we settle down for more recharging—our daily meditation session. Meditation eases my discomforts (physical and mental) and makes me more clearheaded. For me, 30 minutes in double lotus is better rest than a nap.
Set up and spacing. Shhh! Sound-check in progress. This means dancers are extra quiet as we organize costumes and props for the show—one of the most crucial steps in setting up. Five thousand years of Chinese culture packed into a two-hour performance means each dancer has well over a dozen costumes and sometimes under a minute to get into them. Inside the quick-change room, speed and organization are key. And better safe than sorry, I always triple check that nothing is missing or amiss.
Every stage is different. Some are almost square. Some are super shallow. Some have 60-foot proscenium openings. Others are almost half the size. Some tapper off or widen as you go upstage. Some are raked (built at a slope). So at each theater, we determine the spacing for certain formations (tricky triangles, diagonal lines at various angles, difficult crosscuts...) and go over potential problems.
Group rehearsal. The entire production runs through a few programs on stage to ensure that everything’s coming together as should be. This is also a good time to take note of surprises on and offstage: Watch out for the lump under the marley on downstage right! Check your exits and entrances, because there are more side curtains here. Don’t walk into the big cardboard cutout of the Lion King next to the quick-change! What the audience doesn’t see can be another show altogether.
Dinner is when we fill ourselves with the right stuff to get through the show. There are those who beeline to the Nespresso machine, but I opt for meat, veggies, and hearty soup. And don't forget dessert! Some dancers try to cut sugar, but for me that would be like cutting oxygen. After dinner, I always grab something sweet like a cupcake. (Or two.)
Touch-ups. Now’s the time to pull and twist my hair into a tight performance bun—I call it “hair jail”—and retouch make-up. Then an hour or so before show time, we begin warming up and practicing jumps, spins, fan-shen, flips, and other techniques that we need for the show.
The house curtain goes down and the house opens. After changing into my first costume, I triple check everything again. As everyone gathers back on stage, we can hear the muffled voices of the audience from behind the thick curtains.
“Ladies and gentlemen, may I have your attention please, before we begin…” By this time everyone is in position and ready to go as the emcees read preshow announcements. The dancers are buzzing with excitement, but we wait until the announcements finish before wishing each other good luck. This is done through a series of elaborate long-distance handshakes, dramatic gesturing, and muted well wishes.
Gooooooong, it’s show time! Every Shen Yun show starts with a strike of the gong. Then the curtains rise, fog billows, and a beautiful scene is unveiled. The energy is almost palpable as 80 artists come together to bring the stage to life. In this moment, everything we’ve worked for over the past six months comes together in a heartbeat and melds into one.
The curtains close for the final time, and we’re done—for today at least. The dancers gather on stage for a quick recap of the show. This is really helpful because it helps everyone learn from experience. When you have a team behind you, life doesn’t seem so… stressful. And hardships are easier to overcome.
Makeup off and suits on, we file back onto the bus. I’m bone-tired by now, but it’s my favorite part of the day. (If we were striking out, there would be another hour or so of packing, etc. But that’ll make for a whole other story.)
During the drive back to the hotel, everyone is chatting about the show, snacking, and just enjoying life. And, oh yeah, I can finally take my hair out of “jail.”
After a hot shower, I flop onto bed and snuggle in deep. Right before I doze off, I’m filled with calm satisfaction and a sense of accomplishment. It’s like the kind of joy you get after climbing up a mountain and finally standing at the peak. It’s a feeling not even chocolate can compete with.
Soon I’m deep into dreamland… Tomorrow will be another busy day. But whatever is in store, I’ll be ready!
March 9, 2019