About the Performance
What can I expect from the performance?
You will be taken on a journey to magnificent eras in Chinese history, as well as to periods from China’s recent past. Ancient stories and legends, ethnic and folk traditions, villains and heroes will come to life on stage through classical Chinese dance, live music, and stunning digital backdrops. You can expect an experience like no other, one that not only entertains, but also enriches and inspires.
What’s the show’s format?
A Shen Yun performance is roughly two hours, plus intermission. There are about 15 short dance pieces in each performance, which offer variety in terms of both pacing and style. Some pieces feature stories from ancient Chinese history or mythology, others from contemporary Chinese history, while still others are meant to merely feature the dance form in the setting of different dynasties.
A live orchestra plays original music to accompany each of the dance pieces. Bilingual emcee hosts briefly introduce each piece, to provide you with helpful background so that you can appreciate the experience more fully. Interspersed between the dances are a total of 2-3 classical vocal and sometimes instrumental solos.
Shen Yun productions are unforgettable for their combination of music, dance, brilliant costumes, and animated backdrops—which contain a few surprises!
What does ‘Shen Yun’ mean?
Anything I should know before the show? Anything to read in advance?
You actually don’t need to prepare in any way. You will receive a performance program that introduces each piece and ensures that you can follow and get the most out of the experience. A pair of emcees briefly introduces each dance on stage, and tells you a little bit about classical Chinese dance, the composition of our unique orchestra, and other aspects of the performance and culture.
Still, if you would like to learn more beforehand, we encourage you to browse our website. The About section will give you a good overview of what to expect, the incredible art form of classical Chinese dance, and Shen Yun’s mission. The Explore section is a wonderfully rich portal with loads of information about the specific legends, historical figures, costumes, and dynasties featured in our performances; it’s also a great section to revisit after the performance to explore further whatever interests you most.
I’m not Chinese—will I understand it?
Definitely. In fact, our audience makeup reflects the typical patronage of the venues where we perform. Each performance is hosted by emcees who will guide you throughout, and provide the background knowledge needed for you to enjoy the experience fully; all song texts are translated and appear on the backdrop screen; and programs provide introductions to each piece.
Most importantly, though, dance and music are universal languages that transcend cultural and linguistic boundaries. Shen Yun’s hallmark themes of compassion, courage, and hope are likewise universal. If you enjoy brilliant costumes, beautiful music, high-flying dance techniques, touching stories, and exciting legends, you’ll enjoy Shen Yun.
(See what people from around the world have to say in their own words.)
Is there a live orchestra?
Yes. Every Shen Yun performance is accompanied by a one-of-a-kind orchestra that combines Western symphonic instruments with traditional Chinese instruments like the two-stringed erhu, the plucked pipa, and a range of percussion instruments. Shen Yun’s orchestra is the first in the world to include these categories of instruments as its permanent members. It has done what many have tried to do and not succeeded at: blend two distinct musical traditions into one harmonious sound.
Where is Shen Yun based?
Shen Yun is based in New York, as a revival of traditional Chinese culture can only happen outside of China.
That’s because for the last 70 years, the ruling Communist Party has tried to systematically wipe out China’s traditional culture and replace it with its own brand of culture. Campaigns like the Cultural Revolution in the 1960s and 70s have left traditional Chinese culture, especially its spiritual heritage, on the brink of extinction.
But in 2006, a group of classically-trained Chinese artists from around the world came together in New York united by a shared mission—to revive traditional Chinese culture through the performing arts. Many of them had well-established careers or were at the top of the performing arts scene in China, but they discovered that true traditional culture could not be revived there—not under a regime that has spent decades trying to destroy it. And so, they created Shen Yun in New York, where they have the freedom to create and perform, to rediscover their lost heritage and share it with the world.
Where are the performers from?
Most of our choreographers and composers are originally from China, while most of the dancers are ethnic Chinese from the United States, Canada, Australia, China, Taiwan, and Japan. Our musicians are a very unique mix: along with players from China, they also hail from the U.S., Germany, Spain, Armenia, Bulgaria, and many other countries.
Why can’t Shen Yun perform in China?
Ironically, while Shen Yun celebrates traditional Chinese culture around the world, it cannot perform in China. Not only that, but you cannot see another performance like this in China. Shen Yun would be happy to perform there, but the Chinese Communist Party won’t allow it.
Sure, there are countless performances in China that appear to be traditional, but after decades of political campaigns to eradicate this cultural heritage, these have been stripped of their inner essence. One of the things that makes Shen Yun unique is that, in addition to the surface artistry and beauty, it honors the spiritual essence of Chinese civilization—ideas like harmony among Heaven, Earth, and humankind.
But this is exactly the aspect of Chinese traditions that the communist regime has been trying to destroy. It sees the revival of this culture, and Shen Yun, as a threat, and so does not allow Shen Yun to perform there.
What’s more, Shen Yun’s artistic team feels that art should not only be a medium for spreading beauty and culture, but should have a humanitarian side. Every year Shen Yun has at least one dance piece depicting a highly sensitive topic in China, one that no artist there has dared to touch so far—the story of Falun Gong (see below). We feel this is an important story worth telling, yet that is another reason why we cannot perform in China.
Meanwhile, Chinese people who can afford to are constantly flying to Taipei, Tokyo, Los Angeles, and other cities specifically to see Shen Yun. Countless others write in to our website expressing their hope that we will come perform in China soon.
What is Falun Dafa (Falun Gong)? How is it related to Shen Yun?
Falun Dafa is also known as Falun Gong. It is a practice that combines teachings for self-improvement and meditation exercises. The teachings are centered on three main principles—truth, compassion, and tolerance. Shen Yun’s artists practice Falun Dafa, and it is a source of inspiration for our performances.
Both China and the West have a history of artists integrating spirituality into their work. In ancient China, artists would practice meditation and seek inner stillness and a connection with the universe; they believed that to create real art, one had to cultivate virtue and inner purity. Today, Shen Yun’s artists follow this noble tradition.
You may have heard about the persecution of Falun Dafa in China today. This started in 1999, when every morning tens of millions of people could be found practicing Falun Dafa exercises in parks throughout China. But fearful of its popularity as an independent ideology outside its control, the Communist Party launched a nationwide persecution campaign to try to wipe it out. In fact, the number of Falun Dafa practitioners had exceeded the number of Chinese Communist Party members.
Today, after enduring 20 years of torture, imprisonment, and killing, these spiritual seekers persevere in their faith and continue to resist, always through nonviolent means. Inspired, Shen Yun’s artistic team is bringing these stories to stages around the world. And it turns out these people’s courage and message of hope has moved millions of audience members.
Why are Shen Yun’s artists concerned about Falun Dafa?
There are two reasons for this. One is that they themselves practice Falun Dafa, a system of gentle meditation exercises and teachings for self-improvement, and have therefore benefited from it personally. They feel this is something worth sharing.
The second and most important reason is that the good people of China who engage in this practice are brutally persecuted for it. It’s true—if you go to a park, sit down, and do Falun Dafa’s meditation, under China’s current communist regime, you will in fact be arrested for it, and possibly tortured or killed! Hard to imagine, but ask a friend from a post-communist country and he or she will be able to relate.
Quite a few of Shen Yun’s artists have themselves either been arrested and even tortured, or have had such things happen to their family members, just for practicing Falun Dafa. Some of the dancers that you see on stage, performing with such joy and passion, have lost parents due to torture in China’s detention camps. For them, it is all too real. They feel they must do something to help their loved ones and the people of China.
Why are tickets more expensive than some other shows?
For one, we try to guarantee that every seat that’s open to the public has a good view of the stage and backdrop. Second, this is a large-scale production. Each of our companies includes some 80 dancers, orchestra musicians that perform with us full-time, singers, emcees, and production crew. Each performance also features over 400 handmade costumes (made in New York State!); say nothing of the digital animation. Also, we are a traveling production—as we try to bring the performance to every corner of the Earth—we rarely stay in a given city for more than a few days. This is different from a show that stays in one place for weeks or months.
Also, we create an entirely new production every year! That means world premieres every year of all-new choreography and musical compositions, along with completely new costumes, digital backdrop designs, and more. When you think about the number of creative artists and performing artists involved in this, it is artistry on a scale like nowhere else.
Here’s another way we’ve heard some audience members talk about it: You can’t compare it with other forms of entertainment. For example, if you bring a child, compare the cost of a Shen Yun ticket to what you invest in their education, cultural and artistic activities, healthy growth, and in creating memories that last a lifetime. And some have said that the uplifting energy of the performance, and the feeling of hope it leaves you with, are in fact priceless.
What’s the inspiration behind Shen Yun costumes?
Our wardrobe department produces thousands of costumes, headpieces, shoes, boots, and other accessories every season. Shen Yun’s dance costumes are mostly based on the traditional clothing of China’s different dynasties, the unique attire of over 50 minority groups that live in China, and the regalia of divinities from folklore and mythology. They are then adapted to make them suitable for dance performance.
In the creation process, Shen Yun costume artists collect and reference countless traditional designs. From the ethereal garb of heavenly maidens to the emperor’s dragon robes to dainty flowerpot shoes, every piece is handmade in New York state and individually tailored.
Where does Shen Yun’s music come from?
Shen Yun’s musical compositions are written especially to accompany the new dances that are choreographed and premiered each year. Solo vocal and instrumental pieces are newly composed each year as well.
Shen Yun has several dedicated composers who draw from musical styles spanning China’s vast history and region, and also draw from their own inspiration.
Each piece is orchestrated with a perfect blend of classical instruments of the East and West, and then meticulously coordinated with the choreography and backdrop. The music is always performed live.
Where do Shen Yun’s dance stories come from?
The short story dances are like little excerpts from Chinese history. They may be about the Yellow Emperor of antiquity, a modern-day tale, heroes, deities, or colorful characters that have appeared throughout the millennia of dynasties.
A unique feature of Chinese civilization is that its history has been recorded and passed down uninterrupted for some 3,000 years, sometimes in vivid detail. This provides Shen Yun with abundant source material, making it possible to revive this ancient culture on the twenty-first century stage.
In under 10 minutes each, these mini dramas recount these timeless legends, bygone heroes, literary classics, celestial paradises, and more. Every dance embodies and celebrates the virtues that were at the heart of Chinese civilization for thousands of years: loyalty, courage, compassion, and piety.
Is this ‘Chinese ballet’?
No, Shen Yun dancers perform classical Chinese dance, along with a range of traditional Chinese ethnic and folk dance styles.
Whereas ballet’s historical roots lie in European culture, classical Chinese dance’s lie in traditional Chinese culture. Classical Chinese dance has its own systematic training, and encompasses many types of leaps, turns, flips, spins, and tumbling techniques that have not historically been a part of ballet. It is a dance form as ancient as Chinese civilization itself and it contains China’s deep cultural traditions. This renders its movements richly expressive, such that personalities and feelings can be portrayed with utmost clarity.
Performing classical Chinese dance in its purest form is the artistic hallmark of Shen Yun. No other company has successfully brought pure classical Chinese dance to stages around the world, in fact!
(Learn about 7 key differences between ballet and classical Chinese dance.)
Are there Chinese acrobats?
Interestingly, the answer to this question is the reverse of what you might think! It’s not that there are acrobatics in classical Chinese dance, it’s that you can see techniques from classical Chinese dance in acrobatics.
Not only that, Olympic gymnasts, especially in floor routines, have also borrowed moves from classical Chinese dance. How? As classical Chinese dance developed over thousands of years, flipping and tumbling techniques—like those you see in gymnastics and acrobatics—became a major component of classical Chinese dance.
In the 1970s, Chinese gymnasts showcased these high-level flips at international competitions, introducing them to the world. With time, different forms of performing arts adopted these techniques: gymnastics, acrobatics, cheerleading, and even modern ballet are just a few of those who borrowed from classical Chinese dance.
So when you see these amazing flips on stage, remember—they’re not acrobatics but classical Chinese dance.
Are there martial arts or kung fu?
Although the performance does not include Chinese martial arts, classical Chinese dance and martial arts (kung fu or wu shu) do share some similarities.
Thousands of years ago, when Chinese martial arts first appeared, its flips and techniques greatly influenced other ancient art forms, including opera and dance. Some of the movements originally intended for combat were transformed into a means of entertainment for both informal festive occasions and grand imperial celebrations. Over time, martial arts and classical Chinese dance grew into the separate art forms we know today.
In the Shen Yun performance you might therefore see not only movements that look similar to martial arts, but you might also see traditional weapons—sticks, spears, swords, and the like—used in both martial arts and Chinese dance.
(More about the similarities and differences between classical Chinese dance and kung fu)
planning your visit
When should I arrive?
What should I wear?
Patrons should wear evening or business attire to the event. It can be a tuxedo or evening gown, or a suit or jacket and tie. We recommend wearing something that allows you to look and feel your best. You are in for a special treat, so why not dress for the occasion? Who knows, you might even decide to snap a photo in front of the Shen Yun step-and-repeat wall in the theater lobby and post it on Facebook or Instagram, so you’ll want to make sure it’s a good one.
When should I applaud?
After you’ve successfully purchased your tickets, of course! As for during the performance, applauding at the end of each piece and after the emcees finish their introductions is customary. Of course, if there’s a certain aspect of the performance that particularly moves or delights you, feel free to applaud mid-piece. (Vocal and instrumental solo pieces being an exception.)
Is the performance suitable for children?
Families are a big part of our audience, and each year children enjoy the performance, with favorite pieces being the Monkey King or the mischievous little monks. But please do think of your fellow patrons; consider whether your child can sit through the entire performance without disturbing others. In that vein, most venues will not permit entry to children under four, while other theaters and local presenters will require that a child must be at least five or six years old to attend. You can find this information by selecting your city, and then looking on the right-hand side, under “Show Info.”
May I use a camera or recording device?
Sorry, no. “How about smartphones?” Still no. “And what about…” Nope. Photography and recording of any kind is strictly prohibited. Even without a flash, photography and recording disrupts our performers—the dancers can see it! It also interferes with other audience members trying to enjoy the performance. And it’s a violation of copyright laws. Theater staff and security personnel take this very seriously.
What is your scalper policy?
Where can I find Shen Yun merchandise?
You can find Shen Yun merchandise in most theater lobbies during intermission as well as before and after the performance. You can also shop online at shenyunshop.com.
Can I buy Shen Yun DVDs?
We don’t sell DVDs of our dance performances. We believe that the full impact of our performance can only be felt by experiencing the dance, costumes, backdrops, and orchestra live, in-person, in the theater.
Live performance creates an energy that no reproduction can emulate. We want you to enjoy the Shen Yun experience the way it was envisioned—as a delight for all the senses.
The good news is, we do sell DVDs and CDs of Shen Yun Symphony Orchestra. These are live recordings of concerts in which our 100-piece symphony orchestra performs favorite Shen Yun originals, as well as select classical masterpieces that may be familiar to you. They are available at the Shen Yun Shop.
Can I buy CDs of the music?
Yes. We have CDs and DVDs of the Shen Yun Symphony Orchestra, which performs original Shen Yun music from the dance production, vocal and instrumental solos accompanied by the orchestra, and select classical masterpieces. These CDs are available at shop.shenyun.com.
Do you have a newsletter?
We have a monthly e-newsletter. It’s chock-full of news, videos, feature stories, blogs, photos, artist interviews, and behind-the-scenes glimpses. You can subscribe to it here.
Will Shen Yun be performing in my town soon?
We hope so! You can check our Tours & Tickets page to see the cities on this year’s tour. We also have a “Notify Me” feature in which you can choose your city and subscribe to receive automatic notification before Shen Yun is next headed your way. You can sign up to get notified here.