By Erin McKay
Two months out from the stay-at-home order, Cardin Chung’s family decided it was time to head to The Home Depot; there was a studio to be built. “Two layers of kids’ foam puzzle pieces are stacked under there,” Cardin shared, pointing at the make-shift sprung floor over Zoom. “I started in a different space, but anything above a 45 degree angle was a little difficult.” Modeled after a DIY Google search, this flooring was Cardin’s stomping ground for over a year, a place he returned to day after day to sweat and explore.
“At the beginning of the pandemic,” Cardin recalled, “I had a slight worry that my technique would diminish without a mirror,” a worry that his Teens at LINES teacher, Victor Talledos put to rest. “I noticed immediately his creativity and curiosity,” Victor reflected, “I’ve seen growth in the awareness Cardin shows about his body.” Victor, along with Brett Conway and Daiane Lopes da Silva, taught Cardin online in the advanced track of Teens at LINES every weekend since the start of 2021.
“The way the teachers approach technique is fun,” Cardin explains. “The corrections they give don’t feel like, raise your hand up higher or look up more, they feel like a story… I could really latch on to their approach because it didn’t feel like we were taking class; it felt like we were dancing.”
In fifth grade, Cardin enrolled in ballet for the first time, but his spark for dance ignited in his grandma’s home five years prior. “All the cousins were over,” Cardin reminisced, “And one of them was a B-Boy. He just whipped out a head-spin in the middle of the living room floor. My brother and I were mesmerized.” They enrolled in breaking classes shortly after. “I had nothing else to do as a five year old,” he said, “so why not dance?”
He continued moving as a hobby until one of his teachers took him to watch a Northwest Dance Project company rehearsal. “I was sitting there in the corner of the room in awe, in utter awe, just watching those dancers move… It wasn’t them performing for people. It was just dance.” At that moment, Cardin knew he wanted to commit.
He trained in many styles but ballet wasn’t his favorite. “I didn’t see it as a dance style. I saw it as a technique class,” Cardin said. But Teens at LINES took a different approach, still technical, but full of invitations to imagine and investigate.
“The analogies that the teachers give are very strong,” Cardin shared. One of his favorite metaphors from ballet involved a bubble. “Imagine yourself,” he explained, “surrounded in a bubble that stretches to your extremities, your fingertips, and your toes. Now, push your body outside that bubble. Stretch beyond your extremities.” This visual wisdom, along with Brett’s demonstration in adagio, transformed Cardin’s port de bras. “Being a small person,” he said, “this was incredibly impactful. It helped me expand beyond what I would normally call my limit.”
In addition to rich metaphors, permission to try was present in all of Cardin’s virtual classes. “The teachers told us that we could break the classical line. ‘It’s ok,’ they said. ‘If you feel as if you can expand further, then you should. You could.’ They didn’t seem to stress staying within the LINES,” Cardin added with a laugh. “And I remember when Daiane told me that I didn’t have to go 100% in back port de bras all the time. ‘You want to take each combination as preparation,’ she’d said. ‘You don’t have to make everything a performance; you can find how to make it more beneficial for yourself.’” This advice was a game-changer. “I started dancing in a way that awakened my body, “ Cardin said, “instead of stretching my body to a maximum that it wasn’t ready for.”
Encouragement to make choices was alive and well in contemporary too. At the end of each class, Victor gave what Cardin called “an outline” of a combination, and he let the students fill in the blanks for themselves. “He told us that he tries not to put too much of his own flare into the combination because he doesn’t want to influence what we think. It was cool to have a class where I felt in collaboration with Victor, like I was in control of the situation right along with him.”
On his own, Cardin loves creating and experimenting with choreography. In January 2020, he challenged himself to make something new everyday for thirty days. “So when the pandemic hit,” he recalled, “I had a lot more time on my hands to delve deeper into the things I made during my challenge… There were days I went into the space and the movement felt good, but when I looked at the recording on my camera, I realized it wasn’t. I resisted deleting the videos though, and I’m glad I didn’t. I have a storyline of my mindset now, a track of my creativity over the past months.”
Cardin’s joy and enthusiasm for dance swells, even through the screen. “His energy is infectious,” said his ballet teacher Brett. “He was always eager to jump right into class… literally! Sometimes he’d be jumping up and down or running around his space before class began because he had so much energy. And what I loved about Cardin was that he knew how to channel that energy into his movement.”
When asked why he dances Cardin said, “It’s fun! As basic as that reason is, it’s the most essential for me. I just enjoy dancing.” And after more than a year without live performance or in-person classes, holding on to a spirit of fun couldn’t be more necessary. “The stage wasn’t the end goal for me,” Cardin shared, “It was the bonus. The process is what I live for.”
Cardin sees himself dancing professionally with a company and creating his own work as a freelance choreographer in the future. Down the line, he’d love to teach classes on the process of creativity.
“I hope,” said his teacher Victor, “that Cardin stays curious throughout his entire career, that he continues to enjoy the information as well as the challenges, and that he has fun in the process of growth.” And Cardin plans to do just that.
TEENS AT LINES
Based in ballet and contemporary, Teens at LINES challenges young artists ages 11-17 to embrace their individuality while learning in a supportive environment. No experience necessary! In-person and online options are available for the Fall Semester which starts September 11, 2021. To learn more, visit: linesballet.org/teens-lines
Photography: Stephen Texeira