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One of the first dances I ever performed was a trio with my two best friends: a frivolous, cheerful number with far too many sequins, gauzy handkerchiefs disguising the awkwardness of our skinny arms. Backstage, we trembled in terror at the prospect of presenting ourselves in front of the friends we had so foolishly invited. But it was too late to worry about how embarrassed I felt telling people I did Chinese dance, too late to worry about our distinctly foreign (and undeniably Chinese) music and costumes, and too late to worry about our choreography, the facial expressions and wild gestures that made even us giggle. Because then it was our turn: smiling through our teeth for dear life, we blinked hard in the lights that seemed harsher than before, doing our best not to recoil from the dark mass of whispering grandparents and chattering toddlers.

Somehow, we survived—and we kept coming back for more. For six days a week, [Redacted] Dance Academy was home to dozens of girls like me: Chinese-Americans, otherwise estranged from our heritage, seeking to rediscover it here. On the scarred marley floor, we practiced pliés and tendus, panwan and yueliangmen. And as we learned the languages of movement, we relearned the languages we...

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