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When my mother read picture books to me as a child, I lingered in the world of the story for days after, demanding that we act out my favorite scenes over and over again. I dressed my sister up as characters from my favorite books, carefully draping costumes of gift wrap paper and scotch tape over her infant body. My parents typed out scripts for plays that I dreamed up, and I forced my family members to act them out with me at every reunion. I barely had an awareness of what theatre was back then. All I knew was that I wanted to explore all of the stories that captured my imagination, and as I grew older, I found that theatre provided form and structure for the stories that I wanted to tell.

In the summer before my senior year, I decided to study the storytelling traditions of the country where I have spent the last eight years of my life, by participating in a Beijing Opera program at the Shanghai Theatre Academy. I have always been fascinated by the art form that seamlessly combines dance, acting, clowning, singing, and acrobatics. But ten minutes into our first class, I felt hopelessly lost.

Our instructor began by teaching us the "front-squatting flip," one of the most basic movements in Beijing Opera that I just could not...

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