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A Shenzhen native, burlesque dancer Zixy pursued a degree in Fine Arts at the Institute of Chicago and there gained experience as a pole dancer, a career choice rarely seen among Chinese students overseas. Years later, she’s positioned herself at the center of the world burlesque dancing scene: New York City. Her journey has had its ups and downs but in the end, she’s discovered poetry in her work as a pole dancer. Here’s the account of her lyrical journey from Shenzhen to New York.
Tell me about some of your formative experiences in Shenzhen.
Besides studying in a liberal environment [at Shenzhen Middle School], I also started mingling with adults and people in the real world when I was in high school. I moved out with a classmate… into a studio apartment, so we had our own space and own lives outside of school.
How did you get into the art of burlesque?
I did Chinese traditional dance before. A lot of my inspiration and moves still come from my childhood exposure to traditional dance. Frankly, I got into pole-dancing [in high school] out of coincidence. When I was practicing and teaching dance, I met one person doing poles. He asked me to try. I tried. I had never expected to fall [in love with] pole-dancing so much. But as I began doing more and more of burlesque, it became a part of my life.
Have your parents ever argued against your dancing? And how did your pole-dancing develop while you were in Chicago?
No, they were supportive. I have a great family, and they love me. In Chicago, everything went well. I kept practicing over there, studied Fine Arts and used the opportunities the city offered, like [going] to events, [and] kept fine-tuning my dancing moves. Then I started teaching. Gradually, over four years, I accumulated more students, more [of a] reputation, earned money, and for sure my skills became better as well.
How did you end up in New York?
By the time graduation loomed, I was facing a lot of pressures to have a real job. [I was] a mess, I do not know how I got through it. I applied for a fellowship program in New York with my current dancing firm, which I had wanted to enroll in since my first year. They only take a handful of people globally and they took me. I felt it was the right chance to come, and I needed to change my life – I couldn’t stay in Chicago anymore.
How is New York so far?
New York is amazing. Way more opportunities and a faster-paced life… For example, this year, I choreographed a pole dance duet with an amazing dance partner and dear friend Brand On. This dance portrayed the kind of romance that has often been called “toxic” or the “crazy kind.”
Each rehearsal is a deep conversation between us. We trust each other, invite each other into our most vulnerable memories, share painful feelings and the ugly stories that lie beneath the butterflies and happy romance in our individual histories. We seek unity, and we are curious about the unknown. Together we made a team and walked on an introspective journey together.
It is very rare to find a friend that you can put so much trust in. He has a lot of strengths and I have flexibility. Our skillsets are complements to each other while we practice. Besides crafting our movement, we spent a lot of extra time building connections and discussing the details of our expressions. Sometimes we do not touch our apparatus for the whole rehearsal, but just practice looking into each other’s eyes. We want to find the right gaze. Sometimes we hold each other’s hands to feel the right touch.
On our last show, we literally started arguing right before getting on stage. We warmed up too much for our emotions and we got into our characters. The stage monitor had to calm us down and tell us to “save the energy for the stage.”
Do you ever feel over-eroticized by others?
Frankly… no matter where you are, the whole entertainment industry is very sexualized. I embrace the fact instead of rejecting it.
Follow Zixy on Instagram (zixy_zhang), Facebook (ZixyDanceAndArt) or YouTube.
Zhuorui Fu is a style journalist and entrepreneur based in New York, London and Paris. Check out her YouTube, Instagram account (zhuorui_fu) or fashion collection website and Instagram (zhuoruifucollection).