Colin Harbinson


China Exchange 2001

In May, 2001, a group of dancers and faculty from Belhaven College arrived in China for a three-week cultural exchange at the invitation of the Yunnan Education Commission and the prestigious Yunnan Arts Institute.

Upon arrival, the American visitors were welcomed by Chinese students with a colorful and varied evening of cultural dance in their honor. Belhaven dancers reciprocated on two consecutive evenings, in order to accommodate the large number of Chinese eager to attend.

Learning & Performing

Noelle Bainton and Jacob House in a Sani Folk Dance

Students from Belhaven’s dance department studied Chinese classical and folk dance, and learned Tibetan, Sani and other folk dances of China’s minority peoples. Chinese students were taught classical ballet and modern dance under the direction of Marc Arentsen and Amy Roark. The exchange culminated with a thrilling performance which included Chinese and American students dancing together.

Dr. Stephen Livesay, Belhaven’s vice president for institutional advancement, commented, “Watching our dancers perform ‘Streams’ and ‘Mighty Spirit’ in the overflowing downtown theatre was, without a doubt, the finest collegiate performance I have ever witnessed.”

Dr. Cynthia Caples, the press and cultural affairs officer at the U.S. Consulate in Chengdu, was impressed and moved by the performance. Interviewed on Chinese television, she expressed the view that Belhaven was one of the finest colleges for the arts and dance in the United States.

Challenges & Insights

Building relationships together

The teaching and rehearsal schedule was very intense. B.F.A. graduate Angela Jones said, “I got very overwhelmed by the pressure to learn the dances and do them well, but God was able to bring me to a total reliance on Him. Thus, through the simple act of learning a dance, I was able to experience God’s grace in a completely new way.”

Dealing with schedule changes was also a challenge. Dance major Kristen Stoneburner commented that “although we are on the other side of the world, God’s creation is still the same. The schedule may change, but His awesome power never does.”
As friendships began to blossom between the American and Chinese students, dance major Kiki Halthen enthused, “I learned to love the Chinese people and culture. They are the most beautiful people I have met.”

Breaking New Ground

Belhaven dancers perform the "Rhyme of Spring"

Two years ago, Dr. Colin Harbinson, dean of fine arts, worked with cultural and government leaders to put on the largest and most diverse international arts festival in the history of Yunnan Province. He said, “I am so proud of the hard work and professional approach of our dance students and faculty. They built on the foundation already laid and broke new ground in cross-cultural exchange.”
There was considerable interest by the Chinese media in the uniqueness of the exchange. The provincial television station gave updates three times a day, the Yunnan newspaper covered the story on its front page, and a documentary film was made for broadcast across China and by satellite into over 50 countries.

Visual Arts Encounter
Also during this time, Kate Mills, assistant professor of art at Belhaven, was visiting the Yunnan Arts Institute for an exchange of her own. “I experienced sudden joy in having the honor and opportunity to be a small comma in a sentence of a paragraph in a chapter of the long book that God is writing, about His redemptive love for the Chinese people.”

Mr. Charles Irby, who accompanied Ms. Mills at the Arts Institute, noted the intense interest of the students and faculty in her slide lecture. He reported that following the presentation, “more than 40 stayed for over an hour asking deep, thought-provoking questions.”

Recruiting & Promoting

Angela Jones learns from Chinese choreographer Zhu Hong

Dr. Stephen Livesay traveled from Kunming to Beijing and strategic cities in between. Using a multimedia presentation, he met with hundreds of enthusiastic students and parents interested in a Belhaven education. In universities, colleges, high schools and foreign exchange centers, these meetings coincided with the launch of the first-ever Chinese language brochure on Belhaven College.

Meetings were held to discuss the upcoming visit of 50 Chinese students to Belhaven College early next year. The students, representing 24 universities and colleges in Yunnan Province, are currently taking special exams in the hope that they will be selected. During their 20-day visit to Belhaven, the Chinese students will develop their English, attend classes, experience American college life, explore Mississippi and live with families during the weekends.

Through His Eyes
One of the Belhaven students wrote, “The trip to China has changed many of our outlooks, the way we see this foreign culture and their traditions, customs and arts, as well as our own. It has impacted our lives in ways we have not even discovered ourselves yet.”
It is said that the Great Wall of China is the only man-made object visible from space. We are reminded that every individual Chinese life is visible to the Creator. And He wants us to look at China through His eyes.

A full report can be found at:

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