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The Scarlet & Black

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Grinnell Artist: He Jinlin ’18

by Ahon Gooptu

He Jinlin ’18 started exploring contemporary dance and the idea of conveying messages through dance after coming to Grinnell. photo by Takahiro Omura

Passions do not always start out as passions. Sometimes, we discover that the activities initially forced on us by our parents become something bigger and more important in our lives. For He Jinlin ’18, her story as a dancer began with a “literally painful experience.”

He has been dancing since the age of five. She recalls growing up in Chongqing, China under the reign of “tiger moms,” who would push their children to do splits if they failed to do so on their own. Thus, as a child, she engaged in traditional Chinese dance and the complementary “physical pains” that came with it. She defines this nuanced style of movement, primarily using the eyes to express emotions, as “euphemistic.” Despite doing everything in her power to avoid going to her classes, she would ultimately have to attend them nonetheless.

“I don’t think I really realized that dance is something I can do, I can initiate. … Previously it felt like something I had to do,” He said. “But then in high school I became a K-pop fan and started emulating a lot of group videos. … I started to realize that I appreciate myself in my movement.”

He spent her first year of college at UCLA, where she could not resist being a part of the incredible hip-hop dance scene. Being generally shy, she felt that hip-hop allowed her to play around with her identity and let her be open and wild.

“I feel that’s where I started to kind of use dance to release my identity,” He said.

She mentioned that she feels this way while acting as well.

“It definitely feels more liberating. … Because I am not completely myself, because I’m playing around with my identity, I’m free to do anything. On the stage, I’m not just myself but I’m free to create some other characters.”

While California may have been the place to stay in terms of the rich dance scene, she is glad she made the decision to come to Grinnell. She felt that she “was being held back” in her previous school and decided to continue her academic and artistic growth in the middle of the cornfields.

Until she came to Grinnell, He did not really know too much about using dance to convey stories. Contemporary, interpretative dance opened up a new world for her. Previously, she perceived dance merely as a performance that the dancers enjoyed. But working with Professor Celeste Miller, theatre and dance, has been a life-changing experience for her.

“Here it’s more of ‘what do I want to convey to my audience?’ Dance as a useful medium to convey a message,” she said.

Since discovering this, He has choreographed multiple original performances and performed them whenever possible. During her time in Grinnell, she has taken part in the drag show and the ISO Cultural Evening, besides other events, and each time she has found joy in “the process of creating something that’s new and thought-intriguing.”

However, she admitted that she often finds herself going back and forth regarding what dance means to her. At first, the very concept of relaying spoken words through her movement intrigued her to a great extent. But at times, she also feels fatigued by the burden of that power.

“What if I just like dance? I don’t have to convey anything, don’t have to have this audience in mind. I just dance because I enjoy the movement,” she said.

One dance group that she admires is the Japanese dance group S**t Kingz. She enjoys watching videos of their funky choreography on YouTube, because they allow her to look at dance in a new light and wonder about its endless possibilities. Each of their videos “is almost like a play,” as the content just makes you want to watch more of it.

“It’s a combination of craft and ideation — it’s very fun,” she said.

In a few months, He will be graduating as a computer science major with a statistics concentration. She sees herself working in the STEM field, even though she knows dance will always be a part of her life.

For the time being, Jinlin hopes to enjoy her remaining time in Grinnell and treasure her weekly Friday cooking night with her friends.

“Grinnell will definitely have a special place in my memory,” He said. “I really like the description someone gave about Grinnell — everyone here is very weird in their own way — and I really appreciate that. Before I graduate, I kind of want to spend [time getting to] know everyone a little bit more, [rather] than just saying ‘hi’ and ‘bye.’”

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