Culture and Education

Passionate performers

Ten African students joined an acrobatic art school in Wuqiao of Hebei province in May. Starting from scratch, they train eight to nine hours a day, six days a week with the ambitions to master the ancient art. (Photo source: Jinran / China Daily)

By Zheng Jinran

BEIJING, Aug. 4 (Xinhuanet) -- African students keen to learn the skills of acrobatics have become a regular sight in Wuqiao where the physical craft has flourished for generations. Zheng Jinran finds out more about their training program.

Wuqiao in China's Hebei province has long been a center for acrobatics, attracting people from across the country eager to learn the physical craft.

Today, students also come from abroad and they include a number from Africa, with ambitions to master the ancient art.

Aye Temtope is among 10 African students who began training in the city's Wuqiao Acrobatic Art School in May.

"I never practiced it before, but I saw a performance in my hometown," says the 16-year-old from Nigeria.

That experience made a deep impression on Temtope and was the inspiration for her to seek training in Wuqiao.

However, the training has been tough, lasting eight to nine hours a day, six days a week.

"It's quite exhausting, training in the hall since I open my eyes," she says with a tired smile while massaging her aching muscles. "But it also makes me feel quite satisfied being able to perform a little from ground zero."

Ndukwe Nnenna is also from Nigeria. Along with Temtope, she has been learning to balance and roll a vat with their feet. They began by learning to hold it steady for 20 minutes, which made their legs tremble, before moving on to rolling it, says 48-year-old Ma Shumin, a teacher at the school.

The male students from Nigeria have been training to group juggle straw hats, changing them rapidly between their heads. Beginners to acrobatics, they dropped the hats frequently to begin with, but they are making progress, according to Ma.

Two Egyptian students - Mahmoud Mohamed and Weam Rashed - had trained in acrobatics before coming to Wuqiao. They had long cherished the idea of coming to the Chinese city because of its connection to acrobatics.

"I want to learn to climb a bamboo pole from the teachers here," says 22-year-old Mohamed, who worked in a circus for several years.

"My trainer in Egypt is Chinese and also graduated from this school and he encouraged me to seize the opportunity to sharpen my skills and give better performances in the future."

On the advice of their teacher in Wuqiao, Mohamed has been exercising to gain muscle in his upper body and Rashed has been practicing ball performances.

Ma, who has taught at the school for more than a decade, says, "Based on their physical condition and what they want to achieve, we picked several performances that they can be trained well in within a year."

Ma says most students who come to the school are able to learn at least one performance well within a year.

This intake of African students is the school's twelfth since 2002 when six students from Tanzania were its first from the continent.

Over the past 11 years more than 300 people have trained at the school through a program sponsored by China's Ministry of Commerce.

According to Li Qingmin, who is head of the foreign student department at the school, "The ministry covers all the costs to boost the spread of acrobatics and deepen the relationship between China and Africa."

Many former African students at the school have gone on to become star circus performers in their home countries, says Li, recalling a performance given by students from the school at the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation in 2006 for then president Hu Jintao and former premier Wen Jiabao alongside African leaders.

"It was a successful move to promote our traditional art for foreign friends," he says. "Now our project has become famous in African countries, attracting friends and families to come back."

A former student who trained at the school in 2003 went on to become the coach of Tanzania's national circus and later sent his 15-year-old daughter to the school. And a former student from Ethiopia sent his younger sister for training even though she did not receive sponsorship, says Li.

"Many of them can earn a salary of more than 300,000 yuan ($48,930) every year. It can be a changing point in their lives," he says.

"We are happy to see the good effects. Moreover, we are satisfied with the growing friendship between China and African countries."

(Source: China Daily)

Editor:Liu Kan