Nai-Ni Chen, world-renowned Chinese American dancer and choreographer, dies at 62

Nai-Ni Chen, a world-renowned dancer and choreographer, died after drowning during a vacation in Hawaii on Sunday. She was 62.

Chen’s passing: A passenger reportedly found Chen’s body off Kailua Beach, where she was swimming alone, according to The New York Times. She and her family were staying at her sister-in-law’s home while vacationing in Oahu, according to her husband Andrew Chieng.

  • Ocean Safety lifeguards and Honolulu Fire Department firefighters rushed to her aid and attempted to revive her. Emergency responders rushed her to the hospital, where she was pronounced dead.

Her life: Born to a teacher mother and dentist father in Taipei on Oct. 31, 1959, Chen moved to the United States to pursue a master’s degree at New York University in 1982. She taught dance in New York before returning to Taiwan to teach.

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  • Chen, who was known for merging traditional Chinese and Taiwanese dance with contemporary Western styles, ​​founded the Nai-Ni Chen Dance Company in 1988 with her husband, Hawaii News Now reported.
  • My dancers and I experiment every day,” she shared with The Los Angeles Times in 1994. “I believe that if I let movement come out naturally from my body, if I speak the truth from my heart, it will express my background — traditional Chinese movement and a Western dance vocabulary.”

Remembering Nai Ni Chen: Countless people were saddened by the news following Chen’s death over the weekend.

  • Dance on the Lawn (DOTL), where Chen was a panelist and mentor for its “Emerging Commissioned NJ Choreographer” program, extended their condolences in a statement.
  • She always said, ‘I am happy to help,” DOTL Founder and Artistic Director Charmaine Warren and Managing Director of DOTL Laura Marchese said in a joint statement, expressing how lucky they were to have experienced working with Chen.
  • We are so honored to have shared so many precious moments,” the statement continued. “Our deepest condolences go to Andy, the dancers, Board members, many students, and other family members of Nai-Ni, as well as all those who are grieving this tragic loss to our dance community.”
  • In its tribute to its founder, Nai-Ni Chen Dance Company wrote that she “was a creative genius and always had an eye for joy and surprise. Her ever shining smile twinkled her eyes like a star in the sky. Her movement was like a concrete stream – strong but soothing. She not only made dances but she made costumes, and demanded lighting details that brought the audience into her world. We will miss all the moments we shared together and all the dreams we weaved together.”
  • Barkha Patel, one of Chen’s mentees, took to Facebook following the news of her mentor’s death.
  • She was committed to her craft so much so that she showed up to a rehearsal immediately after a surgery. She pushed me to think of my dance in ways I did not know then. Nai-Ni was so supportive and I could count on her to guide me with care, honesty and love,” Patel wrote. “You will be missed Nai-Ni and you are so loved by so many of us.”
  • Board members of the Nai-Ni Chen Dance Company also released a statement, saying: “Her innovative work as a choreographer and dancer is deeply rooted in her Asian-American immigrant experience and strongly impacted the mainstream American dance scene. Our hearts go out to her family and we are committed to preserving her legacy.”

Featured Image via StateoftheArtsNJ, Nai-Ni Chen Dance Company 

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