The Nai-Ni Chen Dance Company was founded in 1988 by Taiwan born, New York based dancer, choreographer and Artistic Director Nai-Ni Chen who tragically died recently in a swimming accident off Kailua Beach in Hawaii while on vacation with her family. It has been written many times that Chen’s work merged the East and the West. She was 62 years old.

In Taiwan, Chen was a well-known traditional dancer who served on numerous ambassadorial culture missions around the world including a one month engagement on Broadway in the Minskoff Theatre. Chen was an early member of the Cloud Gate Dance Company in Taiwan and a graduate of the Chinese Cultural University who came to America 1982 to earn a master’s degree at New York University. Upon earning that degree, Chen decided to remain in New York in search of cultivating her own choreographic voice. A true believer in artistic collaboration, Chen worked with a diverse group of musicians, artists, and cultural bearers. Touring for over 25 years, the Nai-Ni Chen Dance Company performed in major performing arts venues throughout the United States as well as at international festivals in Mexico, Canada, BVI, Guatemala, Germany, Poland, Russia, Lithuania, South Korea and China with support from Fund for Mutual Understanding, The President’s Committee for the Arts, Arts International and the State Department of the United States.

Nai-Ni Chen, whose work was deeply rooted in the Chinese American immigrant experience, received several support grants for her choreography including the Choreographer’s Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts and from the New Jersey State Council on the Arts. Her work has also been commissioned by the Joyce Theater Foundation, the Lincoln Center Institute, the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation, Dancing in the Streets, the Mid Atlantic Arts Foundation and New Jersey Performing Art Center. Chen choreographed the opera Turandot for several productions and was commissioned to create work for New Jersey Ballet, Dancing Wheels Company and Ballet Met in Ohio. She taught master classes at colleges and universities throughout the United States and at dance festivals in Russia, Poland, Germany, Taiwan, China, and Mongolia.

Nai-Ni Chen Dance Company - "Lumenscience" - Photo by Sylvia Chiang, courtesy of Michelle Tabnick PR

Nai-Ni Chen Dance Company – “Lumenscience” – Photo by Sylvia Chiang, courtesy of Michelle Tabnick PR

Due to her teaching in professional schools and colleges throughout the country and her dedication to dance education for children K-12, Chen received Distinguish Artist to the Field Award from the Association of Teaching Artists and Lincoln Center Education in 2020. Her other teaching credits also include Mary Anthony Dance Studio, Peridance, Rutgers University, New York University and New Jersey City University. She has been a principal affiliate artist of the New Jersey Performing Arts Center since its inception. On television, Ms. Chen is an often-featured artist on PBS/NJN’s “State of the Arts.”

Nai-Ni Chen Dance Company - "Way of Five Fire" - Photo by Chris Nicodemo, courtesy of Michelle Tabnick PR

Nai-Ni Chen Dance Company – “Way of Five Fire” – Photo by Chris Nicodemo, courtesy of Michelle Tabnick PR

Chen stated that her early work was focused on presenting her treasured roots, training, and her culture. She wanted to, and did, have an impact on the recent dance scene. “Too often, with the divisions in our country, people overlook the importance of Asian culture being part of the evolution of American culture,” stated Nai-Ni Chen on her website about the company’s mission statement. “My vision is for audiences to see it, recognize it and appreciate it. Whether I am creating contemporary work or preserving traditional work, these are all part of getting people to be aware of our existence, to promote the interest of understanding the uniqueness of it, and to recognize its contribution to this society. In doing this, my vision has emerged to explore global issues and bring recognition and credit to all immigrant cultures.”

Nai-Ni Chen Dance Company - "Whirlwind" - Photo by Jaqi Medlock, courtesy of Michelle Tabnick PR

Nai-Ni Chen Dance Company – “Whirlwind” – Photo by Jaqi Medlock, courtesy of Michelle Tabnick PR

A tribute on her dance company’s page said in part, “Nai-Ni Chen 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!”

Chen’s husband and partner in the company, Andy N Chiang, shared on Facebook that one of her favorite dances that she created was titled Raindrops “because she wants people to remember those magical, joyful moments in life.”  He also stated that Chen demanded lighting details that would bring the audience into her world.

The dance community has lost yet another treasured artist and educator.

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To learn more about Nai-Ni Chen and the Nai-Ni Chen Dance Company, please visit their website.

Written by Jeff Slayton for LA Dance Chronicle.

Featured image: Nai-Ni Chen – Photo courtesy Michelle Tabnick Public Relations