Many foreign students come to American universities to study engineering, science or business – hoping to jump start careers when they graduate and return home, but one visiting scholar is literally jumping, having discovered American hip hop music and dance.
When Kingston Liu came to the University of Virginia, his plan was to study statistics. He knew it wasn’t a sexy subject, so he began the search for another activity that peers might find appealing.
“I was trying to find a sport that would make my life less boring, because I considered myself a good-for-nothing back then, which is kind of sad," he recalls.
As a kid, growing up in Beijing, he knew something about American dance.
“In the 80’s there was a whole opening period in China, where they took in new things, and a lot of them came from America,” Liu explains.
In particular, a free spirit who could move in ways he’d never seen before.
“Michael Jackson was a huge influence, because people saw Michael Jackson doing moonwalk and all those fancy moves. He’s a hippy with so much style that you can’t resist it.”
But Kingston Liu was too shy to take lessons.
“So I just spent like four years dancing in my own bedroom, and thinking that I could become good one day.”
Then he came to the University of Virginia and found his crowd.
“They were a bunch of young and passionate workaholics, and when I was with them I typically danced 14 hours a week.”
He tried various styles, including tightly-choreographed routines, and moves known as popping.
“You just flex your muscles and create this robotic, animatronic style.”
Think of a robot-- imitating Michael Jackson. For Liu – the 21-year-old son of an accountant and a businessman -- popping was a door through which emotions could flow – a conversation with his audience.
“Like when I dance I feel so many things that I normally wouldn’t feel, " he says. " I can express things that I can’t express with words.”
And he added another element to his multi-cultural moves.
“I used to watch a lot of martial arts. Recently after I took an improv class at UVA. I started to feel more bold and tried to connect them to my own style of dancing.”
He’s appeared in a number of original dances online with titles like The Hollow Inside and I Am Other – a tall, slender man dressed in black shirt and trousers, a vest, cap and high-top sneakers. He delights in improvisation, recognizing that in competition he has to be flexible.
“Because a lot of times you go to a jam or you go to a battle. The DJ just starts throwing a beat, and there’s no way you can choreograph something and try to fit into that, so it’s really about how you feel in the moment and how you transform that feeling into some good stuff.”
This summer he’ll head back to Beijing, returning to Duke in the fall, where he plans to get a masters. He believes his love of dance will make him a better businessman – someone who understands marketing at a fundamental level.
“Because I’m a dancer, and I want to utilize my two minutes on stage to really make people feel something.”
Much as he loves this quintessentially American form of dance, Liu plans to settle in China.
“The bond between me and my homeland is too strong, and I want to see my parents, but I guess I’ll fly back once in a while, because there are so many good things I’ll miss.”
One thing he won’t miss is dancing. That will travel with him to share with friends wherever he goes.
You can see Kingston Liu in action here.