To come to grips with it, you'll just need to give it a whirl, says local choreographer Daniel Yeung Chun-kwong. "To understand contemporary dance, you need to try it out," he notes. "You need to feel your breathing and the centre of your body and the space around you when you move."
Yeung talked while showing a group of 20 students how to do all that in the dance studio at Ying Wah Girls' School.
The school has joined the Hong Kong Arts Festival's Contemporary Dance education project, which is part of the Hong Kong Jockey Club Contemporary Dance Series. The three-month project offers introductory talks to more than 2,000 students. This month, some of them will get to see a show of contemporary dance at the festival. And they can also meet artists and take part in dance workshops such as this one with Yeung, who studied Fine Arts and Chinese music before taking up choreography. He has won four Hong Kong Dance Awards, given by the Hong Kong Dance Alliance, and received the Rising Artist Award from the Hong Kong Arts Development Council in 2003.
Now he is grooming the next generation of talented dancers.
"This can work," Yeung tells the students as he lifts his arms forward while standing upright. "This can also work," he says while moving down onto the floor holding out his arms. His aim is to show students the creative freedom they have.
"It isn't about carrying out defined movements and getting them right, but working on the possibilities with your body," he says. "Your limitations don't stop you from learning this dance form; you use your limitations to your advantage."
Most students taking Yeung's workshop have tried Chinese dance, but are new to contemporary dance. They clearly enjoy experimenting to see what their bodies can achieve.
"I like it. The style is so free. I like the jumping pose especially. I've never done anything like that before and I felt great that I can do it," says Koey Tse Pui-man, 15, who has been learning jazz and Chinese dance for years.
"Daniel always reminds us that it's important to breathe correctly and find the centre of our body when we dance. He helps us to build on our skills step by step."
Her schoolmate Nicole Cheung Shin agrees. "I like that there's no limit to the movements," the 16-year-old says. "We just need to be brave to try it out. I especially like learning about choreography from Daniel. He teaches us how to combine movements with another person, like having a question and an answer. I think it's a great way of explaining it.
"Dancing helps us to relax our minds when we're busy with our schoolwork; we can't always study."
Yeung is pleased with that response. His goal isn't only to introduce students to contemporary dance, but also to help them enjoy themselves, he emphasises.
"Once students have a chance to try to dance, they are closer to understanding it," Yeung says. "If they like it, they will be inspired to find out more in the future. It's up to them. What I do here is to open a door for them to go as far as they would like to go."
In April, the project will be made into an educational kit with information and videos available to secondary schools. For details go to yfs.artsfestival.org