Growing up in Taiwan, Shu-Chen Cuff knew at an early age that she wanted to perform.
“I wanted to be on stage but didn’t know in what art form, I just knew that I wanted to perform,” she says. “It was just a very natural thing for me.”
When she learned her elementary school offered a dance class after school, she wanted to join but her family couldn’t afford it and her dad didn’t think dancing was a good idea for her.
“My friends were really encouraging me to join, so in the second grade, I signed up without my dad’s permission and started taking the class even though I hadn’t paid. I was dancing in my regular clothes and socks,” Cuff says. “The teacher eventually came up to me and asked about the tuition and I had to tell my dad. He came to watch the class and saw me, and he agreed that I could continue, paid the money, and got me proper dance gear.”
That was just the beginning of her dance journey. Cuff trained all the way though high school and planned to continue dancing through college, with the ultimate dream of one day dancing for Taiwan’s prestigious Cloud Gate company.
Her dream started to change when her Aunt and Uncle visited from Texas and convinced her parents to apply for Green Cards and come to the U.S. for the chance at a better life. It took 10 years, but when Cuff was in high school, the family was approved, and she began thinking about dancing in the United States.
“Because both my parents had steady jobs, they stayed in Taiwan, but I came here to go to college to study dance,” she says. “I went to the University of Florida’s New World School.”
After graduating, she went on to perform numerous classical and contemporary dance works while working with Dana Tai Soon Burgess Dance Company, Miami Ballet, and Nevada Ballet Theatre, and has toured in Asia, Central America, and Europe. In 2002, she relocated to the Washington, D.C. area.
In 2011, Cuff founded Reston-based Gin Dance Company, which provides artists the opportunity to learn, grow, and express themselves through dance. Currently, there are eight dancers in the company—Falls Church’s Alison Grant, Northern Virginia’s own Therese Gahl and Lindsay Benson Garrett, Michelle Conroy, Samantha Greymont, Julia Hellmich, as well as Maryland natives Kaitlin Madzelan and Jane Rabinovitz.
“Our mission is both to provide a professional environment for artists to learn, grow, and express themselves while bringing refreshing and vitalizing works to the community,” she says. “We have had a lot of great opportunities since we started.”
Cuff serves as artistic director for Gin Dance and regularly performs with her dance company in Fairfax County and the Washington metropolitan area. Over the last five years, the company has been invited to perform at the Kennedy Center Millennium Stage, VelocityDC Dance Festival at the Shakespeare Theater Company, the DC Mayor’s Arts Awards at the Lincoln Theater, and the Yes! Dance Invitational: The National Festival of Contemporary Dance & Theater at the Dogtown Dance Theatre.
Over that time, Cuff has also been named a finalist at the Dance Metro DC Awards in the categories of both Outstanding Choreography and Outstanding Individual Performer.
“Utilizing both visual art and movement is an impactful way to deliver narratives and reach audiences at a deeper level. I am thrilled about the recognition and delighted to be able to continue sharing my art with performing arts enthusiasts,” she says.
For those interested in joining her company, Cuff will invite them for an audition and look at their technique, training, and style.
“I also like to see their energy and personality and try to understand them a little,” she says. “I like to find a group that can work together really well, who have the same passion and energy. It’s hard work. I’ve developed such a variety of repertoires and new works, that it’s very demanding physically.”
Each of the company’s works uniquely reflects a rich Asian Dance heritage and Eastern sensibilities blended with Western fluidity of movement.
“We really do some innovative, very uplifting and aspiring pieces,” she says. “This has been a dream come true for me. It’s amazing to have all these artists—each with a unique style. I am so fortunate.”
For more information on the Gin Dance Company, visit www.gindance.org.