"Imagine you are walking across a garden full of beautiful flowers. Your eyes are busy looking around," Wang Jin, a veteran Kunqu Opera actress from the Northern Kunqu Opera Theater in Beijing tells a group of students at a training class in Beijing.
"Press your toes into the ground and let your heels rise. Just take your steps quickly and lightheartedly."
About 10 students from Beijing Zizhong Primary School, both boys and girls, gathered at the third floor of the National Center for the Performing Arts in Beijing recently and followed Wang's instructions as they walked around in a circle.
They were playing the role of a young woman. During the 40-minute class, Wang demonstrated the basic techniques and movements of the 600-year-old Kunqu Opera.
"I've never walked like this, which is the typical walk of a female role of traditional Chinese opera," says one of the students, Zhang Minqin, who is in the fifth grade. "I am more familiar with the way of male role walks. But it is funny to walk like a girl."
Zhang is no stranger to traditional Chinese opera since he started learning Peking Opera about two years ago after participating in a free training program organized by the NCPA.
"Most of the students have never watched Kunqu Opera performances before and I try to make this ancient art form come alive and be of interest to them," says Wang, in her 40s, who has been involving in training amateur students during the past five years with the Northern Kunqu Opera Theater. "They don't necessarily become professional Kunqu Opera actors when they grow up. But I believe the experience of performing Kunqu Opera will let them get closer to the traditional Chinese arts."
That afternoon, Zhang was among more than 1,200 students from Zizhong Primary School and the primary school affiliated to Beijing No 166 Middle School to participate in public art programs organized by the NCPA.