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DANCE NEWS: The Dance Enthusiast Mourns the Loss of Hsueh-Tung Chen, Co-Founder of Chen Dance Center

DANCE NEWS: The Dance Enthusiast Mourns the Loss of Hsueh-Tung Chen, Co-Founder of Chen Dance Center

Published on June 21, 2022
H.T. Chen & Dancers; photo by Nan Melville

It is with great sadness that we announce the loss of Hsueh-Tung Chen (June 23, 1947 - June 12, 2022), who passed away at the age of 74 on Sunday, June 12, 2022. Chen was a loving husband, father and well-known NYC based choreographer.

Born in Shanghai, China and raised in Taipei, Taiwan with his 5 siblings, H.T. moved to New York City to study modern dance. In 1976 he graduated from the Juilliard School, and in 1978 he received an MA in Dance Education from NYU.

At Juilliard, he met his wife, muse and collaborator, Dian Dong. Martha Hill, the director of the Juilliard Dance Division, insisted that Dian be H.T.’s translator, which began many years of working side by side. Together they created Chen Dance Center, a vibrant cultural center in Chinatown, NY which housed a dance company, theater space and dance school: H.T. Chen & Dancers, Arts Gate Center and Mulberry St. Theater, respectively. Plans for restoring the building are underway after a devastating fire, and classes and rehearsals have been relocated. H.T and Dian’s daughters continue the family tradition in the arts with Evelyn performing with Sleep No More and Yeeli working in arts administration.

As a choreographer, H.T. created contemporary dances through the lens of social justice as well as on traditional or personal themes. Laura Molzan of Broadway World wrote of Chen’s recent work South of Gold Mountain, that it “shed a light on the untold stories of immigrants that are far more common than foreign, and that light shone brilliantly.” Jennifer Dunning of The New York Times spoke more broadly: “Mr. Chen has long been one of New York dance's most persuasive storytellers, addressing issues of acculturation well before they become fashionable in dance.”

In addition to choreography, H.T. was an advocate for the performing arts - serving on numerous arts panels. He believed in the transformative power of the arts to lift the human spirit. His company conducted extensive educational programming and outreach in communities nationwide as well as in Europe and Asia. He received numerous awards and recognition for his work, including a BESSIE Special Citation, a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Organization of Chinese Americans, and Mid-Career Award from the Martha Hill Dance Fund. 

H.T. was passionate about gardening, coin collecting and befriending every dog in sight. He possessed a childlike wonder and approach to life which led him to see beauty and art in everything and everyone he crossed paths with. He planted seeds of art wherever he was so that the arts will continue to thrive in the next generations.

H.T. Chen is survived by his wife Dian, two daughters, three siblings, as well as numerous nieces & nephews, friends & family.

A celebration of his life is being planned for the Fall. 

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