Benjamin Cuque, a dance major at Brigham Young University, would not hesitate to say that his China dance study abroad in spring 2016 transformed him. Cuque (or “Benja,” as he likes to be called) is a native of Guatemala with a passion for education, especially in the arts. He noted that arts education opportunities are limited in Guatemala, and it was because of his family’s support that he has progressed in his dance education.
Likewise, a dance study abroad would have been impossible for Cuque without the Kennedy Center Global Opportunity Scholarship he received and without his dance teacher Marilyn Barrett, who approached him about the scholarship. “This study abroad was a dream come true. I did not expect to have one of the best experiences of my life like this one because of my financial situation,” Cuque said. “I did not have the twenty-five dollars for the application, but with hard work and many other blessings, it was possible. No words can describe my feelings of thankfulness to the donors who allow students to experience unforgettable memories.”
Cuque’s unforgettable experience included taking and observing classes at dance academies in China and collaborating with Chinese students to choreograph dances, which turned out to be an experience that taught more than dance. “We were not fluent in Chinese; we barely knew a few words. The same was true for them with English,” he explained. “It was challenging, but we ended up having really satisfying experiences.”
Cuque hopes to become a diverse choreographer through “new experiences that only other cultures or countries can give.” What he saw in China has inspired his choreography. “I remember walking back to our hotel after watching one of the performances in the Beijing Dance Academy Theater. My mind was blown, my heart was full, and my spirit was delighted,” he recalled. “Suddenly all those feelings became a fuel for my motivational engine.”
Chinese dance techniques were not all Cuque learned; he also connected with Chinese culture. In a poem he wrote about his experience in China, he expressed, “Let me breathe your earth, let me show you mine.” He concluded that he had indeed learned to breathe China’s earth.
And after seeing the importance the Chinese place on their children’s education, Cuque has been inspired to consider starting a nonprofit organization for arts education in Guatemala, which would allow others from his country to experience what he has been so lucky to receive. “My deep debt is to go and serve others and, with the knowledge I gained, to light others’ pathways,” he resolved.