Robotics professor at WWU brings real passion to Chinese dance troupe


Jianna Zhang, Silk Road Dancers, Bellingham

Jianna Zhang, of the Silk Road Dancers, dances the" Spring Blooming" dance as the Old Fairhaven Association and Mayor Dan Pike dedicate a new marker at Harris Avenue and 8th Street in Bellingham June 8, 2011 in remembrance of the "Chinese Deadline" of 1898-1903.


Jianna Zhang, an associate professor at Western Washington University, says she loves dance, although her professional skills are artificial intelligence and robotics.

She says she was offered professional jobs by other universities and companies, but says she felt (and is now) in love with Bellingham after her interview and decided to live here.

Her dance troupe, the Silk Road Dancers (, open the "Green Stage" at Fairhaven Village Green, 10th Street and Mill Avenue, at 11 a.m. Sunday, May 25, as part of the daylong Fairhaven Festival.

Question: Where did you grow up?

Answer: I was born and grew up during a difficult historical time in mainland China. I was raised by my grandmother, who was a beautiful, wise, but physically handicapped woman. As a small child, I got into the habit of using movement to express my feelings.

Q: When did you leave China?

A: In 1988 I was given a great opportunity by the university entrance program at the University of Regina in Canada. One year later, I was formally accepted as a university student.

Within 10 years I earned my bachelor's, master's and doctoral degrees in computer science at that university. I started my post-doctoral position at the University of Waterloo in 1998.

My teaching career started when I was an undergrad student at the University of Regina.

Q: When did you come to Bellingham?

A: In 2002 I was hired by Western Washington University. I have supervised many undergraduate and graduate students.

I am the founder of Bellingham AI and Robotics Society (, the WWU Student Robot Competition (, and formed the WWU Student Robot Club. I love making robots and using Lego robots to teach programming and logics.

Q: How long have you been dancing, and could you describe why you enjoy it?

A: In 2004 I began volunteering to teach children and adults traditional Chinese dances for Mei Hua Chinese School.

I formed the Bellingham Silk Road Dancers in 2005. As the founder and artistic director of Bellingham Silk Road Dancers, I choreograph and teach a variety of Chinese dances. My students and I have performed for audiences in Bellingham, Seattle and Vancouver, B.C.

I am also a member of the Vancouver Korean Dance Society. I share my love and passion for Chinese culture through my teaching and dance performances.

Q: Is the Chinese community active in Bellingham?

A: There are about 250 Chinese and families with adopted Chinese children in Bellingham (my estimation). Besides Bellingham Silk Road Dancers, there is the Northwest Chinese Cultural Association, the Mei Hua Chinese School, the Bellingham Chinese Christian Church, and Chinese Music Concerts.

I am a previous president of Northwest Chinese Cultural Association, from 2008 to 2010 ( I love the richness of the Chinese culture and I dedicate a lot of time to promote it.


When: 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Sunday, May 25 in Historic Fairhaven District.

All-day street fair includes children's activities, beer garden, arts and craft vendors, nonprofit booths and ethnic foods. From Fairhaven, you can walk down to Marine Park to watch kayakers finish the Ski to Sea Race.

Stage at 11th Street and McKenzie Avenue

No cover for beer garden, open noon to 7 p.m.

Music on the street schedule:

Noon: The Walrus

2:30 p.m.: SpaceBand

5 p.m.: Sunset Superman

Green Stage at the Village Green

10th Street and Mill Avenue.

Entertainment: 11 a.m.-5 p.m., Silk Road Dancers; 12:30 to 5 p.m., Seamus O'Carey leads all-ages karaoke.

Details:, Historic Fairhaven Festivals on Facebook.

Shuttle Up!

The Ski to Sea shuttle by Whatcom Transportation Authority offers two routes:

Route 14: Western Washington University (C lot by Wade King Recreation Center) to Fairhaven; buses run every 15 to 30 minutes, 8:30 a.m.-6:30 p.m.

Route 401: Downtown station, along State Street, to Fairhaven; buses run every 30 minutes; 7:40 a.m.-9:15 p.m.; last bus leaves Fairhaven at 7:55 p.m.

Cost: $1; WTA passes accepted.

Details:, 360-676-7433.

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