A Story from Tristen Matthews

In this Black History Month.

We are highlighting the talented Gin Dancer, Tristen Matthews. Here, she shares her story of growing up and pursuing her dance journey.

My mother always told me that I twirled in the womb instead of kicking like my brothers. Although not a dancer herself, she always had a strong love for the arts. When she was in college, she enjoyed going to see dance performances with her friends on the weekends. When she graduated, she got herself season tickets to the Kennedy Center so that she never missed out on a performance, especially The Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. When I was 18 months she was watching the Kennedy Center Honors, and they were honoring Judith Jamison, who is a prominent figure in the modern dance world. She was the principal dancer in the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater until 1980 and later became the ArtisticDirector of the company until 2011. My mom told me that I came into the room, stared at the TV, and just started dancing and twirling. She was in awe because I wasn’t old enough to understand what I was watching and I had no idea who Judith Jamison was at the time or why she was being honored. She thought to herself, “Wow, my little girl is going to be a dancer” and knew instantly that I needed to take dance lessons. Shortly after, she put me into a program at a recreational center and after a few weeks, the instructor told her that I needed to go to a real studio where I could get advanced training because I had a gift. 

At age 4, I auditioned and got in to a youth residency program run by Dance Theatre of Harlem (DTH) at the Kennedy Center. Being a part of this residency program was really special to me because I danced in a very diverse environment and felt a strong sense of community. It was really empowering to be in a program with a bunch of talented kids with all different backgrounds. I didn’t know at the time how lucky I was to be training with Robert Garland, who was a former dancer at Dance Theatre of Harlem and is now their Artistic Director. Looking back, I realize how amazing this opportunity was. Even at seven years old, I knew that when Aurther Mitchel himself walked into the room to observe class, that I was in the presence of a dance legend. I have a lot of great memories from my time spent at DTH. Whether he was tossing his ballet slippers at us when he needed us to focus, or making up catchy songs to help us memorize our ballet port de bras positions, Mr. Garland always made sure that our hard work was matched with a light hearted and fun environment. No matter what, he made sure we understood how important it was to always believe in ourselves, always train hard because ballet technique is important, and never forget that black and brown dancers can be just as successful and are just as beautiful in ballet. In middle school, my family and I moved to Athens, Greece, and I attended St. Catherine’s British Embassy School. During my second week of school, I auditioned for the annual dance production. This production was supposed to be mainly for the high schoolers but the middle schoolers were allowed to be in one piece. In the audition we were asked to learn multiple jazz combinations. While marking the combinations off to the side, all of the girls nearby were surprised because I was able to do double pirouettes and was also really flexible. I was still extremely new at this time and was the only American in my entire school, so to have them all crowded around me asking me to demonstrate combinations made me feel like a celebrity. The teacher, Gina Veale, came over to see what all the commotion was about and seemed to be impressed as well. She made an exception for me and cast me in four pieces and made me an understudy for all of the ones I was not cast in. This was a pivotal moment for me because myhard work and dedication was recognized even in a new school in a different country. While living in Greece I also took ballet lessons at a small dance studio in the area. My teacher, Vivian Papathiki, taught in Greek and it was up to me to figure out what was going on. At first I was really stressed out because I had never learned in another language before, and I had definitely never had to figure out what corrections someone was trying to give me while speaking in another language. My Greek improved pretty quickly and I started to get the hang of it. With it being such a small studio; sometimes with the class size just being me and another student; I was able to get a lot of individualized attention and my ballet really improved. She was such a sweet and passionate teacher and cried when I moved back to the United States. I always wish that I could find my way back to her so that she could see me now. I think that she would be extremely proud of how far I’ve come. 

When I moved back to Virginia in the middle of High School, I started dancing at Metropolitan School of the Arts and was a part of the Royal Academy of Dance program that the school offered. I also took Jazz, Modern, and Contemporary classes. I then went off to dance at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts where my love for Modern and Contemporary really grew. My Junior year of college is where I felt the transition happen between being a dance student and being an artist. Everything that any teacher had ever told me just started to click and I became a much stronger dancer that year. Going to a conservatory where I got to dance all day, every day, was not only a dream come true for me but was also really life changing for how I approached dance. Up until college, it was something I did after school or on the weekends and although it was hard work, it was also really fun and getting cast in shows put on by my studio was a guarantee. In college, I had to audition for every single thing and it pushed me to work harder and prepared me for a professional career. I found the beauty in the experience when I was able to work that hard, be that exhausted, and still have fun. My senior year I attended the Ailey School in NYC and this was a full circle moment for me. The 18 month old who stood in front of the TV and danced when Judith Jamison was on the screen, was now a 21 year old living in NYC and attending an orientation led by the faculty of the Ailey School and Judith Jamison herself. My dance journey essentially started with her, so I wanted to pinch myself. It turns out that she wasn’t actually supposed to be there that day at all, but decided to stop by to meet all of the new students. I felt that it was actually fate that brought us together. 

Graduating during Covid was really tough because the world was on pause. I tried to audition for any and everything that was available and didn’t have any luck. I tried zoom auditions, video submissions, and reaching out to dance companies. I was constantly asking my younger brother to hold the camera up for me as I did take after take of audition videos. I was so worried he would get annoyed with me, but he was actually really dedicated to holding the camera perfectly still and not making any noise in the background. However, no matter what I tried, I couldn’t seem to get into anything. It was really hard at first because I felt like everything I had worked for may have been for nothing. I constantly thought to myself that I wouldn’t get a chance to dance again. Then one day, I saw an audition notice for Gin Dance Company and immediately reached out to Shu-Chen Cuff to see if I could audition. I was so delighted by the idea that my first time being in a dance company would be one where the Founder and Artistic Director was awoman. I was really nervous to audition, but was still excited because there were a few familiar faces in the Company already. After the audition Shu-Chen pulled me aside to let me know if I had been hired or not. In my head I had prepared myself for any outcome, but of course was hoping I danced well enough to get in. Shu-Chen smiled, told me I was a beautiful dancer, and asked me to join the company. I was overwhelmed with emotions and hugged her and thanked her for giving me my first professional dance opportunity. Being in a dance company was always a dream that I had always had and I am so grateful that my dream came true.

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Call for Submission – Aurora Dance Fest

Thank you for your interest in sharing your work in Gin Dance Company’s Aurora Dance Festival. This year ADF will be at Capital One Hall on Friday, June 14, 2024, at 7:30 pm.
*SUBMISSION DEADLINE: January 31, 2024, 11:59 pm EST
*Selected participants must be available to do tech and dress rehearsal on the same day of performance day at Capital One Hall on June 14, 2024.

*The Festival does not provide housing and/or transportation.

*Individual artists and collectives are welcome to apply. You do not need to be a formal organization to be considered.
*University dance major students may apply. 

*Duration of group piece (more than dancers) should be no longer than 10 min, and solo/duet should be no longer than 6 min in length.
*If a work exists only in-progress, please send a rehearsal video of the required length with sufficient supplemental information with which to be fairly considered. World Premiere performances are welcomed and encouraged. If you are applying with a work-in-progress submission and are accepted into the Festival, you will be asked to provide a video of the completed work before final approval.

*An excerpt of a longer work can be accepted.

*Each choreographer/company may submit up to two works. Performers can appear in more than one application. (each application requires a separate application form.)

Apply Now! Click HERE to apply

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GDC Presents “Insight” at Capital One Hall on November 11

“Insight” is comprised of three pieces each with very different meanings, cultural influences, and styles. The first piece, “Insight”, a brand new original work that was inspired by the quote “When an old person dies, a library burns down.” This powerful quote reminds us of the immense wealth of knowledge and experience that older generations possess. Shu-Chen, through her choreography and dance, expresses the awakening message that we should respect more and care more for our seniors and appreciate all they have done to give younger generations the world they will inherent from them. We need to hear their stories and learn their lessons so we can benefit and grow from the wisdom they have to share. Second, a collaboration with kinetic sculpture artist, Kevin Reese. This work is called “I Am Here” in which GDC’s Artistic Director Shu-Chen Cuff, as a 1st generation immigrant to the U.S., delves into her experience of the desire, dreams, struggles, opportunities, and celebration of immigrating to this country. Using the kinetic sculpture design and dance, the audience will get to see and understand how the immigrants life experience come together with the community. Third, “A Cup of Tea”, an Asian culturally influenced work with live music accompaniment by Chinese Dulcimer musician, Chao Tian. In this work, Shu-Chen, through dance, delves into the culture and philosophy of the Chinese tea ceremony and reveals that the tea ceremonies and rituals contain an adoration of the beautiful among the sordid facts of everyday life, as well as a sense of refinement, an inner spiritual content, humility, restraint and simplicity. By sharing this work with the community, we hope to give the audience an experience that will inspire them to look first inwardly as they explore the introspective nature of the production, then outwardly to appreciate and connect with the people and possibilities that surround us all. Get your tickets: http://gindance.org/GinDance/eventstickets/
This production is supported by Virginia Commission for the Arts, ArtsFairfax, and National Endowment for the Arts.

Gin Dance Company is the recipient of the 2023 Dolly Vogt Community Arts Award on behalf of ArtsFairfax and Capital One Hall. This award recognizes artistic merit, percentage of facility capacity and programmatic growth.

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Audition!! Searching for Senior Performers!

ATTENTION!! Searching for Senior Performers!!

  • When:
    Sunday, March 26, 2023

    – 9:45 a.m. Check In (Pre-Registration Required)
    – 10:00 a.m. Audition

  • What:
    GDC is casting male and female roles, ages 60+ to join Shu-Chen’s innovative and meaningful production “Insight” for our 2023 – 2024 season. Performances include our full evening production at Capital One Hall on November 11, 2023, and additional upcoming performances in spring/summer 2024. 
    Some dance and acting experience is preferred. Audition includes learning simple choreography and an improvisation portion. Please wear something comfortable that you can dance in.

    Rehearsals are from 10:00 – 11:00 am on Sundays at BalletNova Center for Dance starting May 6 with some additional evening rehearsals on Wednesdays in September, October, and November.
    Please note: this is an unpaid performance opportunity.
  • Where:
    BalletNova Center for Dance
    3443 Carlin Springs RDFalls Church, VA 22041

  • Pre-Registration:
    Pre-Registration Online Form: http://gindance.org/GinDance/audition_registration
  • Questions:
    Contact us: info@gindance.com
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Special Guest Performer in The Company Project: Higher Ground

Shu-Chen will be guest performing in Metropolitan School of the Arts’ (MSA) The Company Project: Higher Ground which features innovative choreography for this one-night-only event. Join MSA pre-professional dance companies, Impulse, MYTE, and dynaMYTE along with special guest performers, as they explore the ways in which we can level up!
Guest Performers also include Malik Dope Drummer (America’s Got Talent) and Luke Spring (The Ellen DeGeneres Show)
Come join us!
  • When:

    March 12, 2023
    – 5:00 p.m. Pre-Show Reception Sponsored by Burtons Grill & Bar of Alexandria.
    – 6:00 p.m. Performance.
  • Where:
    Ernst Community Cultural Center
    8333 Little River Turnpike
    Annandale, VA 22003
  • Tickets:
    Click Here for Tickets
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GDC Performing in “Joy to the World” at Capital One Hall

Happy December!! We are so excited to be returning to Capital One Hall on December 19 to be part of Grammy Nominated Billboard No. 1 Concert Violinist, Jenny Oaks Baker’s “Joy to the World” Christmas Concert! Come see GDC’s dancers perform in some of wonderful holiday favorites choreographed by GDC Artistic Director, Shu-Chen Cuff. This wonderful show will also feature Celtic Woman Star, Alex Sharpe, New York Times Best Selling Author, Jason F. Wright, The Washington DC Temple Choir, and The Boyle School of Irish Dance. Come join us to share in the holiday joy! 🎉

  • When:
    December 19, 2021 — 7:00 p.m.
  • Where:
    Capital One Hall – Main Hall
    7750 Capital One Tower Rd.
    Tysons, VA 22102
  • Tickets: Click Here for Tickets


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GDC Presents “I Am Here” at the Capital One Hall

“I Am Here” will be comprised of three World Premier pieces choreographed by GDC Artistic Director, Shu-Chen Cuff. First, the title piece, “I Am Here” in which Shu-Chen, as a 1st generation immigrant from Taiwan to the U.S., delves into her personal experience of the desire, dreams, struggles, opportunities, and celebration of immigrating to the United States. “For this work, while it tells my story, I also wanted our patrons to have an opportunity to hear the stories of other 1st generation immigrants from different countries. So we included the words and stories of other immigrants and weaved them into a multi-discipline collaboration with renowned and innovative kinetic sculpture artist and educator, Kevin Reese who currently has over 190 sculpture installations in 30 states throughout the country.” says GDC Artistic Director Shu-Chen Cuff. Second, “A Cup of Tea” is an Asian culturally influenced work with live music accompaniment by Chinese Dulcimer musician, Chao Tian in which Shu-Chen delves into the culture and philosophy of the Chinese tea ceremony and reveals that the tea ceremonies and rituals contain an adoration of the beautiful among the sordid facts of everyday life, as well as refinement, an inner spiritual content, humility, restraint and simplicity through dance. Third, “A New Day”, a contemporary ballet with a fun, light-hearted ode to Mozart’s humor and playful score to encourage, inspire, and motivate everyone to have a positive attitude and energy to face whatever the challenges come at us. Come join us for a special celebration and a unique cultural experience!
This production is supported by the Virginia Commission for the Arts, and ArtsFairfax.
  • When:
    November 12 — 7:30 p.m.
  • Where:
    Capital One Hall
    7750 Capital One Tower RD
    Tysons, VA 22102
  • Tickets:
    Click Here for tickets
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GDC Outreach Performance for A Gala Benefit Concert for World Central Kitchen

Shu-Chen will be doing a solo performance among an impressive array of accomplished musicians and singers/vocalists for World Central Kitchen – feeding people in need on the front lines of hurricanes, floods, droughts, wild fires, famine, earthquakes, poverty and war. Join us!

  • When:
    November 13 — 5:00 p.m.
  • Where:
    Annunciation Catholic Church
    3810 Massachusetts Ave. N.W.
    Washington, DC 20016
  • Tickets:
    It’s a FREE event!
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Please Support our 7-8-9 Fundraising Drive! Together! We can keep the Curtain Up!

We need your help raising $7,000 by 8/9… Thus, 7-8-9!

It’s been a very busy and exciting 2021 – 2022 season at GDC…  We’ve completed some wonderful performances including our season opening production  “Perfect 10 +” in which we collaborated with FIT (Fashion Institute of Technology, NY) at the Capital One Hall.  We presented “Look Beyond” at the Atlas INTERSECTIONS Festival.  We were thrilled and honored to create and perform “Aspire” for A Celebration of “Buoyant Force”, a magnificent 50 foot tall steel sculpture created by Sue Wribcan which is installed at the Reston Town Square Park. We were especially proud to perform at the Smithsonian National Zoo in Celebration of the 50th Anniversary of the first two adorable pandas arrival in DC.

In addition to these great events and more, we had the absolute pleasure of bringing our “The Golden Time” to the Reston Multicultural Festival and Taiwanese Association of America Greater Washington Chapter’s Gala.

At GDC, we pour our heart and soul into every production. We create to impact, inspire, and brighten lives.  We have a tremendous passion and love for what we do. We are excited to announce that we will be returning to Capital One Hall to open our 2022 – 2023 season. At this very special evening, we will share a full evening length innovative production of “Emergence” in which we will have the privilege of collaborating with world renowned mobile sculpture artist, Kevin Reese in sharing with the audience our brand new work “I Am Here” – we use this unique collaboration of kinetic sculptures and dance to delve into immigrants’ experience of the desire, dreams, struggles, opportunities, and celebration of their immigration to this country. We are also extremely excited to announce our collaboration with acclaimed musician, Chao Tian, who will create and perform an original score for the new work, “A Cup of Tea”, part of our “Emergence”production.

The funds raised during our 7-8-9 Funding Drive ($7,000 by 8/9) will help us cover the production costs of our exciting 2022-2023 season, keeping our artists working and creating to bring excellence in performing arts to the community. We humbly ask for your help in raising the funds needed for this exciting and ambitious production with your tax-deductible contribution. You can help us achieve our goal of raising the needed funds with your tax-deductible contribution.

Please give whatever you can … Every dollar donated will bring us closer to our goal.
TOGETHER, we can keep the curtain up!

You can donate at by clicking the button below…

Note: If you prefer to make a contribution by check, please make check payable to Gin Dance Company and mail it to:

Gin Dance Company
1818 Library ST, Suite 500
Reston, VA 20190


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Audition for Gin Dance Company!

Gin Dance Company is seeking male and female dancers with a strong background in ballet and modern technique along with performance experience and a great passion and eagerness to grow. The audition is by invitation only. If interested, please send your resume, dance photos, and a dance video if it’s available to info@gindance.com

Gin Dance Company (GDC) is a Metropolitan DC/Northern VA based performing arts modern dance company.  GDC was founded in 2011 to provide a professional environment for artists to learn, grow, and express themselves and to bring refreshing and vitalizing works of Artistic Director Shu-Chen Cuff to the community. Each of GDC’s works uniquely reflects Shu-Chen’s rich Asian Dance heritage and Eastern philosophy blended with Western fluidity of movement and culture that touch the soul through visuals arts and movement. GDC’s works have been recognized and named finalists at the Dance Metro DC Awards in the categories of Outstanding Choreography and Outstanding Individual Performer. GDC has also been selected and invited to several prestigious events and performances reaching out to thousands of people including presenting our ‘Perfect 10 +’ at the Capital One Hall, ‘Deep eMotion’ production at the Kennedy Center Millennium Stage, The 30th Annual DC Mayor’s Arts Awards at the Lincoln Theatre, The Celebration of the 40th Anniversary of Diplomatic Relation between China and the United states at the Embassy of The People’s Republic of China, DUMBO Dance Festival at the Gelsey Kirkland Arts Center and SoloDuo Dance Festival at the Dixon Place in New York, Atlas INTERSECTIONS Festival at the Atlas Performing Arts Center, VelocityDC Dance Festival at the Sidney Harman Hall, ‘Yes! Dance Invitational’ at the Dogtown Dance Theatre in Richmond, Taiwan Night Concert at the Robert E. Parilla Performing Arts Center, Professional Touring Artists Series at the Reston CenterStage, and the Reston Multicultural Festival, Northern Virginia Fine Arts Festival.
We are guided by the philosophy that by spreading the amazing art form of dance, we are building a stronger and closer community. Applying that in practice, GDC has performed and supported many great charitable causes through our Outreach Performance Program including the American Diabetes Association, Child Rescue Center, Benefit Habitat for Humanity, The Angel Fund’s Remembrance Cabaret, Johns Hopkins Children’s Center, Catholic Charities U.S.A. Hurricane Relief, Life After Domestic Violence, Benefit Concert for Wounded Warriors and many others.
Our mission is both to provide a professional environment for artists to learn, grow, and express themselves and to bring refreshing and vitalizing works to the community. Each of Shu-Chen’s works uniquely reflects her rich Asian Dance heritage and Eastern philosophy blended with Western fluidity of movement and culture. We are guided by the philosophy that by spreading the amazing art form of dance, we build a stronger and closer community ~ Enriching lives through Dance. www.gindance.org 
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