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December 23, 2011 > Gift from a Dancer

Gift from a Dancer

Submitted By Lila Bringhurst

Residents of every city in the San Francisco Bay Area have neighbors who emigrated from countries around the world. We mix and mingle in business, in schools and in social settings. But rarely do we appreciate the struggles that immigrants have experienced in their quest to come to America and seldom do we know their achievements... or their gratitude.

Rachel Kuo Tan of Fremont is a case in point. If you saw her in the grocery store you would see a typical mother of two filling her cart, impatiently waiting in line and hurrying off to complete her list of tasks. But you would not know her story.

Tan's family emigrated in 1978 from Taiwan to Seattle, thanks to her uncle, Wu Shin Kuo, who sponsored and financed them. Her parents, Pao Tung Kuo and Huang Chuan Kuo, felt deeply indebted to him. They worked long hours in a relative's dry cleaning business and every penny they earned went to pay the debt. They and their five children, ages five to thirteen, lived in poverty in the top floor of a three-story house.

Rachel's mother was sad and terribly homesick, but wonderful things began to happen to the children as loving friends and strangers entered their lives. The first was their bus driver, Burness.

"She was a happy lady with curly blond hair. We didn't speak much English, but we felt the love of this lady," remembers Tan. "She always greeted us with a smile and taught us English words by pointing to objects and saying their names. She sang songs and taught them to us."

On the last day of school before winter break the loving bus driver dropped all the other students off first. When she arrived at the Kuo home she presented a gift to each child.

"Grandma, who was waiting for us, did not want us to accept the gifts," Tan recollects with a smile, "but Burness shouted Merry Christmas, gave a happy wave, and quickly drove away."

Christmas Eve brought a wonderful surprise. The doorbell rang and when they opened the door they found beautiful packages on the stairway filled with clothing, food and presents for every member of the family, including money.

"A note said 'Merry Christmas from Santa Claus.' We never found out who the giver was," said Tan, who was eleven years old at the time, "but we felt warm feelings that someone had brightened our lives that bleak Christmas. I have always been grateful that someone did something special for us on our first Christmas in America."

Their bilingual teacher, Lucy Ou, took the children to many fun outings. She became a mentor for the multitalented Rachel and encouraged her to continue in ballet. As the next Christmas approached, Rachel wanted to see the famous "Nutcracker."

"My desire to see the 'Nutcracker' was so strong that my family made a tremendous financial sacrifice to set aside money for bus transfers and a theater ticket for one, allowing me to fulfill my fondest wish," said Tan recently.

"When I presented my fifteen dollars for the ticket, the counterman asked me if I was by myself. With a big smile I replied, 'Yes.' With a big smile of his own he presented the precious ticket to me. Soon I discovered that he had given me a front row seat! Though I have witnessed the 'Nutcracker' many times since that day, the memory of my first 'Nutcracker' will always be the most beautiful and magical of all. This performance became my inspiration and ultimately directed my career path."

After graduating in 1990 from the University of Washington with a major in communications and a minor in dance and education, Tan traveled and performed in Asia. She studied in Malaysia with an examiner from the Royal Academy of Dance of London. After five years, dancing six days a week, she became a certified dance instructor.

Then she married Cheoh Tan, whom she had met when they both attended the University of Washington. Shortly after the birth of their daughter, Miranda, his work brought him to the Bay Area. They bought a two-bedroom condo in Fremont, and Rachel opened a dance studio in their garage. She now has two studios in Fremont and one in Dublin (rachelsballet.com). Her daughters, Miranda, 13, and Elisha, 4, both dance.

"I often thought about the wonderful people who helped our family," said Rachel. "After I joined The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the Mormons), I realized that the gifts I witnessed were from my loving Heavenly Father, who had prompted the hearts of others to help us. Being a receiver of these gifts I felt and saw the light of Jesus Christ for the first time. I remember thinking that someday I hope to follow their good example."

In 2009 the Tans began making arrangements for a wonderful gift of gratitude, two free performances of the "Nutcracker." In 2010 Rachel's Ballet first performed the "Nutcracker" ballet, free of charge, at The Church of Jesus-Christ of Latter-day Saints Interstake Center on Temple Hill in Oakland, California. She repeated the gift this year. Free tickets for the two performances in the 2000-seat auditorium became available at 6 p.m. on November 26. They were all gone in 30 minutes. Appreciative residents from all over the Bay Area packed the house on December 16 and 17.

The ballet performances were a gift from a little girl who was given a front row seat by a kindly ticket seller, where she was caught up in the magical dance of childhood dreams. Now she creates the enchanting scenes and dances and shares them with friends and strangers - as a loving gift.

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