Learn by Doing

Carol and Bill Hoehn were Door County residents for 35 years before he retired as choral director at Sturgeon Bay High School. Carol, meanwhile, had taught dance at the University of Wisconsin – Green Bay and was the director of the university’s dance program.

For 25 years they had a shop, The Gift to Be Simple, behind their home on County F, where Carol sold one-of-a-kind, hand-painted clothing. They were known for their brick-oven baked bread and had authored a cookbook. Plenty of interests and options for an active retirement, it would seem.

“But,” says Carol, “we knew we weren’t done with teaching and certainly not done with traveling. We explored international teaching and Bill got a position teaching high-level choral music, composition and theory at the Taipei American School in Taiwan. It turned out to be the eight most glorious years of our lives, despite Bill’s initial misgivings about the culture shock of moving to the Orient.

“Taiwan,” she continues, “is the only working democracy in Southeast Asia. It is almost more Chinese than China because Taiwan preserved the Chinese art and culture that Mao pretty much got rid of elsewhere.”

While Bill taught full-time, Carol was a substitute teacher at the American School, took contract jobs directing, choreographing and teaching art. She also studied Mandarin Chinese with a husband and wife team.

“It is an unbelievably difficult language,” she says. “I noticed that the wife always looked at me strangely when I said what I thought was, ‘May I ask a question?’ After a year, she finally told me that I was actually asking, ‘May I kiss your husband?’”

Carol’s main interest, though, was the 20 hours a week she studied two forms of tai chi, a practice that has been described as “unifying body, mind and spirit, leading to health and well-being, peace of mind and spiritual growth.” All the classes were conducted in Chinese.

In the beginning, Carol just watched, analyzed and copied. Her 50 years of experience as a ballet teacher helped with analyzing the movements, but she found there were also things such as weight placement that she needed to unlearn.

“Ballet,” she says, “is all about the appearance of escaping gravity. Tai chi is rooted in and takes its power from the earth. It’s a very different aesthetic and it took me awhile to understand this and to be able to fit it in my own body. The Chinese say that tai chi is life, and the beauty of it is that you learn by doing.”

Carol had two instructors. She studied Daoyin Tai Chi, a forerunner of the more martial form, with Chen Tzu Wei (called Ivy), a champion and a member of the Taiwan national team, as well as a fine dancer.

Chan Ming Shu, champion of the All Asian Games in 1998, was Carol’s “master” in studying Tai Chi Chuan, the more martial form that most people practice. She also learned “push hands,” the attempt to pull or push your partner off his center. It may be competitive or not and is described as a “dialogue between bodies.” Carol also learned sword forms and fan forms, useful not only for self defense, but for building upper-body strength.

Back in Door County, Carol is preparing to open the Laughing Tiger Tai Chi Studio in her former shop. She emphasizes that tai chi is a form of “moving meditation” appropriate for all ages, has many health benefits and – unlike most other forms of exercise – can be done forever. She presently teaches four classes a week at Kathy Navis’ Junction Center Yoga and Theresa Evans’ Stone Path Yoga.

Carol can be reached at 920.839.2252. She plans to spend February and March in Taipei, continuing advanced study of tai chi. Bill will also return to the Taipei American School to teach for two months while a former colleague is on maternity leave.