The man who loves clowning around with the elderly
As society continues to age faster than ever before, it becomes increasingly preoccupied with the pursuit of happiness — a strong emotion that has become more and more difficult to maintain in an economically gloomy and unstable world — there are certain people who qualify as a silver lining in the cloudiest of times.
Dan Huang ( these people.
Huang, a 65-year-old retired man, is giving his all to make happy the people most often left behind in the grander scheme of things: the elderly. How? By clowning around.
During meticulously planned performances, weaving past the seats of senior citizens with agile footsteps that belie his real age, Huang visits nursing homes nationwide to entertain the elderly with magic tricks, balloon animals, performing a kind of physical and mental therapy.
Laughter is the balm to a sad soul, as some would say, and it is exhibited here as Huang is able to coax hesitant chuckles to allout laughter from normally stonyfaced seniors through his antics. But, to understand more about Huang, this fellow who performs and entertains people just years older than himself with the vitality of a young man, we must take a brief peek back into his past.
He lived and studied briefly in Taiwan after leaving his once home in Hong Kong, where an uncle had briefly housed the young Huang and his family during tight financial times. Huang fondly remembers his years in Taiwan.
“It was a hard life here in Taipei in the 1970s,” Huang says, reminiscing about his years at National Taiwan University, but he speaks of the humbling emotions he felt during his student years — everyone he knew worked and studied hard for a better life. Compared with the Hong Kong in his memories, which Huang found too “com- mercialized and white-collared,” he was, and continues to be, enthralled by the Taiwanese passion.
While Huang and his wife eventually moved to the U.S. for other work prospects after graduation, Huang never really forgot about the ties he made with the Taiwanese soil. These ties eventually led him back after his retirement from his management role at a computer company in the U.S. in 2013, realizing that he had much more to share on this island. Before coming to terms with this, however, Huang paid a visit to a nursing home in Virginia.
“The atmosphere at the nursing house was very oppressive and sad. People just sat around and watched TV.” He wanted to do something for the elderly, and make their lives happier and more “colorful.”
Inspired to solve this unhappy state of affairs, a year before retirement Huang went to study at Clowns of America International on a two-week course on becoming a clown. Applying his innate creative mind to the challenge, Huang moved back to Taiwan after retiring and began volunteering in nursing homes as a qualified clown.
Choosing to become a clown seemed to be an easy decision for his personality — Huang can easily “break the ice” and entertain people as a clown. However, you might assume that performing as a clown would be easy; that is simply not the case. It requires dedication, stamina, and the ability to look on the bright side of things.
For Huang, his former life as a manager was key to being a clown. Before each performance, Huang would hunker down to write out a proposal, a script to follow, meticulously planning out each and every detail. After that, he would hold onto that script to memorize down to the last word, right until his performance.
“I am a person who likes to experience the difficult stuff and challenge myself in fixing and solv- ing the problems.” Which is exactly why Huang decided to perform for the senior citizens, rather than children, as the latter are easily entertained.
As a performer, the most important aspect isn’t just about the show itself — the audience is equally important. Huang gets his energy from a passionate audience. If they’re not receptive, it can be mentally burdening for the performer as well. “But, this is also important — it means that there is something to improve in my performances.”
Apart from entertaining the elderly, Huang also makes balloon shapes for therapy. Often, he uses the balloons as a prop, choosing a participant from the audience, and letting the senior citizen move their body parts to follow Huang’s movements as he holds the balloon. “They don’t move often enough,” Huang said. “Letting them move about is not only beneficial for their physical health, but also mental health as well.” Huang also believes socializing and interaction are beneficial for the elderly as well, yet both are not encouraged enough in Taiwan’s nursing homes.
His favorite show? Huang laughs as he shares the memory. An elderly, jolly woman wanted to take Huang home and introduce his performance to her whole family. Happiness is to be shared, and Huang found that making others happy can not only raise his own happiness levels, but it can also spread to others.
The Caring Clown
There is one problem with being an elderly clown himself and entertaining senior citizens — Huang is constantly reminded that one day he will become as old as them. To see that future old people can continue a colorful life, even beyond retirement, is what Huang hopes to achieve.
In order to achieve this, Huang founded the “The Caring Clown” this year to gather a group of young minds who share the same sentiments, and trained a group of talented clown volunteers to continue on the work of a clown doctor. A total of 31 volunteers showed up for the training program, much to Huang’s surprise. Nowadays, Huang tag-teams with a young volunteer clown for a joint performance.
One thing that Huang realized about younger clown volunteers is that while they are abundant in passion, they can lack empathy for senior citizens, as they are far younger than their audience. Even in tricks like shuffling poker cards, clowns need to slow down their actions or slow down their talking speed, so an older person’s eyes and ears can keep up.
“Empathy is important. Sometimes you need to put yourself into their shoes, rather than doing things your own way,” Huang said, highlighting the most important aspect in the service industry.
But for now, all Huang hopes for is that while he can move about on his own two feet, he can continue to contribute to Taiwan’s society and nursing homes through his passionate performances, and most of all, bring a smile to these age-worn faces. What more could a clown ask for?
Top and above: Dan Huang ( nursing home for the elderly.
), founder of “Caring Clown,” performs at a