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.


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For­mosan Roots


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.

Clown­ing Around

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?

Cour­tesy of Dan Huang

Top and above: Dan Huang ( nurs­ing home for the el­derly.

), founder of “Car­ing Clown,” per­forms at a

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