For the past year, tucked under the shadow of Lowe's Motor Speedway, eight children, all adopted from China, have gathered on Friday nights at G & J Speedway Gymnastics, Inc. to learn about their heritage and form friendships with others like them. The class was formed when several Cabarrus County parents from the Charlotte chapter of Families with Children from China realized they shared a common desire to teach their adopted children about their homeland and make friends with other Chinese children.
Jie Ding and his wife, Guizhen Xiao, are natives of China and co-owners of G & J Speedway Gymnastics, Inc.
They have been teaching in Concord for seven years, offering recreational and competitive classes for all ages. Monthly tuition for gymnastic classes is $75 for children 6-years-old and up and $65 for 3-to-5-year-olds.
When asked by the parents to share their Chinese culture with the students, they eagerly accepted.
"I so enjoy teaching them," said Xiao.
Over the summer, Ding taught the children the intricate art of Chinese lettering, something children in China would begin learning as well.
"We would try one word a day," he said. By the end of each day, they could write a new word like mother, father or handstand.
Xiao would play traditional Chinese music and teach the most basic of Chinese dance movements. "Traditional dances are hard to master," said Ding.
During the rest of the year, the focus is on gymnastics and learning to speak Chinese.
"We teach words for body parts and movements," said Ding. Not that other Chinese words don't pop up from time to time.
The kids, who knew no Chinese, have learned dozens of words and phrases, like "hands, feet, legs, thank you and I don't know." Some can even count to 100 in Chinese.
"They are very interested in learning," said Ding.
Watching and listening to the class, you could almost convince yourself you were in China, until you hear the children's Southern accents.
The bonds the kids have made with each other are equally as important as the lessons they've learned.
Many of them don't see each other during the week, or anyone who even looks like them. Cabarrus County has an Asian population of less than 2 percent.
"I love coming here because I'm Chinese," said 6-year-old Cate Hensley.
Her mother, Tracy, hopes the class will build confidence and a feeling of unity for her daughter, now and especially later, when the pull to look and act like everyone else is at its strongest.
"Hopefully, these friendships will be put into place," she said. "They will grow up with each other and have each other as teenagers."
The significance of their special lessons and kinships may go unnoticed to the kids, but their parents recognize it.
A pride that has been fostered each week by Ding, Xiao and the circle of friends.
"It's so good for identity and self-esteem," said Cathy Doheny, mother of 4-year-old Jade. "They can embrace that they are different, and this makes them special."