By: Andre Frois
A state of motion: Singapore’s flourishing dance scene
Published on 6 June 2018
Since the formation of Singapore’s first professional dance company, Singapore Dance Theatre, in 1987, the scene has grown exponentially. Many more dance companies and schools are cropping up all over the island, offering classes from Chinese dance and ballet to contemporary dance, hip-hop and even newer styles of dance such as street jazz and k-pop.
The art form has been further thrust into the spotlight through initiatives such as the National Arts Council’s nationwide dance movement, Got to Move. In fact, there’ll be a pop-up event taking place this Saturday at Our Tampines Hub, where young people interested in the Singapore dance scene can immerse themselves in workshops, performances and showcases. In the lead-up to the Got to Move June Pop-Up, the A List chats with notable figures in the scene to take stock of how dance has grown in Singapore and kept us on pointe.
More routes to finding success as a dancer
Tenured performer Edwin Wee recounts how his aspirations of becoming a professional dancer used to be met with responses like “how will you make enough money to eat?” and “but what do you really want to do as a career?”
“I graduated 10 to 15 years ago, and most of my fellow dancers have discontinued their dancing careers to take on other occupations because they could not sustain themselves,” divulges the rehearsal director and senior dancer of Arts Fission, a local dance company. “Thanks to significant changes in how Singapore nurtures the arts and how Singaporeans view the arts, these ratios have greatly improved. I feel like we worked together as a community to effect this societal shift.”
“Singapore used to have very few opportunities for full-time dancers and not many dance students would become dancers upon graduation,” shares Anthea Seah. She is a full-time dancer with T.H.E. Dance Company, which supports many major festivals like the M1 Contact Contemporary Dance Festival, and holds open classes as well as masterclasses. Anthea has been dancing for more than a decade since she first joined her secondary school’s Chinese contemporary dance troupe as a co-curricular activity. “The barrier to entry for aspiring dancers is definitely lower now,” shares Anthea, who will be a panellist at the upcoming Got to Move June Pop-Up.
“Young dancers now have more opportunities to perform and grow. At first, one could only audition and dance for big companies. Today, dancers of different skill and experience levels can hone their craft with a variety of independent companies,” elaborates Anthea.
A collaborative effort to grow the dance scene
“My peers and I fought to dance full-time,” Edwin recounts. “We actively worked to open more doors so that young people today can be more confident in taking that first step.”
The Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts graduate has had the opportunity to share his passion and gift for dance with local communities through outreach workshops with day-care and rehabilitation centres. He has also conducted programmes for healthcare staff that promote wellness through creative movement. Edwin vouches that the local dance industry has greatly diversified and that Singaporeans’ mindsets toward dance have drastically changed.
“First and foremost, Singaporeans are more accepting of dance as a career now. Today, artists can keep quenching their creative thirsts, without starving.” He echoes Anthea’s observation, remarking, “the National Arts Council played a big part. Its efforts to support more dance disciplines and platforms has made dance as a career less daunting and more encouraging for young people.”
A dedicated practitioner devoted to exposing more members of the public to dance, Edwin estimates that the initial handful of dance companies based in Singapore has now doubled since his graduation.
Not just creativity, but also sustainability and all-round expression
Besides benefitting from policy changes and a shift in the public’s outlook, dancers too gave themselves a leg up, Edwin observes. “Many dancers today are not just artists, but also have very entrepreneurial ways of thinking. They actively seek partnerships with various businesses and organisations. They look at success very differently, and success must include creating a sustainable company.”
“The Singapore dance scene is now very healthy, if you look at the number of start-ups,” remarks Anthea. She also discloses that she has witnessed dancers proactively take on new roles and responsibilities beyond performing. “Dancers today see productions as a collaborative process, and more of them are contributing to the creative direction as choreographers, directors and producers. We are all pushing the dance scene to the next step, by giving young dancers opportunities to take on roles in production and management. Government grants have encouraged more independent companies to spring up too and their members are happy to share responsibilities because they each desire to make their own mark.”
Keeping the passion alive
Anthea recommends interested youths to sign up for the Got to Move June Pop-Up taking place on 9 June, as this will expose them to many genres of dance, and try to answer as many of their burning questions as possible. “We want aspiring dancers to be able to relate to us through this event. Hopefully we can provide them an idea of what our journeys as dancers were like, and give them a better context and a larger idea of our field and its many entities,” she describes. “Participants will get to choose from different repertoires that might resonate with them. This event is designed to be dynamic in welcoming one and all.”
Sufri Juwahir, Choreographer and panellist at Got to Move Pop-Up, echoes this sentiment. “Got to Move brings people together and celebrates the different presentations of dance, so it comprises many different views and perspectives of dance, as well as an appreciation of the array of works presented at this festival,” he says. “I presented my reworked piece, Gading, at Got to Move SPOTLIGHT 2017, and will present my award-winning piece, Decipher, at the Got to Move June Pop-Up 2018, which I reworked together with LASALLE students. I present my ideas to the wider Singapore audience through the event, which I hope will inspire the younger generation.”
“There’s no one way of knowing what you can do and be in dance, so come explore its various opportunities,” encourages Anthea. “During this process of discovery, most importantly, be comfortable with expressing yourself and seek the joy of dancing.”
The Got to Move June Pop-Up will be held at Our Tampines Hub on 9 June 2018 from 9am to 5.30pm. Got to Move will return with its annual festival this October.
For more information, check out this link here.