Issuu on Google+

INDEPTH

THE STRAITS TIMES MONDAY, MAY 20, 2013

MONDAY, MAY 20, 2013 THE STRAITS TIMES

N E T T BI M O O

8

9

BY TH E

Mr Anthony Price of ballroom school Dancin’ Cheek To Cheek and his dance partner Zou Yayun instructing Stamford American International School students on basic ballroom posture.

R L L BA UG B

Ms Gladys Tay, principal of Shawn And Gladys DanceWorld, and her daughter Isabelle at their studio in Bras Brasah Complex.

cing has n a d e v i t i t f many o Compe s t r a e h the captured ple here. BRYANT o young pe ds out why CHAN fin

I

nstead of putting on cleats or running spikes for physical education class, some schools are now having their students slip on dance shoes instead. Ballroom dance, also known as “dancesport”, is steadily gaining recognition among schools as a viable sport. This is due in no small part to the Ministry of Education’s (MOE) Sports Education Programme (SEP), a collaboration with the Singapore Sports Council. Last year, through the SEP, more than 4,000 students took part in introductory dancesport classes. First launched in late 2006, the SEP offers $10,000 grants to schools to cultivate sports development. Other modules offered in the programme include futsal and taekwon-do. There are almost 50 dancesport modules listed under the SEP for schools to choose from. To further spread the benefits of dancesport, the Singapore DanceSport Federation (SGDF) has held talks and workshops in schools such as Xinmin Secondary School and Pei Tong Primary School. But some schools have taken dancesport beyond the SEP and into their own hands. In Edgefield Primary School, which has dancesport as its niche speciality, pupils spend each of their six years learning a different style of ballroom dance, from the cha-cha to the waltz. An MOE initiative last year gave them increased funding and enabled the school to send more than double the number of Edgefield pupils to international competitions, said principal Willy Tan. Over at Stamford American International School, dance was implemented as part of its PE programme last August. The move was meant to better integrate arts into its curriculum. And aside from the electives on offer, such as music, robotics and textiles, Grade 7, 8, and 9 students are also allowed to take electives in dance.

Ms Renee Gauthier, a dance teacher at the school, said dance helps the students improve their soft skills. “After their ballroom classes, because there’s so much close interaction, they become a lot more comfortable in social situations,” she said. “Dance tends to bring kids out a little, to give them an opportunity to explore what they’re good at,” said Mr Anthony Price, a professional ballroom dancer who was hired to teach dancesport at Stamford. Previously coach of the Oxford University Dancesport Team, Mr Price came to Singapore in February to start his own ballroom school, Dancin’ Cheek To Cheek. He said his experience with dancesport helped him grow as a person. “I was kind of a shy kid, not very outgoing,” he recalled. “Dance gave me the confidence I needed to step out of my shell.” The students’ reactions to the new programme have been positive, some even using their recess time to practise steps in the school’s dance studio. “It’s useful because we can apply it in social situations,” said Grade 7 student McCall Delaney, 13. “Now we know what to do at prom, but everybody else is gonna be so lost. “It’s not like jazz, or hip-hop, where you’re just performing for people. You’re actually communicating one-on-one with your partner.” Fellow Grade 7 student Zac Horsington admitted the initial lessons were the most uncomfortable. Said the 12-year-old: “It was a little bit awkward at first. When we were doing the cha-cha we weren’t even close together, we were just holding hands and everyone was still going ‘ewww’. “But we got used to it in the end.” Not content with just dancing recreationally, more young Singaporean are also taking part in dancesport competitions. SGDF’s president Sabrina Sim said at least 500 young Singaporeans have taken part in either a local or overseas dancesport competition compared with

about 20 a decade ago. In fact, in October, Singapore will be sending a pair of athletes, siblings Jerome and Rachel Teo, 15 and 14 respectively, to participate in the Junior II Standard category of the World DanceSport Federation Championships – the largest competition of its kind in the world – held in Moscow.

HAPPY FEET

So popular is the activity now that more young people are signing up for dancesport classes outside of school. At dance school Shawn And Gladys DanceWorld, enrolment numbers have seen a marked surge, by about 50 per cent from 10 years ago, said its principal Gladys Tay. The number of students taking personal coaching lessons has also shot up by 30 per cent in the same period. “Most of it definitely has to do with positive media exposure,” said Ms Tay, citing popular television shows such as So You Think You Can Dance and Dancing With The Stars. “Such programmes are the starting point for a lot of people who don’t know anything about dancesport.” Her daughter Isabelle, 18, who has been dancing competitively since she was eight years old, added: “In the past, dancing used to be stereotyped as an activity for old people only. “But now that people see the shows on TV, they’re really inspired.” She is heading off to New York University in August to pursue a degree in liberal studies and business, but will return to take over the family business. “I know it’s their secret wish,” she said, referring to her parents and grandparents,

INDEPTH

Members from FightSaber SG at a cosplay event at the Bukit Batok Community Centre on April 28.

who were competitive dancers too. “They always tell me ‘we’re not forcing you, you know’, but I think secretly they’re really happy.” Isabelle previously considered going professional, but decided against it because of a lack of a partner – the number of male ballroom dancers in Singapore is significantly smaller. “Guys still need some time to feel macho about ballroom dancing,” she sighed. “But I’m sure girls will find them macho!” As is the case with the Tays, it is not uncommon for dance to be a family affair. Zane and Dara Tan (pictured on the cover), Brother and sister 14 and 13 respectively, are a brother-sister team Jerome and duo who have danced together for six years. Rachel Teo have They have taken part in more than 20 local been dancing for and international competitions so far. three years and will The two were bitten by the ballroom represent Singapore at the World bug when they sat in on a class at Shawn DanceSport And Gladys DanceWorld their parents Federation were attending. They were entranced by Championships how their parents transformed into a in October. glamorous couple on the dance floor. “We are very proud of them,” beamed their mother, Mrs Joni Tan, a lawyer in her mid-40s. She danced with her husband Terence up until she was five months pregnant each time. While Dara takes Chinese dance as a CCA now in addition to ballroom dancing, Zane gave up modern dance as a CCA to pursue his first love. “It gives you a chance to relax, to express yourself,” said Zane, contrasting ballroom dancing with the rigours of modern dance. “You get to do choreography that suits you.” Timothy Ong, 17, put it a different way: “In ballroom, there’s this idea of partnership, of dependency, that really appeals to me.” The School of the Arts student went through ballet and hip-hop classes as part of his curriculum, JASTER NGUI ST DESIGN ST DESIGN JASTER NGUI LAU FOOKEDWARD KONG, EDWARD TEO but still loves Latin ST PHOTOSPHOTOS LAU FOOK KONG, TEO

Ballroom dancers Timothy Ong and Pang Wan Ching have been dance partners for eight years.

ballroom above all other dance forms. Zhonghua Secondary student Pang Wan Ching, 16, his partner of eight years, added: “It feels very elegant and graceful. I can show who I really am.” On the other hand, brother and sister Jerome and Rachel Teo relish the challenge of switching between the two polemic styles of Latin and standard ballroom. “You’ve got the whole flexibility of Latin against the more rigid frame and calmness of standard,” said Jerome, who is from Catholic High School. “There’s also a whole different musical element in the different styles you have to adapt to,” added Rachel, who is from CHIJ Toa Payoh (Secondary). “But it’s something we enjoy taking on together.” Though dancesport has taken a leap forward, Mrs Tay still thinks more could be done to raise awareness of the sport, such as letting parents know its merits. “A lot of parents are so academically focused, they don’t see dancesport as something useful,” she lamented. In other places she has visited, such as Australia, Hong Kong, Macau and Thailand, dancesport is a standard part of school curriculum, unlike in Singapore where it is still considered a niche activity, she said. “They have different perspectives over there,” she said. “They’re not afraid to try anything.” Still, Mr Price remains optimistic about the dancesport scene in Singapore. “It’s in my interest to raise the profile of ballroom dancing in Singapore as there really is a great deal of talent here,” he said. “Who knows?” he added with a smile as he looked around the dance studio. “Maybe the next world champion could be sitting right here and we just don’t know it yet.” bryantc@sph.com.sg


Straits Times - Bitten by the Ballroom Bug