Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Dancing can change your life

It certainly has for me. I can hardly believe that my three years at the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts (NAFA) are over. In the past month I sped through a daze of impossibly long days. Rehearsals, technique examinations, final year choreography project, bump in for our final performance in the department showcase. Thank you cards. Editing weepy videos all night. Final year end party. It was so hard to imagine it all coming to an end, that we sat in the park with each other and a lot of vodka until the wee hours of the morning.

This is gonna be the sappy posting.

I think I knew what a huge gamble I was taking three years ago when I handed in my resignation letter in the civil service and headed to full time dance school. What I had no idea of was how my life was going to change. I find it really difficult to imagine myself in my old life now. Hard to imagine ironing my shirts, jet setting in suits and heels, scribbling in long meetings and drawing a comfy paycheck. I am surprised how uninteresting it sounds to me now. The thought of long meetings and laptop-lugging is enough to make my back twinge.

I am really grateful that a lot of good people gave a chance to an unlikely dancer - starting with friends and teachers who encouraged me to perform and choreograph when I was still working full time, and the faculty at NAFA who auditioned me and accepted me, even though I was over the age limit. A dance diploma programme is no joke. I wondered many times if I would survive the sheer misery of the technical training, the pain every day, the injuries that took me off my feet. I don't think I would have even passed the attendance requirement if I hadn't had a faithful partner to wheedle me out of bed every morning at 6am to make the long commute to school.

I encountered a lot of scepticism when I chose a local school for my dance training. Were the students of good caliber? The faculty of international standard?

In the first few weeks of school I realised that of my cohort of 22, none of us were "perfect". Most of us didn't have perfect bodies for dance, many were late starters with little dance background, some didn't have the finances (to complete the NAFA education), and many in my batch were to me really young and lacking in focus. I believe now that it was exactly the right place for me. In a programme full of imperfect dancers, we were there to encourage each other. I want to give credit to the faculty at NAFA for their dedication to nurture anybody with the commitment to try. However unlikely all of us seemed, our teachers believed that we could be transformed. Believed that from the passion that each of us showed at audition time, each of us could beat the odds and make it to a professional level.

I was able to work with some wonderfully diverse faculty, both local and international. Graham and Limon classes actually felt like coming home to my earlier training in New York. It was meaningful to work with Asian artists on their own journey to reconcile the contemporary and the traditional. The NAFA signature curriculum that I went through exposed me to both Western and Asian art traditions, and different disciplines such as music, calligraphy and fashion. It gave me many avenues for reflection on history, identity and society. I am especially grateful to those teachers who urged me to see myself as an artist, not a student, and to demand quality work from and for myself.

We ended our programme with a graduating batch of just 9 of us. I think each of us fought tooth and nail to make it through - through to yet another beginning.

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