Dance On: More Young Singaporeans Taking Up Dance, But Is It Viable As A Career?

They’ve been filling up classes in various dance studios, participating in competitions and representing Singapore internationally – young dancers are taking over Singapore’s dance scene.

Why the surge in dance among the youth? Even in a country where expressions of street art have often been shunned due to its associations with vice, these young people have gone beyond the norm of focusing only on their academics to pursue this art form.

K-Pop and YouTube

According to Ben Zo, instructor at EV Dance, the K-wave (or Hallyu wave) has contributed to the increase in youth pursuing dance as “young kids will take time and learn the moves from the music video”.
Zhiming, known also as DJ Bolo in Singapore’s dance community, shares the same sentiments. “(K-Pop) inspires the fans to pick up dancing for their (idol group’s) fan meetings, K-Pop competitions or simply because they just love the song so much,” he said.

Photo: Leonard Lau
Ben Zo | Photo: Leonard Lau

This can be seen through the availability of K-Pop classes in various studios, where instructors teach choreography seen in music videos. K-Pop groups often hire internationally-renowned choreographers to choreograph for them as well, leading to greater appreciation for urban choreography.

One of the main social media platforms used by K-Pop is YouTube, and fans have managed to identify and follow their favourite choreographers, often learning entire sets from watching videos alone.

Some dance studios have even gone viral, such as 1 Million Dance Studio in South Korea and Millennium Dance Complex in the US.

Dance studios and other dancers often post tutorials of certain moves or even entire choreographies on YouTube, taking the learning platform online. For beginner dancers who have yet to muster the courage to enter a dance studio or join their school’s dance club, they could always learn online and practice in the comfort of their own home.

School Clubs

Interest in dance is often enhanced through dance clubs in schools. For these dance clubs to come together, however, requires support for arts programmes by schools.

School dance clubs have now expanded beyond contemporary dance styles to include street dance and urban choreography, with local polytechnics and universities boasting their own street dance/urban dance clubs. This could signify a positive change in educational institutions’ attitudes towards dance.

Photo: Minghui Tan/Mohobos
Photo: Mohobos

Cherie Ng, 21, an alumnus of Ngee Ann Polytechnic’s New Revolving Age (NRA) dance club told Popspoken that she began dancing in secondary school and ventured into different styles in polytechnic.

“I was a gymnast but my secondary school didn’t offer that, so I tried for the school’s modern dance club and fell in love with dance,” she said.

Being a member of the school’s dance club serves as a structured platform that helps students find like-minded peers to pursue their interests together, and aids in fostering bonds among these students. The identity formed by members of the same dance club could also help to attract other peers who might be interested in street and urban dance.

Competitions and Showcases

The increase in number of dance competitions yearly could also reflect how dance is gaining traction in Singapore. Major dance competitions such as Singapore Dance Delight and Super 24 are seeing more young participants as well, with the latter introducing categories for primary, secondary and tertiary students this year.

The venue for such competitions are often public as well – Super 24’s 2016 qualifiers were held at Ngee Ann City’s Civic Plaza. Greater public exposure for street dance and urban choreography could be achieved this way, and ideas towards these dance styles could change as well. Young audience members may pick up dance with the aim of joining such competitions in the future.

Photo: Overide Photography
Photo: Overide Photography

Besides competitions, showcases are equally important. Recognize! Studios invites international dancers to act as guest choreographers as part of their annual recital. Members of Kinjaz, a renowned dance crew from the US, were invited to guest choreograph last year. Selected dancers undergo vigourous training by these choreographers.

Similarly, EV Dance held Swaggout last year, where they invited various choreographers from US and South Korea. Local dancers had the opportunity of collaborating with them and to perform in their showcase item. These international dancers often attract young students who follow them on YouTube, and these eager young fans turn up for the event to watch their idols dance live. This culture may help these students muster the courage to pursue their interest in dance.

Dance as a career?

Street dance and urban choreography, however, have yet to become a viable career prospect for many, mainly due to a lack of appreciation for the arts in Singapore. Dancers are often called to perform for gigs with only “exposure” as their payment.

While mindsets of the public towards dance seem to be changing, many still hold on to the notion that academic certificates hold more value than dance skills.

Denise Lim, 21, shared with Popspoken that she feels the dance scene in Singapore has progressed over the past few years, and the public has reciprocated as well. She believes that this means more opportunities for younger dancers in the future.

“I believe one day, if our children love dance (they) would be able to make a career out of their passion and sustain their lifestyle at the same time,” she said.

Ben Zo shared similar views, acknowledging that the older generation of dancers have put in a lot of effort to get the local dance scene to where it is today.

“I hope the the younger generations can pick up and do the same and dance can be something big in Singapore one day,” he said.

Photo: Overide Photography
Photo: Overide Photography

DJ Bolo, however, pointed out that changes to Singapore’s arts industry was still necessary before dance can be viewed as a viable career.

He shared that dance could be a full-time career for those who are not aiming to live in luxury. Although it is possible for dancers to be internationally famous and to teach workshops in other countries, he cautioned that only a few individuals have succeeded.

He then moved on to say that generally, the pool of job opportunities for dancers in Singapore remains small, and that Singapore needs to catch up with its Asian counterparts such as Korea and Japan. He suggests that having more local dance singers would help to change this.

“If we have more local dance singers, there will be an increase of opportunities for dance choreographers, back up dancers, dance tours, music videos et cetera,” he said. “Lacking this commercial piece, dancers have to find other job opportunities to survive and keep pushing for their dreams and future.”

While it remains unclear if dance will be viewed more commonly as a career path in the future, DJ Bolo has a few words of advice for those new to dance.

“Never stop learning. Apart from learning the movements, learn about the music, history and culture as well,” he said.

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