Dancing to Life's Beat
Many consider an arts education to be mere enrichment. For a few, however, their childhood arts lessons became the foundation for a lifelong career.
By Charlene Tan
Wearing pink ballet tights for the first time, four-year-old Veronica Shen tottered onto the wondrous world of dance. Unbeknownst to her then, her passion would continue unabated throughout her years of schooling.
“When I was in Poly, my friends and tutors would often catch me doodling ballet shoes on my worksheets and books,” she muses.
Today, the 22-year-old is a dedicated ballet teacher determined to pass on the love of dance to younger generations. She teaches most evenings a week, coaching both kids and adults in ballet and jazz dance, and without a doubt, cherishes every moment she spends on the job.
“There is so much satisfaction and it’s the little things that add up. At the end of class, the kids would sometimes come up to me with a hug, and the enthusiastic response I get from them during class shows they enjoy class. When the kids do well in exams, it’s an assurance that I’ve done a good job,” she says with a smile.
Sway with the music
Similarly, Martin’s piano lessons starting from age four began a love affair that deepened during his days in the secondary school band, and resulted in him becoming a professional pianist.
“We practised hard and the school band received Gold with Honours at the Singapore Youth Festival competition. It is all thanks to my conductor that I was inspired to pursue my grades in piano,” he fondly recalls.
Martin stumbled upon playing the piano for ballet classes whilst in the army, “just for the extra pocket money”.
“My friend told me about this job and I took up the offer not knowing what it was all about at first, and I had never seen the scores before! But I had a good ballet teacher to guide me and I am still playing for her today,” says Martin.
It turned out that being a ballet pianist fit Martin like a tailor-made coat. 12 years have since passed, yet it only feels like a mere waltz for the 31-year-old, who now plays for ballet classes at the Singapore Ballet Academy.
“You have to know the steps the teacher is giving, the tempo, style and ‘feel’, because as a pianist we are assisting and guiding the class in the direction the teacher planned, after the teacher has taught the dance steps. And we must also motivate the class to dance with ‘feel’ by playing inspiring music,” he explains.
Although Veronica was already assisting her ballet teacher at 14-years-old, it was only the beginning of the challenge to gain credibility as a young teacher, which she met stoically.
“When I finished my ‘O’ levels, I already wanted to teach dance, but I had to be at least 18 to study the teaching course with the Royal Academy of Dance (RAD),” she explains.
Veronica thus spent two years in a Law and Management course at Temasek Polytechnic. When she finished her course, however, she boldly left the conventional path of education to take up Ballet Teaching Studies, with an approving nod from her parents
“My parents and boyfriend were really supportive, and they understood that dance is something you have to do when you’re young,” she jokes. “We can’t possibly move those muscles when we’re too old!”
The Certificate in Ballet Teaching Studies, accredited by the RAD in London, can be studied via distance learning over two years. Students submit assignments to tutors via email and majority of the course work is grounded in self study.
The curriculum touches topics like safe dancing techniques and dietary needs, as well as practical teaching methods. Once a year, there will be an annual conference where ballet teachers in Asia mingle to share ideas, teaching pedagogy and also have their teaching skills tested through a practical exam.
“The course required a good sense of time management,” Veronica explains. “On top of my heavy schedule, I had to teach in local schools in the morning and at community centres in the evenings. We had to be disciplined in handing up our homework, unlike in school where there were teachers to nag at us.”
She has since graduated and is now pursuing a Bachelor’s Degree in Dance with the RAD.
Reveal the mystery of music – Dance!
Veronica observes happily that dance is increasingly recognised as an art in Singapore.
“There are many out here who are taking the route I did. Teaching dance instils creativity, musicality, social skills, and a discipline in children that will see them through life struggles one way or another,” she adds.
Despite the recession, classes remain full at Rhythm ‘n’ Moves, the dance studio in Chinatown where Veronica coaches.
“Parents would never scrimp on their kids. If the kids are enjoying themselves in dance classes, parents wouldn’t take that away from them,” says Veronica.
Over the course of her work, she has witnessed countless heartwarming episodes, such as when one shy student expressed herself wordlessly through dance.
“I had a student, who was frightened at first to be new in my ballet class, but after a few months, she now dances beautifully with confidence. It’s amazing to see that happening.”
Truly, Veronica’s motivation to mould young ballerinas enables her to ”bring out the best in each and every life [she’s] touched”. As for Martin, his satisfaction in being able to “’dance’ on the piano with the class”, is more than enough.