“I have two left feet.”
“I can’t dance.”
Does this sound like you? As a dance instructor, I hear these words ever so often.
Why is it that dance feels so detached from the normal human experience and intimidates some of us? The truth is, dance is merely an amplification of our human experience – the emotional, mental, physical and sometimes spiritual experiences that interact and come together to form what we call life.
Extensive research has shown that dance and movement have physical and psychological benefits for those with mental illness. This is because dance allows the body to be used to express emotions. People with mental health illness often find expression of emotions an obstacle and so dance provides an outlet for this.
You’d be surprised, but there are many people out there who will show you that you don’t have to fit the generic stereotypes of a dancer to pursue the art-form.
1. Melissa Leelarthaepin
(Aged 36, Client Engagement Associate, Mother to a 4-year-old daughter)
Melissa is no stranger to challenges and has found dance to be a place where she can de-stress.
“Being a working mum, I struggle a lot with finding the right balance between being a mum, wife and my job. Just yesterday my 4-year-old told me that I am always home late.”
However challenging it has been for Melissa, her love for dance and the comfort it brings her keeps her going.
“Dance is the one thing I do just for myself. It helps me cope when I am going through a tough time or can make a great day even better. Sometimes it frustrates me too, but the way I feel after a good dance is just priceless, it’s a place where I can lose myself and find myself at the same time. I can just be me and I find so much comfort in that.”
When Melissa goes for dance classes during the weekends, her daughter, Kayla, tags along and watches her mum dance from outside the studio. “I try to explain why I dance and she knows I love it lots. Even though at four she can’t understand the depth of what dance means to me. But she does understand my love for it. And that is what is important.”
2. Shanice Ang
(Aged 26, Broker, Ex-lawyer)
Shanice is also someone who fights hard to keep dance as part of her life against the forces of stressful everyday life.
“As a working adult, I really cherish every moment I get to dance. In this stage of life where everything is rapidly changing, dance allows me to feel the most comfortable in my own skin and is a great escape from the stress of work.”
Shanice was active in dance during her schooling days. Joining the legal industry where 14-hour work days were not uncommon, she struggled with finding the time and energy to dance. However, she says “Dance gives me so much joy, and it helps me to let go of any worries that I have. Therefore despite my hectic schedule, I would still ensure that I set aside time each week to attend dance classes.”
“I find that dance is a beautiful art form that allows you to feel so powerful, yet vulnerable at the same time. Being able to leap and move on stage, is truly a feeling like no other. You’d have to experience it yourself to understand!”
But… are the benefits of dance then only reserved for the “superhuman” or those with super bodies?
(Aged 24, Editorial Assistant)
Benedict is a prime testimony that physical limitations should not stop you from taking up dancing!
Towering over almost anyone he stands beside, Benedict is 2-metres tall, and this offers him many challenges on the physical front when he dances. However, he has never let this stop him. Walking into his first dance class at the age of 19, he found a “freedom” when movement and music come together.
“Dance keeps me sane”.
To Benedict, dance is liberation.
“When I dance I honestly forget about everything else. Even if there are physical limitations when I dance, there is still freedom when I dance. And I can do a lot with that freedom, be it inspiring people or telling stories.”
When asked what he would say to someone who wants to start dancing but is afraid to try, his advice goes, “You have every reason to be afraid. It’s difficult, you’ll be terrified, and you’ll have no idea what to do. But, even with that, you have every reason to go take a dance class, You have nothing to lose. It’s a cliché but it is true. You get to know so much more about your body and yourself. You’ll grow, and you’ll get to meet so many wonderful dancers and instructors who are going through some version of the same journey too. There’s a chance it’s just not for you, but I really, really hope you’ll love it.”
The truth is, there really is no limit to who can dance. Our next featured dancer will tell you that personally.
(Aged 15, Student)
Hon Rui started dancing at the age of 13 when he was exposed to his first audition experience and he found himself feeling “free” and “craving to dance more”.
Although he did not get selected for the dance team, he never stopped. With a new passion ignited within him, Hon Rui searched out dance studios independently and started attending dance classes outside of school.
“To me, dance allows me to emote what I feel, and not feel so pent up inside. This motivates me to keep dancing and it provides a freedom that really helps me get away from the stressful life of a student.”
Hon Rui also needs to stay accountable to his parents. “There are some obstacles such as my parents being worried that dance will affect my results. But actually, it is the exact opposite, as dance helps me in my studies by enabling my mind to be more refreshed and therefore, study better. But I am aware of my responsibility to balance dance and my school work, so I limit the dance classes I take to 1 – 2 classes a week.”
Dance is indeed a form of stress-relief, a outlet to express your emotions, and a source of freedom and joy from the pressures of life. It has no other requirements, other than that you really want to, and I could not have put it in any wiser words –
“Just do it, everybody can dance, you don’t need to do like amazing turns, jumps or amazing flexibility to dance. Don’t worry about judgement, we all started off like you. If you are scared, just do what I do, close your eyes and clear your mind and let your body do the work. Just keep an open mind every time, and don’t panic when you go for classes and you would be fine, after a few classes you would feel right at home.”
If a 13 year old walked into his first class undaunted, and came out of class finding a passion that keeps him physically, mentally and emotionally healthier… I’d say, what are you waiting for?
All interviewees are regular class-goers at The Royal Dance Off Contemporary dance classes – head on to https://www.trdo.sg/classes for more information.
By Clarice Ng
Edited By: Vanessa Tay