Nomadic Dancers of Kuala Lumpur

The 2nd National Chinese Cultural Dance Competition organised by the Chinese Language Society of Malacca and Multi-Media University was held at the Taman Budaya Melaka from Fri 10 – Sun 12 Mar 2006. A total of 45 groups, consisting of Chinese Dance associations, secondary schools, cultural clubs and private dance schools, including seven from Singapore, took part in the exhausting three-day event.

For the first time, I decided to enter the dance students of ASK (Akademi Seni Kebangsaan) in this event – primarily to gauge the achievement and implementation of the Chinese Dance syllabus, which began four years ago, into the compulsory curriculum of the Dance Department. Besides this, I felt that the students would gain from exposure and immersion in the Chinese culture and thought that it would be extremely beneficial for them to challenge themselves on a different plane. As Head of the Dance Department, I wanted to use the event to promote and publicise the new intake for 2006 in an effort to attract a more multi-ethnic student population. The tradition of Chinese dance competitions have in fact produced numerous luminaries of dance in Malaysia such as master-pioneer Steven Koh, while cultivating the performance and choreographic abilities of Vincent Tan, Mew Chang Tsing, Choo Tee Kuang, Loke Soh Kim, Anthony Meh and one of the current leaders Cheong Lin Poo, a graduate of Chinese Traditional Dance from the Hong Kong Academy of Performing Arts. It is a thriving environment that has flourished through independent patronage since the 70s.

From the first day of competition, we could feel the tension in the air as groups vied for rehearsal time, which was a mere 20 minutes on stage to work the spacing and lighting! Some of the groups had up to 25 dancers and thus the noise and chaos backstage was reminiscent of a busy pasar malam. There was a wonderful carnival-like atmosphere and it was a pleasure to see the multi-racial interaction between students of ASK, who as it turned out, were the only participants of non-Chinese background, with the others. The dancers were nervous and it showed in their performances. However, after two nights of preliminaries, 10 groups were selected for the finals and one of ASK’s entries was chosen! We were then drawn as the 4th group to perform and we all know the significance of that number in Chinese beliefs!

Rehearsals were intensive again as the final moments approached, every hand position, eye-line and direction was checked and re-checked by all the groups and it was curtains at 8 pm. The standard of performance was incredibly high, showcasing both traditional and contemporary Chinese works. My personal favourite was a beautiful Tibetan dance that possessed an unusual posture with the dancers leaning back slightly with a controlled and light bounce in the step. The competition ended by 10 pm and then the waiting began. The results were announced in Chinese language. The ASK group really did not know or understand what was happening but joined in the festivities, cheering with robust applause for everyone. Prizes were given for Best Costume and Best Arrangement. Finally, the much anticipated moment… As they slowly announced the results in reverse order, some of us actually thought they had forgotten us, until the very last moment when we realised that ASK had been adjudged the Overall Champion of the Competition!! There was a thunderous response in the auditorium as it appeared that 10 young boys and girls of Malay origin had danced their way into the hearts of the judges (Prof. Jiang Dong from the Cultural Institute of China, Nanning, Dr. Chua Soo Pong of the Chinese Operatic Association of Singapore and Mr. Steven Koh, the highly respected dance teacher from Malaysia). The presentation of ASK’s third year students was entitled Journey, choreographed by Zhou Gui Xin, one of ASK’s lecturers and a premier artist of China now residing in Malaysia. The dance was based on the movement vocabulary of the dances of the Xin Jiang province which has a broad and expansive style reflecting the nomadic lifestyle and the desert plateaus of China.

We are still waking up from this dream and cannot quite believe it! I feel that this is a glorious example of Malaysia’s multi-cultural heritage at its best. As the Head of Dance, I cannot express how proud I am of the work of the lecturers and students of the department, but I am also fully aware of how much further there is still to go. This is the validation of the tremendous effort I have made to make dances of minority communities in Malaysia an integral part of dance training here at ASK, so that we can be truly known as the National Arts Academy.

A sincere thanks to all who have supported our work in the last 10 years, and we are still requesting your continued support in the years to come. Take care and God Bless!

– Joseph

First Published: 15.03.2006 on Kakiseni

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