He used to be 100kg

Dancer Max Chen lost weight in his teens through exercise and found his passion for dance.

Throughout his days in primary and secondary school, Mr Chen was teased for being fat. At his heaviest in Secondary 3, he was 100kg. His confidence plunged.

In Secondary 3, he decided to do something about his weight, encouraged by the example of his older brother, who was also plump and had lost weight through exercise.

Mr Chen started running 3km every day. By the end of Secondary 4, he was 80kg.

But it was dance that opened his eyes to what his body could do. When he was 17, he was cajoled by a dance teacher at Jurong Institute to join a dance performance.

He went on to study dance at the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts and graduated with a degree in dance from Purchase College, State University of New York, in 2010.

He was a dancer with contemporary dance group Frontier Danceland from 2009 to last year.

There, he met his wife, Ms Wang Xiaoxiao, 25, also a dancer. They married in July. Both work as freelance dancers. They perform, teach and choreograph dances for clients, such as schools and dance companies.

What do you do to keep fit?

My dance practice used to last eight to 10 hours when I was a dancer at the Frontier Danceland. I was at my fittest then. My weight was around 68 to 70kg.

After I left Frontier Danceland last year, I gained a few kilograms, even though I continued my three sets of push-ups, sit-ups and grand battements (fully extended knee kicks) every day.

To get back in shape, I started to go to one of the playgrounds near my flat two weeks ago to do intense dance practice for two hours.

I usually start at midnight, when there is nobody around, so as not to alarm anyone. Some aspects of modern dance may look weird to the uninitiated.

Was there a time when you were not fit and fabulous?

I was in the Trim and Fit programme throughout primary and secondary school. I was ostracised by other "normal" children and I felt terrible about myself.

I didn't bother with personal grooming and was always dressed in the same few shirts and pants. When and why did you pick up dancing?

When I was in Jurong Institute about 11 years ago, the teacher from the Chinese contemporary dance club invited me to join a performance.

She needed someone who was big and strong enough to lift the female dancers and act as the base in a human pyramid.

It turned out to be a surprisingly good experience. It was the first time I felt really accepted by a group of people.

What do you like about dancing?

I like everything about it, from the costumes and poses to the movements and performances.

I like that it allows me to find out how much my body can do and the different ways it can move. Dancing has made me more agile.

It has also taught me to be more confident and sociable. When you dance in a group, for instance, you have to interact with other dancers.

You need to develop a good sense of their body language.

What is your diet like?

I used to eat anything and everything. I enjoy food a lot.

But since I started to lose weight in Secondary 3, I have become more conscious of my diet. I try to keep my daily calories to 1,500 a day.

Breakfast is a piece of bread, with a very thin layer of jam or butter or a bowl of oatmeal. I usually take it with a cup of coffee with milk.

Lunch or dinner is usually rice - and I ask for less rice - or noodles with one serving of vegetable and meat.

I try not to eat after 8pm. I take the occasional soft drink.

What are your indulgences?

I used to relax by smoking, which I picked up in national service. But I quit after I met my wife. She didn't like me to smoke.

I used to drink too, but I stopped recently, because my wife and I are hoping to start a family.

Nowadays, I relax by catching a movie or going for a dance, drama or music performance. I love all forms of arts and entertainment.

As I gain weight easily, I allow myself to indulge in food only once or twice a month. I would go to a restaurant, usually with my wife, and "let loose" - take in a whole spread of food.

My favourite restaurants are Kentucky Fried Chicken and Long Beach Seafood Restaurant.

How do you relax and maintain a healthy work-life balance?

My working hours are not fixed. During busy periods, I work more than 10 hours a day. But during less busy periods, I work for only about six to seven hours a day. I may even go without work for a week.

Whatever it is, I make it a point to have a healthy work-life balance. I don't let the busy periods go on for more than two months.

During these periods, I try to relax while travelling on the MRT or bus by playing games or listening to music on my Android phone.

When I have more free time, I may relax by catching a movie or shopping with my wife, parents or brothers. Sometimes, my wife and I travel overseas on short trips.

What are the three most important things in your life?

My family (including my wife, parents and two brothers), my friends (other dancers and former classmates) and myself, in that order.

Without my family and friends, life would be meaningless.

What is your secret to looking fabulous?

Apart from having a healthy diet and regular workouts, it would be being confident and living an inspired life.

I believe that there is beauty in everyone as long as they are inspired by life. Would you go for plastic surgery?

I would if I need to, for instance, if I am disfigured. I won't do it for purely aesthetic purposes.

Do you think you are sexy?

Not amazingly, but I think my wife finds me sexy.

leawee@sph.com.sg

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