Dance rebel with a cause

Dance rebel with a cause

Dance pioneer Angela Liong is a self-confessed rebel whose company does not just do dances.

On her first day at work as a choreographer at the then Singapore Broadcasting Corporation in 1984, all eyes were on dance pioneer Angela Liong.

"I was in my hotpants. Nowadays, girls wear hotpants, but you should have seen my hotpants, okay! I wore no bra, a loose top, carried a huge dance bag and marched right into SBC," she recalls, chuckling at the memory.

"People went 'ahh?' But I was a dancer, what do you think?"

Three decades on, her rebellious streak is still as strong as ever. The 63-year-old is now the full-time artistic director of The Arts Fission Company, one of the oldest and most unorthodox contemporary dance groups in Singapore.

Alongside regular performances, the group also takes part in medical research, runs visual arts classes for children and conducts creative movement-based therapy for the elderly.

Juggling all these programmes requires an abundance of energy, which fortunately, Liong seems to have plenty of.

During the three-hour interview with her at Arts Fission's office in Cairnhill Arts Centre, she barely pauses for breath.

She makes her points swiftly, her hands a flurry of gestures to elaborate on or emphasise a point.

It is this tireless energy that has stacked her shelf full of accolades. In 2009, she received the Cultural Medallion award in dance.

In the nascent years of the dance scene here, she founded the first full-time dance diploma programme at the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts, and also the first dance degree programme in Singapore, in affiliation with the Queensland Technological University.

To her, though, recognition is not as important as tangible support. When asked about her Cultural Medallion, she frowns slightly.

"I don't want to sound crass," she says carefully.

"But it's like, so what? I still have to line up and take a number in terms of getting support and resources. It's not an exclusive club membership card which opens doors for me."

This unconventional attitude has been firmly rooted in Liong since young and is most likely the result of a childhood which spanned continents and cultures.

She was born in Guangdong, China, in 1951, the oldest of four siblings. Her mother was a housewife, her father an instructor at a military academy and later chief manager of a steel factory.

Growing up, she was not a typical lass.

"I was never a little princess or a Hello Kitty girl. I hated that. I liked to do things in a direct way," she says.

"I remember my granduncle gave me a nickname, Captain, because I was always the one who was instigating bad and naughty things, and getting the other kids to listen to me."

When she was five, her family left Communist China for British-ruled Hong Kong.

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