Confessions of a dance instructor and choreographer

Confessions of a dance instructor and choreographer

The dreaded wardrobe malfunction.

It happens practically all the time during performances. But the thought still makes seasoned dancer, choreographer and instructor Stephanie Loh (pic, far right) wince.

She recounts: "The first time it happened to me was at a dance production in Secondary 1. I helped my friend to change and forgot about my own attire.

"I went on stage with a T-shirt that went past my neck and arms, but not covering my chest. The audience exclaimed and laughed. It was horrible. Thankfully, I was wearing a leotard underneath and I was still young."

That is why Miss Loh nags at her students to take care of their costumes before helping out with their friends. Indeed, she is always prepared with black tape, glue guns and many safety pins backstage. And yes, the pants of male dancers can tear down under.

The bubbly and expressive woman is 29, but could easily pass off as 18.

Addressing the stereotype that all dancers have to look lithe and skinny, she adamantly says that the very large can also dance, and do it well.

"I'd admit it's not as common for dancers to be heavy, but I've definitely worked with some who are good.

"There's that risk of some moves looking a little vulgar, but with the right technique and modification to the attire, they can look great on stage," says Miss Loh, who began learning dance at the Singapore Ballet Academy at the age of four.

She worked part-time as a ballet teacher and choreographer for corporate events and school productions for about ten years before quitting her day job in the events and marketing industry in 2012 to teach dance full-time.

Although she completed the advanced level of the Royal Academy of Dance syllabus at the age of 18, Miss Loh has never attended formal classes to learn how to teach dance.

"Paper qualifications really don't matter as much as the awards you've won, the people you've worked with and the projects you've completed," she explains.

Being able to communicate and break down a complicated moves, however, is a basic skill every dance teacher should have.

Today, she helms her own dance studio, which offers classes to the general public. She also works as a dance coach for three secondary schools.

Miss Loh has been through all sorts of situations in her lessons. She remembers a mother who insisted on placing her three-year-old daughter in ballet class.

"She was still in diapers! She couldn't even sit down and point her toes. The goal of the lesson became making sure she didn't cry and disrupt the class," she recounts.

Then there are the over-enthusiastic male students who threaten to give her heart attacks.

Says Miss Loh: "Sometimes, I split the students into groups to practise different segments of the dance. The boys go out of the room and attempt tips and tricks they might have seen on YouTube, which really worries me."

Working with secondary school students is often easier than working with adults or celebrities, she confesses, as there is less ego at stake.

Miss Loh explains: "They're not at the lesson to learn how to improve their ability to dance, but to look good on camera.

"You need to encourage them a lot more and make sure they don't lose 'face' in front of the other actors."

What keeps her going is the satisfaction that comes from teaching an art form she loves.

"It really touches me when my kids shed tears at the end of a performance, the moment where hugs are exchanged at the curtain call... There's really that sense of fulfilment," says Miss Loh, who yearns for her students to pick up values such as hard work from dance.

Secrets of the Trade

1. Pairing an arm movement with an actual action a person does - when they swing open doors, for example - really helps them remember the step.

2. Spray-on odour eliminators work wonders when it comes to surviving the smell of sweat on costumes, which often don't get washed for days or weeks due to repeated rehearsals.

3. Don't yell during the classes, even if the students refuse to listen. You lose steam quickly. Instead, stop speaking completely. It is a better strategy in getting their attention.

This article was first published on May 25, 2014.
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