Eleven tap dancers aged nine to 12 are making Singapore proud at the inaugural Asia's Got Talent television programme.
They are the only Singaporean team and among the youngest participants to have made it to the finals, which took place last Thursday at Marina Bay Sands.
The competition is a regional version of the global Got Talent franchise which pits singers, dancers, magicians, comedians and other performers against one another for a prize of US$100,000 (S$133,000).
Voting, which can be done through SMS, Facebook and the Asia's Got Talent mobile app, closes at midnight tomorrow. The winning act with the most votes will be announced on Thursday.
Despite their youth, the Singaporean tap dancing finalists, named Dance Thrilogy after the dance school they come from, are no beginners. They started dancing when they were as young as three and have been active in the competition circuit for the past few years.
The girls, all students from Dance Thrilogy dance school in Marine Parade, first wowed the judges in the audition round in January when they tapped around a piano to the music of Derek Corbett's Go Big Daddy Swing.
In the finals, they tapped to the song We're In The Money from the Broadway musical 42nd Street, winning comments from the judges that this was their best routine so far and that they were more in sync than ever.
The troupe has been chalking up competition experience together for the past two years. Last year, they came in first in the tap troupe category, dancing to the song Go Big Daddy, at Dance Quest, a dance competition in Perth, Australia.
They took part in Asia's Got Talent auditions in September last year, partly "out of fun", says Ms Lim Ju Li, 47, who founded Dance Thrilogy with another parent, Ms Jenna Yeo, in December 2012.
"We didn't expect to go so far," she adds.
The school has about seven teachers and 130 students, about a third of whom are active in competitions.
Asia's Got Talent, however, is more hectic than the competitions the school has been used to.
Usually, dancers have six months or more to prepare for a competition. Asia's Got Talent, however, consists of four rounds held over five months, where the dancers and Dance Thrilogy's two Australian artistic directors had less time to prepare new routines for each round.
The children had to step up their hourly training to at least thrice a week. Each class costs about $20.
Ms Lim, whose daughter Jayda, nine, is a member of the troupe, says: "It has been physically tiring, but the girls have adapted very well. They managed to pick up a number of new steps within a very short time.
Within the space of these few months, they have become better dancers and also have had a taste of what professional dancing involves."
The dancers had to miss about three weeks of school to prepare for the competition, including the two week-long trips they made to Pinewood Studios in Johor Baru for auditions and rehearsals.
A couple of girls dropped out before the semi-finals because their parents did not want them to miss too many classes and neglect their studies, says Ms Lim.
The other girls found ways to cope. Eleven-year-old Nur Deanna Mohd Ismael, a Temasek Primary School pupil who is sitting her PSLE this year, played less and watched less television so that she could keep up with her schoolwork and attend weekly classes at the Dyslexia Association of Singapore.
She did not want to miss the competition because it is a "once in a lifetime" opportunity.
Her mother, teacher Zalina Zakariah-Ismael, 38, is not worried. She says: "Dancing has taught my daughter to be a motivated and disciplined person."
Another student, Hannah Alyaa Tan, who turns 13 this month and is in Secondary 1 at St Anthony's Canossian Secondary School, says she had to sleep at midnight almost every day to keep up with her homework.
Schools, in general, have been supportive of the girls' efforts. The Australian International School, where the troupe's only non-Singaporean representative, nine-year-old Australian Olivia Weir, is studying, posted a profile of her on its Facebook page.
Ngee Ann Primary and Tao Nan Primary, where two of the dancers are studying, activated the schools' parents' support groups to spread the word and garner votes for the troupe.
Preparation for the finals last week collided with the examination period for a number of the girls. Some asked to be exempted while others managed to sit their papers.
Caitlynn Pang, nine, a Primary 4 pupil at Greenword Primary School, completed three papers last week.
She says: "It was very stressful having to remember things for the exam and also for my dance. I had less time for my studies, but I think I did okay for my exams."
Parents also weighed in with their support. At least two parents cut back on their work so that they could spend more time with their daughters.
Part-time lecturer Evelyn Liu, 42, whose daughter and only child Lea Chong, nine, is the youngest in the troupe, took on less work earlier this year.
Besides Asia's Got Talent, Lea has three other dance competitions this year.
Ms Liu says: "Lea is so passionate about dance that as her parent, I feel I should do whatever I can to help her develop her passion."
Mr John Lai, 45, who runs his own training consultancy business, also turned down some jobs so that he could be with his daughter, Drea, 10, a Primary 5 pupil at Haig Girls' School, during the auditions. He says: "It's an opportunity that doesn't come by often.
My wife and I felt it would be good exposure for her and help build up her confidence, and we want to be with her during this time."
The other eight finalists of Asia's Got Talent come from countries such as Japan, China, Thailand and the Philippines. They include a Chinese acrobatic duo who presented a fusion of ballet and acrobatics and six Mongolian musicians, who sang and played on ethnic instruments.
Another young contestant is Filipino singer Gwyneth Dorado, 11, who did a rendition of the power ballad Titanium by Australian artist Sia and French music producer and DJ David Guetta.
Mr Lai and his wife do not plan to spend a single cent on voting.
He says: "We will vote only through Facebook, which is free. We don't believe in spending money on voting. It would be good if her team wins, but even if it doesn't, we are okay with it.
"We are just happy that she has managed to come so far and that she has gained more confidence as a result."
This article was first published on May 10, 2015.
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