Dance, dance resolution

Faza

She can't hear whispers, the chirping of birds or the patter of rain.

But that has not stopping this young girl from dancing.

Says Siti Faza Nadhirah Putri Mohamed Azharashid, 13: "Music is beautiful. It can convey light and darkness. It can touch people and lift our spirits.

"I can't always hear it clearly, but I love to move along with it."

The second-year student at the School of the Arts (Sota) was found to be hard of hearing at age two, when her mother noticed the little girl watching TV with the volume turned up.

Little Faza also couldn't hear her parents wish her good night.

A doctor soon confirmed that her hearing was impaired in both ears. She has about 70 per cent of a normal person's hearing range.

Faza's mother, housewife Haslinda Putri Harun, 42, says: "There was no cause for it. It just happened. The doctors told us her condition might even worsen as she grows up.

"We were very sad, because we were afraid her condition would put her at a disadvantage in life. It might affect her sense of balance or self-confidence."

Hoping to strengthen Faza's sense of balance, her parents sent her to ballet and modern jazz classes when she was two-and-a-half.

Says Madam Haslinda: "Never did we expect that she would grow to love dance so much. We are very proud that she auditioned and got into Sota despite her condition."

Jokingly, she adds: "She can now balance better than the whole family."

Talk about dance and Faza's eyes immediately light up.

She excitedly shares that she first saw a pair of pointe shoes in a shop window when she was four years old.

"I was immediately won over," she says. "I imagined myself dancing in those shoes like a graceful ballerina on stage. It motivated me to push even harder during my dance classes."

While her condition puts her at a disadvantage, the school has taken steps to help her.

During classes, for example, Faza sits in the front row so she can hear her teachers better.

Sometimes, her teachers repeat instructions for her to catch them.

She also wears hearing aids while in school.

"Wearing them can feel irritating. It's like having something stuck to my ears all the time. But I know I need them to dance better.

"They allow me to better hear soft notes and catch subtle cues. I can also hear my teacher's instructions much more clearly."

Classmates have asked her why she wears hearing aids. She says: "Initially, their stares made me feel uncomfortable. I didn't like having to explain my condition. And I felt bad about not being able to hear as well as them.

"But then I figured that being hard of hearing is really nothing to be ashamed of.

"It just means I have to work twice as hard to perfect my moves. It's tougher, but 
not impossible."

Through sheer determination and practice, Faza is now a dance major. She can twirl, turn and leap just like her peers.

Her teachers, Ms Sandra Chiu and Ms Alice Lau, say that Faza's condition does not make her any different from her classmates.

She can identify beats better and is more sensitive to music than her peers, they add.

Says Ms Lau: "In spite of her hearing impairment, she is courageous for striving towards her dream and passion of being a dancer. Faza has been able to cope fine."

Faza says it is her teachers who have kept her passion for dance burning.

"I've met many understanding teachers who have nurtured, guided and helped me. They didn't mind repeating their instructions many times or talking slowly so I could catch their words. They were very patient with me.

"It's why I hope to be a dance teacher myself one day and help other students in the same way that my teachers have helped me."

Kenneth

Despite his serious medical conditions, he did not stop dancing, and has been winning dance awards.

Watching him execute his balletic dance moves, one would not guess how seriously ill this young man has been.

Mr Kenneth Tan, 25, has aplastic anaemia - a rare, potentially fatal disease where his bone marrow does not make enough blood cells.

He has had to have weekly blood transfusions and a bone marrow transplant. He even deferred his studies twice because of his health.

But throughout his ordeal, Mr Tan simply kept dancing. "I just wanted to do what I was interested and passionate in."

His love affair with dancing began at Regent Secondary School when he chanced upon the co-curricular activity.

The soft-spoken young man, who dances up to six hours a day, says: "Training is tough, but tolerable because I know it will make my performance on stage better."

He was diagnosed with the disease at 20. He had to go for weekly blood transfusions, which took up to three hours each time, till he had a bone marrow transplant four years ago.

He says: "I had three choices: Go for blood transfusions for life, get a bone marrow transplant or wait to die."

He also took up a second diploma, in dance, at the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts (Nafa).

His first diploma is in marine engineering from Singapore Polytechnic.

"People told me dancing wouldn't bring me much money in the future," he recalls.

"But at that time, I didn't know if I even had a future. Would I find a donor? Would I just collapse and die one day?

"If I danced, at least I could say I died with no regrets."

His father, a lorry driver, and his mother, a crew member with McDonald's, did not object. "They just wanted me to be happy," he says.

He was accepted into the course, but deferred it for a year due to his poor health.

His doctors also wanted him to quit dancing. He says: "They thought it was too rigorous, given my condition.

"But dance was the one thing that kept me going. I was determined to get better so I could go back."

He remembers sneaking out to attend classes when he was supposed to be recuperating from his bone marrow transplant.

"The other students had spent the six months that I was undergoing treatment dancing and I didn't want to fall behind," he says.

"I already pant more easily and am not as active because of my condition."

To pay his school fees, he worked part-time as an insurance agent.

Senior nurse manager Chong Lai Ling, who cared for Mr Tan when he was at Singapore General Hospital, says: "Kenneth made us realise that one must dare to dream even when faced with obstacles."

"It was his ability to express his isolation, helplessness and hope during this treatment that truly inspired me.

"Never for a moment did he give up his passion for dance."

In 2011, he won the first prize in the contemporary solo category in a dance competition organised by the Commonwealth Society of Teachers of Dancing. He won the second prize in the same category last year.

He recalls choreographing a competition performance while recuperating in hospital, inspired by how he and the other patients with blood disorders in his ward felt.

The dance was about a bird that was "locked up in a cage, yearning for freedom", he says.

Ms Gillian Tan, the deputy head of Nafa's dance department, says:

"I look forward to what awaits him in his dance journey. If he keeps up, he would be an inspiration to many." But his struggles aren't over.

His metabolism has slowed down drastically, apparently because of the transplanted bone marrow.

Mr Tan, who is still on medication but back in school, says: "I feel tired all the time and fell asleep during class several times."

Now a third-year student majoring in choreography, he hopes to graduate next year and wants to dance, teach and choreograph.

He will be performing at Crossings 2013, Nafa's annual production.

Says Mr Tan, who is single: "There aren't many grand things I want to do. Graduating would already be an achievement.

"I am happy just to be alive, to stay out of hospital and dance for one more day."


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