Singapore choreographer on keeping fit through dance

PHOTO: Singapore choreographer on keeping fit through dance

SINGAPORE - Mr Kuik Swee Boon, 41, found love and his life's work through dance.

At 15, he joined Batu Pahat Secondary School's dance club in Malaysia, where he learnt Chinese and contemporary dance.

In a school staging of the popular tale of The Legend Of The White Snake, he danced the part of the scholar named Xu Xian, who falls in love with and marries a kind snake spirit, Bai Suzhen, played by his schoolmate.

Life imitated art as he later married this schoolmate, Silvia Yong, a 44-year-old contemporary dance teacher who teaches at institutions, such as School Of The Arts Singapore (Sota). The couple have a nine-month-old son.

When the couple learnt in 1990 that the People's Association (PA) Dance Company was holding an audition in Singapore, they came here together to try out.

Despite their inexperience, however, both earned a place in the dance company.

For almost a year there, he learnt and performed many dance forms, including jazz, Chinese, Malay and Indian folk dance.

It proved to be a good training ground before he joined the Singapore Dance Theatre, where he was a principal ballet dancer for more than a decade. He weighs 69kg and stands 1.78m tall.

Dance then brought him to Spain's Compania Nacional de Danza, where he became its first Asian principal male dancer from 2002 to 2007. In 2007, he was given the Young Artist Award - Singapore's highest award for young arts practitioners - from the National Arts Council.

In September 2008, he founded T.H.E (The Human Expression) Dance Company with his wife and nine acquaintances to showcase more of his choreography works. The company now has eight full-time professional dancers. His wife is the company's associate artistic director and oversees the Second Company, the semi-professional youth wing of T.H.E, which comprises more than 30 dancers.

Mr Kuik became a choreographer in 2009.

From today to Saturday, his team of dancers will be restaging the production As It Fades at Sota Drama Theatre, which explores the themes of memory and heritage, and was inspired by his conversations with his 74-year-old mother. Tickets are on sale at Sistic outlets.

How do you keep fit?

My company conducts five dance classes a week. I take part in at least one 90-minute class a week, in either ballet or contemporary dance. Sometimes, I go for up to four classes.

It's usually an intense session as the class is taught by my dancers who underwent my rigorous training and, therefore, teach at the same standards.

As I join the class alongside dancers in their 20s and 30s, it pushes me to keep pace with them. However high they jump, I have to jump higher.

I also take part in workshops on Fridays, where dancers freely explore and experiment with movement.

I run or swim once every two to three months. I run for up to 30 minutes each time, with more focus on working the core while engaging the legs, as well as regulating my breathing.

Since the birth of my son, I have been going for walks at the beach every weekend with my family.

What is your secret to looking fabulous?

I look forward to going into the studio and office every day - even during stressful periods. Dance is not work to me, it is a way of life.

Another practice I've held on to since I became a dancer has been to meditate before a performance or in a stressful situation. It helps to calm the mind and body and to focus on what needs to be done.

Has there been a time when you were not fit and fabulous?

I'm quite a disciplined person, so throughout my 24-year professional dance career, I have maintained a certain level of fitness - whether as a dancer or choreographer.

During a dance class in Spain, I suffered a severe right foot injury as a result of a bad landing.

The fractured bone had to be fixed with a metal plate and three screws.

I rested for 21/2 months after the operation.

During that time, I realised that a person can lose muscle strength rapidly. I kept up with a disciplined rehabilitative exercise routine to keep the muscles engaged, even the ones connected to the injured foot.

The only time I will "let go" is when I'm on holiday once a year, during which I would eat and drink without worry.

What is your diet like?

I usually have a moderately portioned breakfast, a light lunch and a heavy dinner. A general rule of thumb is to ensure that my meals have a balance of protein, fibre and carbohydrates.

In the morning, I have bread, eggs and coffee. For lunch, my food portion is about half that of a regular person's and this includes rice, white meat, vegetables, fresh fruit and mixed fruit juice, which I'll vary in combinations every day to consume different vitamin groups.

Dinner is the heaviest, to replenish the energy expended. I will increase my intake of carbohydrates - usually rice - and have it with white or red meat and vegetables.

Is there any food item you will not take?

What I won't take, and discourage anyone from doing so, are energy drinks with artificial additives.

The excess sugar levels give you an instant high, but your energy levels dip very quickly when the effects wear off.

Your heart will also race after consuming the drink and this reduces your ability to handle the more controlled and measured movements which are required in dance.

How do you maintain a healthy work-life balance?

It has only been in the past year that I've regained a healthier work-life balance.

Previously, I was working long, exhausting hours - starting from rehearsals in the studio to tackling company affairs in the office, and ending with replying e-mail messages into the wee hours of the morning.

This finally took its toll on me physically and mentally, so I've learnt to let go of things which are beyond my control.

The most compelling reason for me to leave the office before 8.30pm every day would be to spend time with my son before he sleeps.

To unwind, I'll indulge in TV shows which feature travel or food. Probably the one thing only my family knows is that I enjoy watching Korean dramas with good production values and interesting storylines.

What are the three most important things in your life?

My family, artistic practice and the people around me, whether they are my dancers, fellow artists or colleagues.

My work and personal life are so closely linked that these different parties form a strong network of support and motivation. Otherwise, I wouldn't be able to persevere for as long as I have.

Would you go for plastic surgery?

No. If the reason for undergoing plastic surgery stems from pure vanity, it will become a slippery slope.

I believe that a person's disposition and temperament are more important. If you radiate positive energy, the people around you will naturally be drawn to your presence, regardless of your looks.

Do you think you are sexy?

Ten years ago, I might have given serious thought to whether others found me sexy.

At this point in my life, however, I'm less concerned with finding out the answer.

If sexiness is linked to being happy, contented and working towards building positive energy, then perhaps I am.

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