For the month of February, we find it fitting to slow down a little and speak with one of the veteran teachers in the contemporary scene, Ms Kay Grace Lee! Humble and caring, she never fails to impart her passion to her students.
The principal choreographer for Ngee Ann Polytechnic’s contemporary dance club D3, her road to establish dance as a career was not as simple or as easy as one would think it is. Read on to find out why!
You can also check out one of her creations at the Super24 2017 Finals here:
Talk me through your dance journey. Who/What inspired you to begin dance?
“My interest for dance started in primary school but I didn’t take it too seriously till I was 14. I was in a dance CCA throughout my secondary school and eventually joined Frontier Danceland in 1994 as an apprentice when I graduated. During that era there was no YouTube so I wouldn’t say that someone inspired me to start dancing but my mom would tell me that I was the one who pestered her since I was 5 to bring me to dance classes and would come home every night crying because my legs and muscles will hurt so bad from the training but the next morning I would beg her to bring me again. I don’t remember it very well but I know I love dance :)”
What kept you going?
“Just the love for it really. It doesn’t really make you rich or give you a stable income but I think I’m not a very logical person haha… I go with my heart. But of cause in the past was just the pure love for performing and nowadays is the joy of creating and seeing the growth in my students that really keeps me going no matter how tough it gets.”
Having been in the industry for a while now, what changes did you see in the contemporary dance scene then and now?
“Definitely more opportunities and support from the public and government. I remember 20 years ago, most of our company’s annual production hardly fill half the theatre. My friends would come support me once and never come back haha… because they said it was too artistic/abstract.
Despite not having a huge crowd, we still put up shows year after year with the directors pumping in savings to keep the art alive and we do it because we really love it and the lack of audience didn’t really stop us. I am very glad to see that more people are actually open to modern/contemporary nowadays and there are more people who dance these days compared to 20 years ago. Audiences now are more explorative to different styles.”
How do you think dance will change in the future?
“Well dance is going to keep evolving, in the past we have Modern dance now we have Contemporary. Some could even be found in co-operated multi-media. I don’t know what will happen but I’m excited to see it. I’m excited to see how people are able to keep exploring the human body beyond limits. And I also think it might just go back to the basics.”
What does dance mean to you?
“Hmmm everyone tends to ask this question but I don’t really have an answer for it. Dance is what I enjoy doing, it gives me joy, sometimes it gives me stress. It gives me life, and sometimes takes the life out of me. Above all, I think dance gave me an identity and I’ve tried to move away from it years ago but somehow I’m always being led back to it.”
What influenced your decision to follow dance as a career?
“My best friend Clare. We both started dancing together in secondary school. And we both join the workforce at the same time after we graduated. She was in customer service and I worked in a bank. Dancing wasn’t a “job” back then so we had to earn real money with a real job haha. So we will be at our day job and once we knock off from work we will have our training at dance company. So this go on for years. Work in the day and dance training at night. I was tired every morning as training ends around 11pm sometimes and I have to wake up early which gives an average of four hours sleep daily.
So one day, Clare texted me and told me she quit her job to go into dance full-time. I was shocked … inside my heart I was thinking “I also want leh“. But you know the thought of “how am I going to survive?” really haunts me. So I hesitated for another year and eventually one day, I told myself ” what’s the worse can happen?”
If it didn’t work out, I can always start again, and look for a new job. But if I don’t try, I will ask myself for the rest of my life “what will I be now of I’ve had pursued my dream?” Then I decided I can’t live with that regret.
So at age 29 after working in the bank for 7 years, I quit my job. With the little savings I had… it lasted me for 6 months and after that was really one day at a time for job opportunities. But I have a very supportive then boyfriend (now husband) who cheers me on and I’m glad I did it. And of course my understanding parents for not blaming me when I can’t give them their monthly allowance.”
Any wise words that you keep to your heart when the going gets tough?
“I think I’ve done the scariest thing that was to quit my job so what could be worse. I always tell myself don’t live with regrets.”
To all dancers that intend to take up dance as a career, any words of advice for them?
“Be courageous, go after your dreams. Don’t live with regrets!”
Would you be able to briefly tell us the difference between Modern and Contemporary dance?
“To be honest, I don’t have an accurate answer. When I first started, it was call Modern Dance because it has particular techniques that were created by different people hence the style named after these pioneers like Graham, Duncan, Limon etc. and they are unique to themselves.
They are usually a break off from the traditional styles like jazz, ballet. These days Contemporary is really just a collaborative style that kind of infuse different styles like hip hop, jazz, popping etc. and it’s usually seen as current as compare to Modern Dance.”
Finally, any events in the upcoming months that we will be able to catch you at?
“I don’t really dance these days, I create more. Next creation will be D3 Contemporary Dance Recital in October 2018.”