In the month of August, we focus on #CommunityinDiversity and most of us are still tingling with all that national pride after Singapore’s recent 53rd birthday. But that’s not all we’re proud of. With our annual LGBT concert, Pink Dot, which happened last month, there is no other better way than to continue talking about #CommunityinDiversity than the very community that embodies pride!
Pride. What does it mean to you?
Dishing frank thoughts and insights into the queer dance community, Ms. Andreas, Hirzi, and Izzy sits down with Nina Nakamura to chat about the local dance scene!
Every year at Pink Dot, the community gathers some of their most renowned performance artists to put on a grand spectacle like no other.
Over the last few years, Pink Dot featured Ms. Andreas Chua and her well-acclaimed crew, Limited Edition, in their lineup. In these years, Ms. Andreas did frequent collaborations with a local entertainer loved by many, Hirzi. Hirzi is most well-known for his previous comedic collaboration on YouTube with another YouTuber Munah and has since then continued to pursue his passion for performing – albeit solo.
For this year’s Pink Dot, we received a very extravagant surprise from Ms. Andreas and Hirzi, where they teamed up with another rising icon –– someone who specialises in Drag.
Izzy, who goes by Vanda Miss Joaquim onstage, is a resident performer of Tantric Bar and is also widely known for her drag performance group, House of Miss Joaquim! With these three powerhouses making up what they like to call, “The Matriarchs“, they combined several elements of queer dancing to share and express the message of love, family, and acceptance.
We speak to them to find out more about their inspirations, their challenges, and most importantly their thoughts on the local performing community here in Singapore!
What introduced you to dance?
Hirzi: “I started in drama club when I was in secondary school, so performing is pretty synonymous. I guess on YouTube you’re also performing, it’s just recorded. And I’ve always loved and appreciated the art of dance; the art of spectacle, and that’s why these three magical elements coming together was just the best synergy we felt.”
Izzy: “I’ve been performing since I was young. I’ve always loved the stage, it’s a place for me to express myself and I consider it as my safe space. And I get to share my story with people because I think that every performance that I do, be it a solo number or maybe a touch of group numbers here and there, I just want to incorporate my own story, be it my own personal life or something controversial. I think it’s important because performance is an art and I like to play with visuals.”
Ms. Andreas: “For me, it’s more like my friends assigned me to join a competition, maybe because I was the only openly non-heteronormative kid in my secondary school so they naturally thought that I could dance. They didn’t just force me to join the competition, they forced me to become the choreographer as well, so I really just started as a choreographer rather than as a dancer first and then a choreographer.”
How do you guys see yourself contributing to the dance community here?
Hirzi: “Visibility. It is so important. I feel like even on my YouTube, having transgender people and drag queens endorse their appearance, and not even blatantly, just normalising that… that visibility normalises the queer narrative. And when you have such iconic roles from their own respective scenes, that’s just magic. That’s the Destiny’s Child of magic. I think last year’s spectacle was something to live up to and this year, we hope we can do the same.”
Ms. Andreas: “I feel like we have contributed a lot, you know why? Because comparing us to maybe… other dance crews, we are constantly putting out things, we are constantly putting out videos, we are constantly joining competitions that are always giving – I feel like that is considered giving to the community for me. Once you put your work out there, that’s already giving to the community. So that’s one thing I feel like we have been doing and I will continue to do that.”
What are some challenges you faced while contributing to the community?
Hirzi: “I think most times its censorship. There’s a lot of red taping into what we can do and what we cannot do from something as simple as lyrics to outfit choices. There were a lot of complications or confusion with what we can wear when we’re cross-dressing and I find it bizarre because you’re at Pink Dot, it’s almost bright so you can’t limit this – to me clothes don’t have a gender, you know, most of the ancient men wore kilts and most of the ancient men wore sarongs and those are skirts.
Even in Islam, the men wear the long jubba… that’s a long ass dress. And so that’s one of the things I always go back and forth on, and with my queens and Andreas, they like to push creativity. With Izzy, she likes to push creativity as well.
And I, being the middle person for the community for anything IMDA puts onto us, that’s my biggest conflict of all time – to give the best performance and not limiting them from what they want to do because we’re not paid for this. If anything, we fund and finance this ourselves.
Funding is a huge thing. I honestly think this will be my last performance for Pink Dot, just because it’s expensive and it’s a tiring process. While I do it as a gift to the queer community, and hopefully with every show, there’s a message that I seep through and empower them… but on a personal level, it’s just a lot of resources on my end so that’s my biggest challenge I guess.”
Izzy: “Performing wise… back then I started off with singing just by myself on TV and stuff and after that, I got into this group called Voguelicious – it was a hot, crazy and male gay dance group that’s really out there. We had our fair share of haters and I got the gay bash before in public… not once, not twice but quite a couple of times.
That’s within our society, you know, the people that don’t understand the social norms might get intimidated or triggered and so some of that get physical. But now I think it’s better, I found myself more defensive and I will fight back but within the community of the dance scene, I mean I’m not really involved in much dancing anymore but more in the drag world… I think it’s more of giving back to the community because back then when I first started, it was just a few of us from my batch and we had pioneer drag queens.
I mean it’s already been around since the 80s so I’m quite grateful that some of them gave their knowledge to me and passed it down. I created this House of Miss Joaquim so I can educate the girls and show them how to come up with proper drag ensemble. Back in 2014, the drag scene died because of clubs closing down and I think about last year or two years ago, the drag scene started growing again, with new drag queens coming up.”
Ms. Andreas: “I feel like it’s just tougher as artists to grow in Singapore and I think it’s because we all know Singapore is more of work, as in it’s all about money, it’s all about building more money for Singapore, etc.
So that’s when I feel like the entertainment scene is a bit left out in that sense… they may say they’re supporting it but how are they really supporting it if we’re not getting as much as what we work for? I feel like we are putting in more hours than what we normally do, and on top of dancing during rehearsals, we’re also thinking of the routine, we’re also mixing the songs…
All of these take energy and time and even after rehearsals, I’m going home to mix, I’m going home to still do work and that is why I think it’s a bit unfair with how much we get and how much we put in.”
How do you think dancing spreads the message of ‘acceptance’?
Hirzi: “It is the most primal sense of self-expression. It is primal because you allow your connection between music, body, and lyrics. To make that magic happen and you have no explanation for how your body moves to music but it just does. And when you seek consciously, a specific message for the routine, it becomes so powerful.
Dance is such a visual and visible thing, you know, if this was just a song on the radio, I do not think it’s as impactful as when you see it in a spectacle of dance. And the gravitas, the energy that each performance brings on stage, it claps with the audience and nothing is like a Pink Dot show when that crowd of 20,000 just runs to the front of you the minute they announce your name. That is power and today is just 10,000 times more of that with the energy.”
Ms Andreas: “That is quite a tough question. I don’t know, for me, it’s not about spreading the message of acceptance or anything… for me, dancing makes me happy. So I’m just doing my thing. As much as we all want people to accept us, at the end of the day, I just want to do what I love. So I don’t care whether you’re going to accept me or not, I’m still going to do my thing.”
What advice would give to the younger generation in the dancing community?
Hirzi: “I think a lot of times people dance out of passion and interest. And passion and interest are two separate things. I think interest is just something that doesn’t last without tenacity. Passion lasts with tenacity.
Even when you’re broke, even when you don’t have enough money to catch that last bus, you would want to come for rehearsals. That’s passion and it’s important that you have that. And also know and study the scene, there is no ego in performing, there is no ‘who I need to learn from’ and ‘who I prefer to learn it from’.
At the start, just learn from anyone and everyone. And never be embarrassed about your passion for it. A lot of people walk around with their passion like a guilty pleasure and it shouldn’t be. Walk around with it with pride.”
Izzy: “I think it’s best to always tell yourself to be humble. No matter how good you are, no matter how you win this competition or that competition, always be humble. Always hug every queen – if you’re involved in one show and there are other drag queens involved, always hug them because I think a true queen is someone who adjusts their crowns.
And give back to the community, educate people who don’t know (about us), especially foreigners and tell them that we do exist in Singapore, and it’s not just because of RuPaul’s Drag Race, yeah it does influence the drag culture especially with the younger generation, but I’m grateful that back then we didn’t have RuPaul’s Drag Race to look up to as reference. So we actually depended on pioneer and senior drag queens back then, so always know your culture back then and how it started. But honestly, just respect each other.”
Ms. Andreas: “Don’t go for fame, go for passion. That’s the one line I have to rub in because I feel like the younger generation is very stuck with social media, so this is where they’re brought up wrongly. But I don’t blame them because to them, it’s how they were brought up, you know what I mean?
So this is just something we have to remind them, which is to do it for the passion, not for the fame because fame won’t bring you far. As in, straight up… it can make you very strong for a while but then, that’s it. Your time will be up because you’re in the entertainment scene and you have to remember that but if you really do it with passion, it will last you a very long time because you know you’re doing something you love.”
If you guys missed out on the concert and want to check out some of the highlights, fret not! Just head over to Pink Dot SG’s Facebook page to see what went down!