The team had their fair share of doubts and difficulties on their road to the championships. The audience and judges’ reception towards the item was a big question mark from the beginning as a conceptualised piece like theirs had never been presented on the SUPER24 stage before. Yet, with everything they’ve got, The Passionate Dancing Elders owned the night and emerged champions while embedding the harrowing message of war and terror deep into the hearts of thousands in attendance. All under 90 seconds.
Affectionately known as “ELDERS” in the local dance community, the team of 24 set out on a journey to create the heart-wrenching piece inspired by and choreographed to portray the plight of Syrian child refugees for the competition.
The ELDERS dedicates themselves to quality productions and believes in using dance as a medium to contribute to our local communities while sparking relevant social conversations in today’s times. However, as an alumni dance group comprising of graduates from Temasek Polytechnic, they don’t have regular meetings or hangouts. Scheduling is one big issue when you want to get about 11 batches of graduates together. Instead, their gatherings can sometimes seem out of the blue where someone will randomly suggest to do a dance performance – or in this case, to join a dance competition.
“It started with us wanting to join a competition together.” – Timothy
Timothy Foong, 23, and Beryl Tay, 24, first proposed for the group to join 2018 Super24. By May, the team was formed and choreographers Marcus Leong, 26, and Toh Hui Lin, 25, were commissioned. “It started with us wanting to join a competition together. Along the way, Marcus actually shared this with us: what can we do different this time that is different from the other teams?” Timothy said.
For a competition that has been around since 2012, the stage has seen its fair share of different genres and styles. It’s evident that the bar set gets higher and higher each year with the quality of performances being presented to the judging panel. But the team didn’t just want to meet the higher standards, they wanted to go above and beyond.
A week before the start of their official training, Marcus and Hui Lin were cosied up in an air-conditioned room when they came across a Syrian War documentary called Growing Up with War: Children of Syria. After the video ended, they both looked at each other with tears rolling down their faces. They reached an “aha” moment right there and then.
Marcus shared that, “Because (the concept of our dance item) is not common, especially in Super 24’s stage, we were worried people will not receive it the way we want them to.”
“The whole idea was to bring everyone to Syria.” – Marcus
One of the struggles for competing teams is always making use of the limited time to showcase the team’s strengths. To the ELDERS, however, they struggled with communicating the message as clear as they could within the short time. They knew they had to plan carefully in order to maximise the item’s impact. The last 30 seconds of every performance is crucial and it’s customary for teams to pack this with intense choreography to make full use of what they have left. But this wasn’t the case for the ELDERS. One of the tough decisions they made was keeping this last part minimal to let their message lead the choreography after the gunshots.
“We initially wanted to choose a more direct song: What about us by Pink. We were worried about how the audience will get it in 60 seconds,” Hui Lin said. But after a few weeks of training and choreographing to this song, the duo realised that they needed to paint a different picture with their bodies and not just completely rely on the song to reach the hearts of the audience.
“The idea was to bring everybody to Syria. We wanted to bring across the feeling of you being there in their lives, having all these threats happening at any time. But at the end of the day, they’re just kids so they just want to play,” Marcus added. So after listening to a couple of songs on Spotify and searching on Google, they finally settled on a happier song – Little Talks by Of Monsters and Men.
When asked how it was like to choreograph this piece, Marcus shared that it was “stressful because the weight is there. It is such a big topic and so real. If it’s not as good as how we imagined it to be, it would feel as if we’re not doing justice to the team and the cause.”
“(It is) very different from other choreographies that I did because this is so much bigger in a very real sense. I feel blessed to (have the chance) to it and it’s heartwarming to know that what you love to do can create more impact than just for yourself.” Marcus added.
“As dancers, we can use our craft and our bodies to convey messages so powerful.” – Hui Lin
The ELDERS didn’t expect to win in the Final Round. In fact, when they were shown their scores after their performance, the team left the stage and started removing their costumes thinking they were in third place. “The audience was more attentive than us. They were screaming and shouting and when we finally looked up from our huddle, we saw the screen with our long group name.” Timothy said.
Amidst the glamour and prestige of victory, ELDERS has not once lost sight of their purpose for joining SUPER24 2018 – to use dance as a medium to raise awareness about the Syrian war crisis and help those so desperately in need. Shortly after winning the competition, ELDERS launched a fundraising campaign aptly titled “Heart to Heart: Refugee Crisis Aid” in collaboration with World Vision Singapore and pledged their prize winnings of S$4000 to aid child refugees in Jordan (Azraq Camp) and Lebanon (Bekaa Valley) with feeding programmes, early childhood education and psychosocial healing. The campaign has since received overwhelming support since its launch on 18 August 2018, reaching over 75% of its S$10,000 goal in just 3 weeks.
“We can always join the competition to showcase a fancy, hyped and impressive performance but dance has a much bigger purpose. As dancers, we can use our craft and our bodies to convey messages so powerful. At a time where war and violence are rampant, it felt right to shed some light on these issues using the language we know best.” Despite the uncertainties, ELDERS ventured forth in the competition to rally for their cause.
Hui Lin added, “If what we can do is bring awareness to these war-stricken children whose tomorrows are not really guaranteed, concerning ourselves only with winning or losing the competition seems so petty in comparison.”
“Our stage is a war zone. Our bodies, the children of Syria.”
The humble group believes that the world can be a better place through art and that art can have the power to spark change, no matter how small its impact may be. The support received following the launch of “Heart to Heart: Refugee Crisis Aid” further affirmed their belief as artists.
Marcus shared how sometimes we get so focused on our first world problems, that we forget what’s happening elsewhere in the world. “Not to say that our problems are not valid, but somebody at the receiving end of this is worried about their next meal. These are the kind of things we sometimes take for granted. As we count our blessings, we really want people to contribute even as little as they want.”
Hui Lin also added that at the end of the day as long as people know about it. “We understand that everyone has different limitations but even just by letting other people know and by sharing it, we will never know how it might reach someone who can do many things for them. We will never know where (and who) the message will go to.”
The “Heart to Heart: Refugee Crisis Aid” campaign is set to close on 5 October 2018 (Friday) to coincide with Children’s Day. It is the ELDER’S hope for Singaporeans – most of which have known a lifetime of peace and security – to count blessings, step forth and contribute in small ways to provide relief for the children of Syria. The children who lack the most basic of necessities, the children whose lives are surrounded by constant, persistent terror. The children who have lost life, limb and childhood to wars they never asked for.
“Though it is not in our power to stop the wars, we can, with your help, ease the plight of these children.” – The Passionate Dancing Elders
Every contribution and shares count! Join the ELDERS as they try to raise $10000. To donate or find out more, click here.