Our chat: About the World Dance Showcase and the inspiration for it. The journey of an independent dance organiser, creating a niche and taking risks to innovate.
With: Candida Lee aka C. Kanake, the organiser and Tania Goh, Producer, Spanish Dance Singapore.
Tania (T): Candida, Thanks for inviting my company to perform at the World Dance Showcase (WDS). This is the second edition you are organising. Congratulations! I’m always interested in knowing how the seeds of the love for an art are sown. Could you share what your early experiences were?
Candida (C): I started off with ballet at the ripe old age of 10 years! I saw it on television and thought it was very graceful. There were also ballet classes in school which I was exposed to, as well as peer influence. Mum ferried me back and forth dance classes in those times. I’m grateful to my parents for giving me this chance. Dance lays the foundation for discipline, poise, builds character, teaches respect for your teacher and fellow dancers. It also builds your self and social awareness.
In university, I heard about NUS Dance Ensemble, auditioned and got in. I learnt a lot, saw a lot and experienced a lot. I didn’t seek the limelight and being a corp dancer was good enough for me. Everyone had to put in as much effort and time to be part of all this. I was happy to put in the long hours, be part of the Ensemble and its productions. I did it for all three years of my Uni days. It was a form of relaxation away from books and tutorials. It made me use a different part of my brains.
I’d advocate to parents that music and dance should not have a lower priority to academics. Musicality helps to balance the brain.
T: Along the way, what have been your key influences – people, places, encounters, studies?
C: After university and a sabbatical stint in Japan finding my path, I attended jazz classes in Amore Fitness when back in Singapore. The teacher approached me to take part in an intensive jazz hip hop programme by a choreographer from Hong Kong.
We put in 10 hours per week over 4 months, training 3 days a week. I took two levels and at the upper level, I felt inadequate as everyone else were professionals and I was a hobbyist.
However, it’s never a bad thing to push yourself, test your limit and be beyond your comfort zone. If you don’t push yourself to be surrounded by better people, you would not know how far you can go. I’d say that instead of being the best of the mediocre lot, be the bottom or average of the advanced level. Because you are testing your own capabilities and there is room for improvement.
T: I’m curious about a fitness centre organising such dance classes that enable dancers to train at this level. That’s great! It’s not very common though, so tell me more.
C: Well, after this cohort, it didn’t happen again…. As a background, the instructor was teaching in Amore full time. The Hong Kong choreographer was her teacher and personal friend when she was working in Hong Kong. When she returned to Singapore and started teaching in Amore, she brought him in to teach his jazz hip-hop syllabus.
It was an affiliated programme run by Amore open to the public, but the initiative of the instructor who rented the Amore studio. Back then, 15 – 17 yrs ago, dance schools in Singapore were just growing so there weren’t that many studios or such programmes yet. It was still the beginning of the dance growth era.
Amore would not have collaborated without any ROI (return on investment). The graduating class did a street performance at Bugis Junction. I think it was part of an arts festival. Amore had a promo going on, so the performance created awareness for the gym and their own dance classes.
T: Could you share with us your inspiration for organising the WDS?
C: When I first started Bellydance in 2012, after an 11-year dance break due to my corporate work, I was impatient and just wanted to move up the levels quickly. After joining one of the local schools in Singapore, my turning point came when I went to a festival in Istanbul. At that time, I was reaching a bottleneck. I was not sure of my level, capability and purpose. What was I doing this for?
The three-day festival had many forms of bellydance. It was very enlightening. With 12 workshops in one day, shows and competitions, you can attend what you want. My focus was on learning the technique, the style, observing not just the teachers, but the students, some of whom were professional dancers. It was insane but an eye opener!
It broke my bottleneck, helping me go beyond what I was learning in my one year in Singapore. I got to know the cultural backgrounds, the different extensions of bellydance. It’s not just about shimmies and blink blinks on costumes. Then I found my calling in tribal fusion dance.
In the following year, I felt I needed to learn more, to go from the lake, back to the ocean. So I headed to the USA for a holiday-study trip. Every day, it was back to being a dance student. It was so refreshing! A nice breakaway from corporate life. Instead of putting on my work clothes and shoes, I was decked in dance wear, going down the subway munching my sandwich like any dance student.
T: I can identify with that, each time I go back to Spain to study flamenco!
C: I got to know other dancers, professionals, amateurs and made new friends. There was networking, relationship-building and self-gratification. It very humbling at the same time.
My first dance event was a workshop in 2014. I had event management experience but for dance, I needed to know the climate in Singapore. I’m thankful to the invited teacher for trusting me. I didn’t have my fixed group of followers then, I‘m not a teacher and don’t have students. It was based on publicity on social media only, and with the support of a group of like-minded friends.
The next year, I organised a second dance event where I was more ambitious, organising workshops and a show. A hundred people turned up, pretty good. Slowly and surely, that’s how I established a name.
Fast forward to the World Dance Showcase. Another ambitious challenge I wanted to do with a French teacher, Anasma. She’s based in France, very talented, constantly improving herself and growing. That’s what I respect her for.
It was a week-long, so people had to take leave. It was not for an open level, but rather, for trained dancers of a professional level, with different dance disciplines who were not afraid to try new things, and break away from their comfort zones.
In terms of numbers, the turnout was not as good as mainstream events. We had nine dancers from five different countries flying in.
Profit and Loss (P & L) aside, I was very happy. Because relationships and bonds were forged. We learned from one another. Everyone had a fair chance of contributing their styles. It was very organic to form something collaborative. The dynamics were amazing. Nobody had a diva God-like attitude.
With WDS, the main purpose is to expose the dance communities to one another and to expose the non-dance audiences to the performing arts we have in Singapore – the dance groups and forms.
I wanted to create a show that was different from the mainstream Bellydance haflas (party). I wanted to break away from that and expand on Anasma’s branding, which is the World Dance Citizen School. So the show would have her branding too. I didn’t think a world dance show should be contained to one dance form. There should be cross-cultural appreciation, training and immersion.
I had to be shameless in approaching the schools I didn’t know, speak to them, try to convince them, especially when it’s an unpaid gig. Because, personally, i don’t think people should be performing for free – It’s tough. Everyone should be paid. All the training, all the hours rehearsing, blood and sweat – it’s not easy!
But then because it was a self-funded non-profit project, all I could afford was a collaboration and mutual support. I’m very thankful to the participating dance schools, such as your school.
It was amazing. I had really good feedback (from the first 2016 showcase). A lot of them – the bellydance and non-bellydance community in the audience had a really good experience. They were happy to see different dance forms in the show. I was happy to have non-dance audience too. They could see the different forms of bellydance within the same show – tribal, Thai contemporary bellydance fusion.
T: That remark about putting aside P&L – as an organiser, I understand what you mean. There are other things that bring you great satisfaction and these don’t relate to money. To see people learning and having the will to learn, for eg. And it’s heartening when there is a sense of community, good vibes and supportive people.
I wanted to highlight the role of fellow independent dance organisers. We invest our own money without much funding from government or other sources, because we love what we do and want to share what we have learnt. There is a significant role for all these people who do it out of great dedication, contributing time and their own financial resources to the art. Could you share your perspective?
Creating a niche is not easy. If I want to do something different, I have to run the risk of having a loss, of it being not as popular. But that’s how new inventions and innovations come about, right? Trial and error.
You prove to people the end-product, what you believe in. They see it and that’s how you build your credibility. And they come back for it. “I know the standard you can produce. The next time you promote the same thing, I know you have a level to upkeep”
T: Looking at your dance trajectory, where are you at personally on this ongoing journey? Some encouraging notes to self, perhaps?
C: I wish I could do more. If I could have more resources… But with what I already have, I think I’m doing a good job. The scale keeps getting bigger. As with most organisers, and I think this will resonate with them: it’s a masochistic process, organising a dance project. We say “this is the last one, never again!” It’s painful, we need time to recuperate and recoup the loss. Dance projects are never profit-earning!
T: Yeah, And it’s something I’d like people to know too. Because we take risks, sometimes we make losses, we are not waiting for someone to hand us the funding before we go ahead. We’re doing a lot of it with our own drive.
C: Of course there are organisers who make a fairly decent job out of it. They do it full time. The P&L is very healthy.
But it’s really up to the organisers’ intent – whether you place more focus on the P/L and then do something run-of-the-mill, something that is safe. You know the response will be good, something that people want, versus creativity, versus the arts.
If your focus is on arts and you want to educate people on the various forms. Then obviously there will be resistance, it would not be as popular. There is the risk of not having a great P&L. So it depends on where your focus is. After every project, it gives me gratification and satisfaction, P&L aside (she chuckles).
It keeps me going, motivates me to do something larger – not in capacity, but larger in purpose. To come up with different ideas, because I don’t like to repeat things, so every event has to be different and unique.
Similar template but elements and contents will have to be different. Even if the same teacher comes back, the content will have to be different, it has to be more ‘wow’. The participants have to be intrigued and curious as to what the next project will be. This is how I want do it.
I’m quite thankful that the process of the dance journey has given me a chance to apply all my other skill-sets from my professional and corporate world.
It’s a one-woman show. This is outside my full-time work. I’d love to have a team running, but I think being hands-on is also a self-gratifying journey – I have to do the designing of posters, the reaching out to people, content development, sourcing for venues. It’s not easy.
But it’s given me new knowledge of the different resources I didn’t know before. It’s time-consuming and meticulous but we learn, gain random facts which may become useful someday. It’s a great journey.
T: Would you share some challenges you’ve faced within the Singapore context?
C: For bellydance, because it’s not a structured dance discipline, it’s deemed more as entertainment, and you have misrepresentation of the dance form, where people may not know the cultural background, and it can be commercialised. Apart from funding, another challenge is having an audience turn up for shows.
We definitely need support from the community, the public. If the authorities can do something about it, that would be great. For independent organisers who do it more out of passion, it’s usually harder to get funding. Also some people might abuse the system. It’s a process that needs to be put in place first, for the assessments.
T: That is a tricky thing, how do you assess something that does not come with tangible paper qualifications. Papers aren’t necessarily a stamp of quality in art or teaching. Is there adequate knowledge to assess it?
C: How do you justify a person’s passion versus the interest in P&L? Take the case of an organiser who is more interested in the P&L but is able to present a good pitch and hit the KPIs. How do you justify that, who needs the support more?
That being said, if the passion is there, just do it! Money can be earned back. Yes, P&Ls can be earned back!
If you are (only) interested in the P&L, then don’t do it, because that will affect your passion, that affects your vibes or energy that you give out when you reach out to people. It spreads. People can feel that. The authenticity is not there.
On the other hand, if you are really struggling with P&L, don’t have the means at all, but have loads of passion, don’t do it as well. You need to have a good balance!
The World Dance Showcase takes place on Sun 24 Feb, 3.30-5.00pm, NAFA Studio Theatre
Dance Producer, Saltshaker Productions, Teacher and Dancer at Spanish Dance Singapore. This is the first series of chats with my fellow practitioners in the arts industry. A chance, off-stage and outside the studio, to share our journeys, learn from one another, gain insights and inspiration.