Dancing through the pandemic

From Kedah to Johor, dance students young and old are swaying along with online classes and even virtual examinations.

It’s exercise. It’s fun. It’s a love and passion. That’s what dance means to some 20 people of all ages, who carried on with classes online during the lockdown, and even took examinations this year.

For Kedah native Loh Sin Yan, WiFi problems in her hometown of Sungai Petani didn’t deter the Universiti Malaya dance graduate from taking the student-teacher examination in the middle of this year. She graduated and left Kuala Lumpur for home in June last year.

“Luckily, I had finished my final exams when the lockdown was implemented. When I was back home, I did some part-time jobs and took up selling Amway products.

“I also helped my mother at her morning market stall, where she sold Chinese traditional kuih like angku. My siblings and I helped her in making the kuih, which we woke up at 4.30am to do so and started selling by 7am. The pandemic later saw markets being closed, so now, sometimes we make for special orders and friends.

“Then, my dance teacher Michelle Hong, suggested doing the teacher-student dance examination. It was all online. I had difficulty practising at home with the limited space, and there were WiFi issues. But, it was interesting and even fun,” she said.

The examination was conducted by the World Dance Council (WDC), which was headquartered in Austria.

The 24-year-old, who planned to teach dance one day, said she started learning the art form in school, which were mainly traditional Chinese dances. “I remember the annual school performance, because I really looked forward to it,” she said.

Studying for a dance degree followed naturally for Loh, and no one at home raised an issue about her passion.

For the student-teacher exam, she and four other candidates from around the country studied five Latin ballroom dances, including Cha Cha, Samba and Paso Doble.

The theory session took about an hour. And Loh had to do not one, but 10 videos for the five dances, in which she filmed on her handphone at home.

“I am happy I passed the exam. My advice for all students is to not do last-minute study. For dance, we must practise until it becomes muscle memory,” she said.


A few Malaysians also took the WDC medal examinations after taking lessons at home with a patient Hong on Zoom.

For Lyenn Hong, 9, and her sister Jia Wee, 8, learning online was boring and lonely. But the kids loved to dance, so the medal exam was a different experience.

These young medal students started learning ballroom dancing because of Hong, who was also their aunt, and their grandparents, who were all ballroom dance winners.

Shireen Ong, a Perak native, felt that learning to dance at home was a challenge because of the limited space, but her passion had spurred her to carry on with online classes.

“This type of learning at home on the computer definitely changed my way of looking at education,” said the 49-year-old.

“It made me realise how modern technology has been improving day by day, allowing us to connect with each other while keeping us safe from the pandemic,” she said.

Ong, who is currently staying in Shah Alam, started learning ballroom dancing as a leisure hobby, and slowly fell in love with it.

“It has been a very long time, looking back — a little over a decade.

“My youngest daughter had started learning Latin and Ballroom under my influence. She was unwilling at first, but slowly, she also fell in love with them.”

As for the online examination, where medal students had to send in videos of themselves performing the corresponding dances, Ong added: “I will not say that I prefer this new way of examination as I am unable to experience the feeling of taking a face-to-face examination. Having the anxious feeling while waiting for my turn to take the exam and to feel the tension at the exam location.

“However, this is a very good alternative and is the best I can ask for at this time.”

Joji Siow

For 28-year-old Joji Siow, her love for dancing, which began when she was 5, had seen her through the classes in Zoom this year.

“This kind of learning has taught me to be versatile, to learn effectively through any medium — physical, virtual, etc. I think a mix of physical and virtual learning is the way to go in the future.

“I feel there is a lack of interactive in-class (physical) guidance for the exam. But my teacher’s patience has come through,” she said.

She said trying times like the Covid-19 pandemic had given an option for many to opt for physical and/or virtual examinations.

“This is good, and highly convenient depending on one’s schedule,” said Siow, from Batu Pahat, Johor.

“I’m a fan of the American show So You Think You Can Dance. Watching their Latin dancers made me feel alive and inspired. I wanted to learn that dance. It still excites me.”

WDC senior examiner and international adjudicator Aleena Tan said dancing could be therapeutic in trying times.

“It takes your mind off the issues of the day because you need to focus on learning the steps, rhythms, postures and so on.”

The Singaporean said her interest in dance started from young. “I took it as a hobby and it turned into a profession.”

Tan, whose last in-person adjudicating job was in Tokyo, Japan, in February 2019, had judged online dance competitions in recent years in Taiwan, England and China, among other activities.

The veteran dancer recalled taking the medal exams herself.

“I went through the stages of the medal exams. You get better as you continue taking the exams. I remember the excitement of getting dressed up, like going for a party!” she said enthusiastically.

To paraphrase a quote from the Antonio Banderas movie Take The Lead, which was based on the work of dance instructor Pierre Dulaine who founded Dancing Classrooms, a social and emotional development programme for schoolchildren in New York City: “If you love to dance, then you are meant to dance.” Tan agrees wholeheartedly.

##This story appeared in the New Straits Times.. https://www.nst.com.my/lifestyle/groove/2021/10/732632/showbiz-dancing-through-pandemic

##Cover picture of Lyenn Hong and her sister Jia Wee.

Filed under Arts, Dance
Subhadra Devan

A journalist who has been writing about culture, arts and heritage since the 1980s. She is herself gobsmacked to have started the Sunday arts pages for English newspapers in Malaysia, in the new millennium. The passion for these genres rages on.

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