#PeopleStories: Step by Step – A Career in Dance

Angeline Yew teaches piano and literature, and has more than twenty years of teaching and lecturing experience explains the step by step of having a career in dance.
Angeline Yew
Principal of ACTS School of Performing Arts

'Dancing is not just movements but also expressions coming forth from the movements, and need not necessarily be to music. It can be to a rhythm or an internal rhythm that is within you,' Angeline Yew explained. 

Dressed in a simple tank top and comfortable pants, Yew exuded a quiet confidence. She sat with her back long and straight; in the graceful and poised posture of a seasoned dancer.

The Life of a Dance Instructor

On most days, you can find Yew dressed in a leotard, stockings, exercise top, jazz pants, ballet shoes, jazz sneakers  − anything that allows her to move around easily as the job involves a lot of demonstrating.

Her typical day starts at noon and stretches into the night. 'The students usually come for their training after school. So the working hours would be from 12pm to 10pm. Fridays start earlier while Saturdays are massive jam-packed days that start from 8am and end at 7pm,' Yew said. She catches her breath as if reliving the hours in her head. When asked if the long hours of physical work wears her out, she coyly replied, 'After so many years, you get used to the physical work. My only regret is that I no longer have any Saturdays left!'

For Yew, the toughest part is teaching students who are not interested and have relatives who discourage them. On the flip side, she is delighted when her students are interested in learning and improve drastically. She also loves to watch supportive parents who recognise the value of the lessons.

Blown Away by Ballet

Yew recalled her first exposure to dance with childlike enthusiasm. 'When I was a little kid, about four or five, I went to a ballet presentation by a Russian ballet company,' she mused. 'As soon as I saw them, I was blown away. It was the most amazing thing I'd ever seen!' It was clear in the change of her tone and manner that the performance left a lasting impression on her. About a year later, her parents enrolled her in dance classes which she enjoyed, and continued taking classes up to her teenage years.

Unlike the other dancers who wanted to perform, Yew said that as a teenager, she found her calling to teach. 'It was quite strange, I think, since most people like to perform. At that age, I wasn't so much into performing. I wanted to pass on the knowledge that I have accumulated through the years and I wanted the kids to enjoy what I enjoyed. I suppose nowadays it would be more enjoyable to perform because we have so many more opportunities to perform,' she said.

Career Planning

While work opportunities are available locally, priority is given to those with the right qualifications and a diverse set of skills. 'Education is necessary in dancing. Raw talent is not enough.' 

How about reality dance competitions? 'It might get you some exposure and open some doors but they will most likely send you for training after that.

'If possible, try to take up ballet as it gives you a strong foundation and exposes you to all the basic techniques required for most dances,' Yew recommends. 'However, do note that it may give you too much poise for dances such as break-dancing, hip-hop or funk.' Alternatively, you can take up various classical, modern or contemporary dances such as ballroom dancing, jazz, groove etc.

'You can start out as a dancer or join a dance troupe. it's good to have a diverse set of dance skills to enable yourself to have more opportunities.

'Age is a factor that most of us cannot avoid in this industry, so the majority of dancers will end up as instructors, choreographers for theatres or reality shows, or join a different industry altogether. Eventually, you can even start your own dance company or theater group, but that will depend on your qualifications and experience in the field. Thus it is always a good idea to start gaining teaching or choreography experience early on to have something to fall back on.'

Beginners looking to have a career in dance will have to tighten their belts for the first few months to a year in order to build up the contacts and experience. 'Different types of dances pay differently; some are based on a percentage of the earnings while others are according to an hourly rate. Credibility, popularity and experience will give you more job opportunities. What you earn will also be directly proportional to that. Nevertheless, most good instructors can earn a decent living by teaching a few times a week.'

Dancing Well with Others

According to Yew, the most important qualities for a dancer are the ability to recognise your flaws and to be genuine, teachable and down-to-earth. These are necessary in learning dance moves from the chorographers and getting the most from yourself and your trainers. To be an instructor, you will need to have the right qualifications and experience, and be active, patient and honest in order to point out your Students' flaws and help them to be better dancers.

'Obviously, you'll need perseverance and a positive attitude because the journey is long,' Yew confided. It takes at least six years of continuous training for you to master the fundamentals and to avoid looking like an amateur. 'When you go on to pursue dance at graduate or postgraduate level, your teachers will not take things lightly. They can very harsh, brutal and honest.'

In dance, passion outweighs talent. 'If you Don't have passion, you won't have technique. If you Don't have technique, you won't have dance. Remember that behind every three-minute performance is years of practice and training.

'I believe that anyone can dance with good coaching. The key is to start early and work hard.'