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Buro. Visits #2: Recognize! Studios's instructors and students discuss Singapore's urban dance scene

Bust a move

Text: Tracy Phillips


Video: David Bay
Image: Hazirah Rahim

Head to *SCAPE at Orchard on any evening of the week and you're bound to see a mix of teens and young working adults dancing both inside and outside of the numerous dance studios located at the venue. Oblivious to passersby, they work on their moves as the sounds of hip-hop blare from their portable devices. The same can be seen at the Citylink Underpass near Esplanade, Star Vista in Buona Vista, and UOE Downtown, where Recognize! Studios is located. Established in 2010 by B-boy and leader of breakdance crew, Radikal Forze, Felix Huang, Recognize! was established to further Huang's dream of legitimising dance as a career in the eyes of the masses, providing an education and understanding of the sub-culture of hip-hop, as well as growing and connecting the local dance community to the greater dance scene within the region.

Nine years later, Singapore's street dance scene is thriving. There's been mass syndication of dance programmes like So You Think You Can Dance, which is well into its 16th season, as well as an increase in dance programmes across primary, secondary, and tertiary schools. In addition, the worldwide influence and popularity of K-pop artists have meant that more and more young Singaporeans are getting into dance, participating in dance competitions, and pursuing a career in dance.

This wave of interest has brought particular styles to the fore. Many forms such as popping, locking and waacking that were first established in the 1980s, are finding new audiences among those who are keen on learning about the roots of urban dance. A quick search on YouTube will result in hundreds of tutorials for any dance style, fit for beginners to professionals. While some see it as a fun way to keep fit, or as a form of stress relief from a hectic work day, many are determined to keep it a part of their lives for the long haul. We visited Recognize! Studios to chat with a few of its instructors and students to find out more about the state of dance in Singapore.

Melissa Lim Hui Ling (aka Cat Lady), 31

How did you get into dancing?
I have been dancing for 18 years. My mom used to bring me to all these kids shows at Forum Shopping Mall and my dad will always play music videos of Backstreet Boys, Spice Girls, and Aaron Kwok in the car, so I was exposed to music and performance from a young age. I took my first step into dance during secondary school when I joined the Chinese Dance Club. I was introduced to street dance in polytechnic when I joined SP Dance (now known as Strictly Dance Zone).

What do you think about Singapore's dance scene right now?
The number of people who are exposed and participating in dance has definitely grown tremendously. There are a lot more niche styles of street dance such as waacking, popping, and locking as well. Five years ago, we only had about five dance battles in a year. Now, we have at least one event almost every week. There are a lot more opportunities for aspiring dancers to become instructors, and performers.

What are your favourites styles?
Hip-hop, waacking, house, and jazz.

What do you think of K-pop's influence on urban dance?
It's amazing! The K-pop scene is huge. It really got people interested in dance since K-pop musicians are known for their skills and performance.

How do you feel about the re-emergence of dance forms such as turfing and waacking?
There's something beautiful about learning a style that's older than us. Without music, there will be no dance. When we learn about waacking, we get the chance to listen to the music of the 1970s and 1980s when the spirit of disco was alive.

Naomi Francine Alex, 25

How did you get into dancing?
I got into ballet at a pretty young age, but I had to pull out because it started to affect my grades in primary school. In secondary school, I auditioned to join my school's dance team, and the rest is history. I've been dancing for 13 years now. Most of it was spent learning ballet, modern dance, Chinese dance, and jazz. However, five years ago, I found the street dance scene in Singapore. These days, I teach waacking as well as assist instructors in primary and secondary school dance CCAs. I occasionally book performance and commercial gigs.

What do you think about Singapore's dance scene right now?
Singapore's dance scene has heaps of potential. We have some of the world's finest dancers here in our tiny red dot. The scene has grown to become more competitive too.

What are your favourites styles?
My favourite styles to dance or watch are waacking, house, hip-hop, and experimental.

Who are your influences?
The main influence in my dance right now is Melissa aka Cat Lady. She has been guiding me in dance and in life for about four years now. My past teachers have also played a part in strengthening my foundation in dance: Bryan Lee, Ruzaini Ismail, Alodie, Andee, June Lee, Xu Jie, Ms Wendy, and Gerard. Other dancers who I look up to include Lip J (Korea), Lady Bird (SG), Danielle Polanco (USA), Kapela (France), and Nadiah Idris (AUS/France).

Charissa Goh Hui Ern, 26

How did you get into dancing?
I have been involved in ballet and Chinese dance since I was 10 years old. It progressed into contemporary dance in junior college, and then hip-hop and urban dance.

What do you think about Singapore's dance scene right now?
Due to the popularity of dance studios on social media, it is now easier for non-dancers to access to "cool dance videos". Social media has also made it more accessible for younger dancers to seek out specific styles and instructors in Singapore. While it is great that more people are interested in dance, most of them are following trends and trying to imitate their favorite idols, instead of creating unique styles of their own.

What do you think of K-pop's influence on urban dance?
In my opinion, K-pop itself is not really a dance genre. Instead, I feel that it is a commercial form of various dance styles. Sometimes, K-pop may also have small popping and waacking moves. K-pop groups have engaged famous international urban choreographers to work on their songs. This has created another market for budding urban choreographers who, in an effort to get noticed by the K-pop industry, might intentionally publish and choreograph dance with K-pop songs.

Who are your influences?
I am influenced by South Korean waackers such as Lip J and Waackxxxy.

Jin Neo Renyi, 28

How did you get into dancing?
My two elder sisters exposed me to different kinds of music such as J-pop and C-pop.

What do you think about Singapore's dance scene right now?
The scene is truly blessed as we have a large pool of resources as well as dedicated teachers who have alot of heart. Many have full-time jobs and dance as a hobby, while others are working as full-time dancers. It's more diverse, and we see more possibilities as the future is already here.

Tala Helou, 13

How did you get into dancing?
I had to take a CCA at school, so I decided to take a hip-hop class that was run by Recognize! Studios. I enjoyed the class a lot, so I decided to pursue dance.

What do you think about Singapore's dance scene right now?
Dance has become a lot more popular for kids. Singapore didn't have many dance schools that catered to kids in the past. Its popularity has something to do with social media. Through platforms such as YouTube and Instagram, both young adults and kids can now check out and get inspired by dancers from all over the world.

Amelia Caroline Sin Wai, 12

How did you get into dancing?
My mum thought that a girl should have good posture and grace, so she signed me up for Latin dance when I was five or six years of age. Latin dance was never really my "style" and we felt that street dance reflected my style better as I could mimic and groove to pop music with a big smile on my face.  My parents decided to let me go for trials at a hip-hop studio, and I never turned back after that.

What do you think about Singapore's dance scene right now?
The dance scene has improved dramatically since five years ago. I see more people taking dance classes at different studios regardless of whether dance is their hobby or future career. There's also been more media exposure about the local dance scene as I've been hearing more radio stations interviewing dancers and TV stations airing dance competitions.

Recognize! Studios's services include event production, dance classes, school CCA programmes, talent management, and studio rental. It is located at Downtown Gallery, 6A Shenton Way #02-25, 068815.

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