Steps in the right direction

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 02 October, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 02 October, 2007, 12:00am

Instructor makes dancing a life-changing experience for young people without a goal

Dance can be good for you - as a recreation, a means of self-expression or simply an outlet for excess energy.

In some cases, dance can even be a life-altering experience, as it has been for Samuel Chan Chor-fai.

'Dancing has changed my life, and it can change the lives of others too,' says the 26-year-old dancer and dance entrepreneur.

Chan dropped out of school at the age of 15 after Form Three. He danced in the streets with his friends.

He is now the co-owner of Dance Appointment Station, a dance studio near Tai Po.

His set up the dance studio to help bring marginal youth back into mainstream society.

Chan knows how hard it is for underachievers to get a decent job and integrate into society.

After leaving school - and before discovering dancing - he took on a range of low-skill jobs.

He worked on construction sites, served as a waiter and washed dishes.

At 18, Chan discovered the world of dance, fell in love with it and his life changed accordingly.

'Back then, there were not many dance schools,' Chan recalls. 'And even if there were, we couldn't have afforded the fees.'

Chan and a few friends decided to take up dancing seriously. They taught themselves by watching dance videos, and at night they practised their routines in the street.

'At first, the police questioned us. Neighbours looked at us with suspicion and even disapproval. They thought we had run away from home.'

But the young dance enthusiasts kept at it, and in time the neighbours came to accept their presence and treated them as harmless, foot-tapping young people and not as trouble makers.

Eventually, the young dancers attracted the attention of social workers, who invited them to perform and teach at community centres.

The turning point came when, three years later, Chan caught the eye of TVB and gained a spot on the TVB's Dancer Training Class.

That marked the beginning of a new life - in showbiz.

Chan has appeared as a dancer many times on television and performed in numerous concerts and shows.

In his leisure time, Chan conducts free classes at community centres.

'The dance students at these centres are either dropouts or low achievers in school.

Some are triad members and drug addicts. 'Once, one of my students received a call during a class. He told me he had an urgent matter to attend to - to help his gang in a street brawl.'

Chan talked to the boy and eventually persuaded him to leave the gang and give up drugs.

'I told him taking drugs was bad for him, and that it affected his work as a dancer. I told him he needed to devote his energy to dancing, not street fights.

'He took my advice, and now this once rebellious young man is a dance instructor like me.'

Chan also holds regular classes at rehabilitation centres, where his students are young offenders who have been involved in assorted crimes.

'Dancing teaches you to respect people,' Chan says.

'Once you respect people, you value life and you don't get into fights that easily. That's what I want to show the young people at the rehabilitation centres.'

One of Chan's partners in dance and community work is Rachel Lau Sin-ling, 22, who was also a participant in TVB's Dancer Training Class.

With a HK$100,000 loan from the Hong Kong Federation of Youth Groups, Chan and Lau opened a dance studio near Tai Po, one of the areas where the number of school dropouts and cases of teens with social and emotional problems is relatively high.

'The kids you see wandering on the street are not bad,' Lau says.

'They are simply low achievers at school and they're trying to get attention. Dancing gives them a second chance in life and inspires them to do better.'

Chan Mei-yu, 18, is one of the teenagers who has been inspired by Chan and Lau's dance class community work.

Mei-yu dropped out from school after completing Form Four and spent the following few years drifting until a social worker introduced her to the dance class two years ago. That changed her life.

'I work at the studio as a part-time receptionist and I practise dance at least once a week. My parents are happy.'

Mei-yu has already set herself a goal.

'My dream is to be a professional dancer like Rachel and Samuel,' she says.

For details on the dance courses, call Samuel Chan at 6175 6288