For babies, crying is a natural way of communicating. But when adults - and men especially - cry, we feel uncomfortable. Local dancer and choreographer Andy Wong Ting-lam, who grew up believing that 'boys don't cry', will challenge this stereotype in his upcoming solo work Crying Angels.
The performance is organised by the Little Asia Dance Exchange Network, which has been presenting solo works by dancers from Asian cities since 1999. Besides Wong, this year's programme also features works by Chung Yeun-soo (Seoul), Ng Joavien (Singapore), Sun Chuo-tai (Taipei) and Kasai Mitsutake (Tokyo).
Wong is a resident choreographer of local dance group DanceArt Hong Kong. Besides performing at various arts festivals, the socially-conscious dancer is also very enthusiastic about helping in the community. Crying Angels is inspired by some of his students from less-privileged backgrounds.
Born on the mainland, Wong and his family moved to Hong Kong when he was 11. As a teenager, he suffered from isolation and culture shock, but his father, like many traditional parents, didn't allow him to cry.
So, when he became a dancer at 20, he decided to use dance as a tool for releasing emotions.
'Dance is a candid way to express our innermost feelings,' he says. 'I have some students suffering from depression. Some will suddenly start crying in dance lessons.'
Usually tutors separate them from the rest of the class so that they can calm down. But Wong lets them continue to cry because he believes crying is a way of releasing anger and depression.
'I see each crying face as an angel. If you suppress your sorrow, you may do harmful things to yourself or others,' he says.
He gives the example of a student who became very fragile after splitting up with her boyfriend. 'She would burst into tears in the middle of a lesson. I encouraged her to release her grief through dance. Crying is a relief. It makes you understand your weakness. But then you have to convert the sorrow into positive energy,' he explains.
In his dance performance, Wong transforms himself into an angel wearing a tuxedo. The dance movements incorporate everyday gestures which Wong believes the audience will not find too abstract.
While he may have often felt upset in his younger years, the 39-year-old dancer now feels much more carefree. While most of his classmates from dance school have already retired, Wong's career has blossomed and he says he hopes to continue dancing for another 10 years.
'Now, I shed tears whenever I feel blessed,' he says.
This year's Little Asia Dance Exchange Network programme runs from September 27 - 29 at 8pm at the Hong Kong Arts Centre. Tickets are $100 for adults and $50 for students, and are available from Urbtix on 2734 9009.