5 steps to ensure you enjoy dancing – even if you don’t know how
- Event adviser Andy Wong says all Hongkongers should cast aside their inhibitions and express themselves anyway they like at Dance Day in December
Inside a solemn auditorium lies a fantastical stage.
Skilful dancers with perfectly toned bodies are moving with elaborate, flowing steps – turning, skipping and leaping in time to the music. The audience is sitting quietly in the dark admiring the dancers shining on stage. No one dares to make a sound or snooze.
That is the typical impression many people have of a dance performance. It is serious high art, and one needs to be educated in order to appreciate its high-brow artistic language and aesthetics.
Yet that is not entirely true, says Andy Wong Ting-lam, the award-winning homegrown Hong Kong dancer and choreographer.
As event adviser for the city’s annual Dance Day – featuring activities including a “U Can Dance!” Free Dancing Zone, Workshop and Dance Showcase – presented by the government’s Leisure and Cultural Services Department in Tsuen Wan in December, Wong says everyone can enjoy dancing regardless of age and background.
And the stage for dance is not limited to one inside an auditorium.
“Dance is not something high up and out of reach,” Wong says. “It is about breaking boundaries and finding happiness.
Dance for all. All can dance.”
1. Free yourself from self-judgement
David Thomas Moore, artistic director and resident choreographer for Dance With Me USA, has said that “dance is the way we express ourselves when words are insufficient”.
However, a lot of people do not see things that way. Worries about how they are perceived by others are one biggest hurdle that stops them from dancing.
“Dancing is free-flow expression that might show your vulnerability, but many people do not like that,” Wong says.
“They would refuse to take part if the dance moves make them look awkward or like a failure if they cannot dance well.”
Dancing, in fact, is something to enjoy, he says, rather than showing people how perfectly you can coordinate your limbs or making flamboyant moves.
Over the past two decades as a dance teacher, Wong says he has taught students ranging from an 80-year-old man to the physically and mentally impaired.
Instead of seeking approval from others, these dance students were simply finding ways to express themselves.
“Just look at the happy babies – people are born to enjoy dancing and music,” Wong says.
“But we lose our ability to explore intuitively as we grow up, being moulded to think and behave in a certain way.
Dancing is about being creative with your body movements and finding your own happiness.”
2. Listen to the music that ‘clicks’
Music and dance are inseparable, and finding the type of music that clicks is the first step to getting into the dance mode, Wong says.
His secret to get people moving is to pick the music that speaks to them.
“If I’m teaching older people, I’d pick a song by [Taiwanese singer] Teresa Teng.
“If it is a younger crowd, I play the tunes they like,” he says, and not to mention playing theme songs from television drama series to dancing “aunties” at public squares.
For some modern dance pieces, the music might not have a strong melody like pop music, making it difficult for a general audience to grasp.
Yet by adding more texture to the sound, such as poetry reciting and even pop music, it helps the audience relate to the messages, he says.
When the right kind of music hits, the body sways naturally according to the beats.
Wong says dancing can be very simple, citing the experience of one of his wheelchaired students, who has found great happiness from dancing.
“His head and his right hand are the only body parts he can move, but he still insists on coming back to dance classes,” he says.
“A small, rhythmic body movement can be considered a dance step.”
3. Take the ‘baby step’
Learning a complicated choreographed piece is intimidating.
Yet there are dance steps that are easy to learn.
Wong says he has prepared a simple sequence that one can learn by repeating it only three times.
“One of the keys to learning is to break the sequence into smaller bits and learn them step by step,” he says.
Wong will be putting this into practice during the forthcoming Dance Day’s One Minute Flash Dance – a huge group dance in which everyone can join and participate.
He will choreograph a one-minute dance piece that can be learnt by repeating it only three times.
Participants will get guidance from DancingAngels’ dancers.
He says previously the programme was performed by professionals, but their elaborate movements proved to be too daunting for a general audience attending Dance Day.
To show people that everyone can dance, St James Settlement’s Dancing Heart Troupe, a dance group formed by disabled people, will be performing and demonstrating their moves on Dance Day for the first time, Wong says.
4. Talk to the dancers
Dancing on the stage in an auditorium might be the ultimate ambition for many dancers, but to Wong, the stage for dancing is much bigger.
“I feel that the stage in real life is much more appealing,” he says.
Visitors to Dance Day will discover dancers performing site-specific dance at various spots in Tsuen Wan Park.
Wong says this is the best way to appreciate dance performances closely without being trapped inside an auditorium.
“Sitting on a bench of Tsuen Wan Park, you will discover and appreciate the way dancers interact with the environment,” he says.
“Even just one body movement or one facial expression can be inspiring.”
Wong hopes participants of Dance Day can seize the chance to talk to dancers during the event.
He says dancers are open to sharing their love for the art form and their life as performers.
Dancers, on the other hand, want to hear from the audience.
“I’m not a dancer descending from the stage. I am a dancer who comes from life,” Wong says.
5. Be a great audience who loves to share
While criticism can play an important role in shaping the course of arts development, Wong and other dance teachers hope the public will put aside their critical tendencies during the event and simply be supportive audience members on Dance Day.
“Dance Day brings dance to the community for enjoyment, regardless of age and background,” he says.
“It’s not about judging people.”
Some of the most appreciative Wong has had over the years were construction workers.
During last year’s Dance Day, he was hosting a performance outside the Cultural Centre, which drew the attention of construction workers who were refurbishing the adjacent Hong Kong Museum of Art.
“They stopped what they were doing, cheered and applauded for us,” Wong says.
Dance Day 2018 takes place on Sunday, December 2, from 1pm to 5pm, at Tsuen Wan Town Hall and Tsuen Wan Park. Free admission.