SOTY 2014: Risky move paid off

By Melanie Leung

Faced with a difficult choice, Janice Tse performed Latin dance to Canto-pop at last year's Student of the Year finals and still came out on top

By Melanie Leung |

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Janice Tse (right, with Ivan Yeung) won last year's Student of the Year (Performing Artist) award.

Hong Kong's education system may not be well-known for developing creativity, but there's no shortage of performers here. Even toddlers learn music and dance to boost their chances of getting into a good primary school.

So how do you stand out from the crowd to win the Student of the Year (Performing Artist) award?

Here's a tip from Janice Tse Tsz-yan, last year's winner: bring out the theme in a creative way.

In the final round of the competition, Tse had to come up with a performance in line with the topic, "Celebrating Hong Kong!". But there was a problem: she was a ballroom and latin dancer. "The hardest part was finding the right music that would fit the theme," says Tse, who thought the lyrics of the song was crucial to bringing out the topic.

Latin dance is rarely performed to Canto-pop, but she took the risk anyway, mixing several songs including Sally Yip Sin-man's Believe in Yourself. She began with slow music for a rumba routine, then progressed to samba and the faster cha cha, building up the music as a metaphor for Hong Kong's development into today's financial hub.

As to the other performers at the finals, some played the piano, some sang, while others performed Cantonese opera. It was an eye-opening experience for Tse to see so many artforms interpreting the same theme.

"All the competitions I've been to before had the same dance style," she says. "[At the finals], I got to see how different people express themselves through what they're good at."

However, many of them focused too much on being technically perfect and failed to highlight the theme of their performance. Tse's gamble paid off, and she took home the prize.

Her school, CCC Kei Yuen College, hung up a huge banner to congratulate her, and teachers began inviting her to conduct lessons at school. "On receiving the award, I feel like I have the obligation to tell myself that I'm not just a dancer, but I should explore deeper as to what dancing means to me as a person," says Tse.

Tse took up ballet aged four. She was in Form One when she passed the Grade Eight exam of the Royal Academy of Dance. In Form Two, she began focusing on ballroom and latin dance.

"[My practice schedule] affected my friendships," recalls Tse, now 18. "Like if [my friends] sang karaoke or ate out during weekday evenings or weekends, I could never join."

Dancing's still her ultimate passion, but she's never considered it as her career. "You can't go too far with dancing," she says. "But you can keep dancing outside of work, as a hobby."

Tse is currently studying a psychology and counselling programme jointly organised by the Open University and the University of Salford, in Britain. "Psychology actually helps with dancing. I can learn more about myself, and I can express myself better," says Tse.

With dancing being a weekend activity now, she's enjoying a more regular lifestyle. She still takes part in international competitions three times a year, and performs often. On the other hand, her dancing partner, Ivan Yeung Man-ching, chose to pursue dancing at the Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts.

"I have to work extra hard to keep up with him," says Tse. "It's not easy at all to find a partner you can work well with, especially for girls, because there's so much competition ... but as long as I have the opportunity, I'll dance."