Chinese Dance Veteran Lim Moi Kim On The Importance Of Sticking To Tradition In Arts Education
The dichotomy of “traditional” versus “modern” is often discussed in the performing arts scene today. But Lim Moi Kim, artistic director of the Singapore Chinese Dance Theatre (SCDT), remains confident about keeping the traditional Chinese dance form alive in the country.
“SDCT now has 11 schools under its care, with students following a programme that enriches their knowledge and learning of Chinese dance,” says Lim, adding that she is not worried about a lack of interest in the practice among the young. “Because of that, I am positive about the future of Chinese dance in Singapore.”Traditional Chinese dance is classified into two types: classical dance and ethnic folk dance. The former has movements similar to Chinese martial arts, comprising of dynamic leaps and graceful aerial techniques, while the latter offers an insight into the cultures, customs and characteristics of 56 ethnic groups in China. It is also a part of SCDT’s graded examination syllabus, where students have 15 grades to complete.
During the late 1990s, the dance troupe was an amateur outfit helmed by Lim and was part of the Singapore Hokkien Huay Kuan, a dedicated cultural and education-al foundation. It turned professional only in 2014 after plans to receive funding from the National Arts Council were approved a year before. Today, Lim continues to choreograph performances and teaches alongside her daughter, Jenny Neo, who currently heads SCDT’s outreach and education department. “Our choreographies do not actually take on a very traditional dance style,” Neo says, explaining the common misconception towards Chinese dance. “In fact, what we do is make use of the values entrenched in Chinese tradition to spearhead the narratives of our performances. Besides, we also have to take into consideration the relevance of each story to today’s audiences.”
In rolling with the times, SCDT has most recently taken advantage of today’s technologies to bring their programmes online for all to access. “We have two ongoing Chinese dance lessons for children aged three to six and adults conducted through our Facebook page,” she notes. While she very much prefers “physical lessons, the response has been overwhelming as it still allows our students to practise in the comfort of their homes.” Neo devoted her formative years and subsequent career to Chinese dance. Her first foray into the art form was through her mother, as she would watch Lim perform and rehearse. “I only started training formally with my mother in 1989, but my passion was sparked when I watched her perform on stage in the audience, thinking that could someday be me too,” she shares. However, like most parents, Lim had wished for Neo to prioritise her academic studies above all. But Lim knew that passion for the craft was of utmost importance. “A performer’s intuition is crucial, and Jenny has what it takes in that aspect,” says Lim. “She also has a special way of choreographing that is different to mine, which is excellent as she has defined a style that is unique to her and brings new ideas to the table.”
I only started training formally with my mother in 1989, but my passion was sparked when I watched her perform on stage in the audience, thinking that could someday be me too.— Jenny Neo
Following her training at the then-Singapore Hokkien Huay Kuan Dance Theatre, Neo was awarded a scholar-ship in 2004 to further her practice at the Beijing Dance Academy and returned to graduate from Lasalle College of the Arts five years later. Currently, she has taken on the task to expose young and aspiring performers to different aspects of Chinese dance, but still looks up to her mother for advice on curriculum-related materials. She shares, “My mother has spent her life nurturing the next wave of talent, and that has influenced me to work even harder.” To encourage a greater interest towards Chinese dance and motivate its present dancers, SCDT has organised annual performances for the young ones to perform with other troupes from schools and community centres in Singapore.
Lim acknowledges that in order to sustain the public’s interest in Chinese dance in Singapore, more performances have to be developed to not only appeal to the masses, but to maintain an aesthetic that speaks to the quality of the craft and the dancers. “It is important to raise the bar for our performers and have them continually improve on their techniques and skill sets,” she shares. “Finding that balance is how we can elevate the dance form to a whole new level.”On the other hand, Neo thinks it’s important to keep young dancers engaged. “Chinese dance techniques are incredibly difficult to learn. When it comes to younger children, they need to truly love the dance and be inspired by their teachers—only then will they be willing to make sacrifices in the pursuit of art.”