While learning ballet may be best starting off as a child, there’s no substitute for passion and the desire to learn. At the Royal Durian Ballet Academy, 18 adult students are all set to show off their skips and pirouettes in the Ballet Concert, in line with the academy’s first anniversary. Led by actor, choreographer, director and ballet teacher Nell Ng, the students will be dancing to serious and funny songs including Avatar Tree, Remembering You, Imagine, Love is Love is Love and A Very Long Love Story.
I had the opportunity to interview four students who will soon to show off their dancing skills on October 5 at Damanara Performing Arts Centre (DPAC). Here’s what performers Nikki Palikat (31) and Alia Kearney (30), Interior Designer Adrien Ritzal (29) and Vocal Teacher Aaron Teoh(27) had to say about the newly learned skills and dancing in front of family and friends.
Did you want to learn ballet as a child? If yes, is there any reason you didn’t you pursue it?
NP: My entire childhood aim was to convince my parents to send me for ballet classes. I would cartwheel in the garage on my way to open the gate for them when they came back from work in the evenings (and much more!) Unfortunately it was just a luxury my parents, who were raising seven children, could not afford.
AR: As a child, I actually wanted to try too many things. Rhythmic gymnastics was something my sister and I would toy around with in my bedroom. I grew up with a lot of insecurities as a child and throughout my teenage years. I didn’t think I was good at any sort of dance, and that deterred me from even trying any of them out, ballet included.
AT: In school, I was always made to believe that ballet was a girls thing. It’s funny la, come to think of it, since I joined choir and perform musicals, not exactly the most macho thing for a teenage boy.
AK: I actually did take ballet lessons when I was 4 years old and living in Canada. We moved back to Malaysia when I was 7 and when my mum asked me if I wanted to continue, I said no. I feel pretty silly about it now and wish that I had said yes. It would have made my life as a performer much easier if I did!
What made you decide to get into ballet as an adult?
NP: I wanted to make that childhood dream come true, at last!
AR: After years of battling my underweight issues, I finally began to realise and embrace my physical potential. I tried yoga and found that I needed something equally challenging, but with more mobility. Going through hundreds of photos of Ballerinos on Instagram, I felt a strong sense of admiration and ultimately, aspiration to be as great as them. It’s a long time to go, but I suppose we all have to start somewhere.
AT: I love performing, I love musicals. I’ve been singing since 2004, and studied theatre in 2006. Dance was that one thing I never pursued, and I don’t want that to hold me back. I hadn’t heard of adult ballet classes till Nell mentioned them, and it seemed like an opportunity to grow myself as a performer, so why not?
AK: I really enjoy dancing, and anytime I would watch movies where the main characters have these huge dreams of making it big as a dancer, I get so inspired. It wasn’t just ballet, it was any kind of dance form. When I heard that Ms. Nell was teaching ballet classes, I decided to take the plunge without really knowing what to expect. I knew that ballet is a great art form a great foundation to learn any kind of dance. I don’t regret my decision to learn it again as an adult.
What challenges did you face while learning and how did you overcome them?
NP: Physically I had to work on increasing and restoring flexibility, and very carefully as I didn’t want to injure myself in the process. Obviously my adult body is nowhere near as flexible as it was as a child. What was more challenging than the physical obstacles was the stubborn mindset that I “wasn’t a dancer”. I realised that putting limits and labels on myself was hindering me from relaxing and really finding the dancer within me.
AR: My biggest challenge is my tight hamstrings. I could barely touch my toes when I started out. I’m glad to say that after all these months, progress has been made, and I can ALMOST touch them now. (laughs)
AT: Just getting my body to stand properly was a challenge. We’ve all built up our own body habits, and making a conscious effort to correct those has been difficult but it’s paying off. I try to practice the ballet exercises while doing other things, like while I’m watching TV or doing the dishes. It helps build muscle memory and coordination so it becomes ingrained in my body.
AK: The main challenge is to unlearn everything you’ve been taught or told before about dance. It is definitely not as easy as it looks, and my muscles ache for days after. I basically had to re-learn the art of ballet and it’s proved very useful for me. I used to just mimic other dancers before this. Now, I am learning the proper techniques and understanding them.
How is Nell like as a ballet teacher?
NP: When Nell teaches ballet, her great passion and love for it and her students are evident. She is incredibly meticulous about helping us establish proper technique. I also love that she makes it compulsory for each student to be properly dressed for classes (hair in a ballerina bun, leotard, skirt, tights, shoes ; check). Personally that makes me feel like I’m entering a space with other like-minded individuals, pursuing a goal together.
AR: Nell, to sum it all up, is an explosion of energy. I find her eccentricity refreshing, and it keeps the class on their toes (pun intended), but still very much themselves. not a class goes by without fueling our determination, vigour, and sense of humour.
AT: Funny, strict and knowledgeable. Despite starting at pre-primary, she’s insisted that we build a good foundation, so we don’t hurt ourselves. We like to ask her to demonstrate, she makes it look effortless. She’s been very dedicated to the classes.
AK: Nell is a great teacher. She uses words and imagery in her explanation, and me being a visual person, I understand it very well. She also really takes the time to correct us one by one. The results speak for themselves when we start noticing real improvement in each other every week. I myself have noticed a marked difference in posture and body control.
What are your thoughts on dancing on October 5? Who will be there to support you?
NP: I am feeling slightly terrified. The level of terror varies from day to day depending on my activity. Some days I feel so pumped and gung ho like if Miss Nell asked me to do 3 pirouettes continuously I would be able to do it.
Still, I am very excited as it’s the first show I’m doing where it is solely dance. I have some friends and family who will be coming to cheer me on. Somehow they think I will break into song mid-dance. Well I will show them!!!
AR: Having performed on stage for several plays before, I find this no different in a sense that commitment and discipline is paramount. Despite having to go out of my comfort zone and having doubts of my own capabilities in this show, I constantly remind myself that i am performer, and performing is exactly what I shall do. The ones coming to support me are my equally eccentric friends, mixed with other curious acquaintances who seem genuinely intrigued by the very idea of adult ballet.
AT: It’s a little unnerving but I don’t think the reality of performing ballet in front of an audience has sunk in yet. I’ve performed plays and musicals. My parents will be there. My father finds it hilarious that I’m taking ballet, but they’ve always supported my performances and career paths. How many other people have parents that let you choose to pursue what you love? My wife is coming. She’s looking forward to seeing me in tights (laughs). They’re the most important people in the audience for me.
AK: I was actually quite scared to do the concert at first (laughs). I didn’t feel ready to put myself on display yet. I am one to push myself through situations where I feel fear or reluctance. So I kept at it and it’s definitely not as bad as I originally thought it would be! Nell knows how to work with our strengths and uses it to our advantage. As a result, you will get not just get a ballet concert, but a full performance where we get to show off who we are as people as well as dancers.
Catch Nikki, Alia, Adrien, Aaron and the rest of their ballet mates at The Ballet Concert at DPAC on October 5, 8.30pm. Tickets are priced at RM60. Contact the box office at 03-4065 0001 or visit dpac.com.my