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Forging Traditions online lessons

Forging Traditions virtual online dance class

Forging Traditions online lessons

Please tell us briefly about your career journey with ADC and why you do what you do.

I started this company because Malaysia and specifically ASWARA was producing dance graduates of incredible calibre - not a scale that has ever been seen in Malaysia prior to that. However, the industry and the job opportunities have not grown in parallel with these advancements. Subsequently, there were very limited choices of where to go and what to do for them. As artists, they need to keep growing, exploring, learning, and most of these graduates did not come from wealthy families but they do need to think about putting food on the table, and supporting their families in their hometown. At the same time, the outreach for Malaysian dance scene was still very limited, centralised in the cities and traditional dances were slowly losing its appeal. Due to these factors, I felt the need to establish a company that can provide a space where the dancers can grow artistically and put their training to good use.

Can you please share how YSD’s support and contribution had helped ADC achieve its goals?

I think it is safe to say that there would be no ADC today, without YSD’s continuous support. The support of YSD has been instrumental for ADC to be able to reach out to more than 20,000 Malaysians to teach traditional dances over the past 10 years. At the same time, YSD's support had enabled ADC’s full-time dance artists to fully focus on their artistic career goals. Freelance dancers may be able to earn more wages, but the artistic work and productions that ADC has produced was because of our financial stability due to YSD’s support. ADC dancers have travelled abroad to represent Malaysia, participated in prestigious events, exchanges, festivals and many more. Most importantly, these dancers were able to hone their teaching, management and organisational skills.

How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected ADC’s efforts in reviving Malay traditional dances through the Forging Traditions Beyond Borders programme?

Before the pandemic, we generally supplement our income through corporate shows and other income bearing programmes which have all come to a grinding halt. The COVID-19 crisis has been an absolute nightmare for everyone in all sectors. However, the poor and disenfranchised across the world have been the hardest hit. Artists have been severely impacted especially those who work in the private sector. Shifting our programme to be delivered online is truly a great move, and we offered the first free online traditional dance classes in Malaysia. Nonetheless, with all online teaching and learning, it is not easy to get the participants’ buy in as they are suffering from online fatigue. It is extremely challenging to keep everyone’s focus, the internet connection is also a challenge and ideally large computer screens could make it easier. Nevertheless, we must persevere and keep believing in our mission, YSD’s support has been brilliant over the past 10 years in helping ADC to sustain.

ADC team practicing traditional choreographies

How has ADC dealt with the challenges posed by the pandemic? Were there any changes in strategies and plans?

As mentioned, we moved Forging Traditions from a physical workshop to an online platform. Although the uptake has been slow, there are interests and we will continue to develop it. As we are artists, we need to continue producing arts and at the same time engage with new media to do so. With that, we applied for grants from CENDANA to produce online content. We are very happy to say that our dance film "Hymns of the Abandoned" choreographed by Zulkarnain Zuber, and directed by Aaron Chieng received an overwhelming response - about 2,000 views, and was reviewed in the press and on radio. We also submitted two performance videos for participation in the International Arts Festival by ISI Yogyakarta, Indonesia, and the Swan Festival of Lights, Perth, Australia - keeping our international profile relevant in these tough times. This was especially important as we were unable to travel anywhere. Myself, as the Artistic Director, presented talks at "Grey Lines" hosted by Singapore, "Dancing Opportunities" by Rotary Club, "Online Teaching and Learning" by Sunway University, while continuing to write essays and papers on the work of ADC. The most recent yet-to-be-published "Forging Traditional Dance in Malaysia" will be out in the Online Journal of Chinese University HK.

ADC continues to engage with Malaysians and international audiences through webinars and online programmes whenever possible, and use these opportunities to learn more about the arts industry as well as other aspects, where there is a lot of room for improvement.  

Now that ADC is recognised by the Sports, Co-curricular and Arts division of the Ministry of Education (MOE), how has the reception for the FT workshops been among students?

This was indeed a huge accomplishment and took several months of meetings and negotiations. The recognition of the programme by MOE is invaluable and gives it more credibility. The participation and certification may be used to obtain credits towards students' co-curriculum marks. However, ADC noticed a reduction in the participation numbers compared to the physical sessions. In the online version, participants are required to do self-practice first and are given online dance lessons. However, while some participants are able to work independently, others may find this to be too challenging and decide to hang up their dancing shoes.
As a dance company in Malaysia that pioneered in providing free online dance lessons and assessments, what are some of the pros and cons of delivering the classes, workshops and assessments online?

There are in fact many advantages in learning online - the main one is that learning is self-determined. You can decide the speed at which you wish to work, where and when you wish to engage with the learning. However, this needs discipline and maturity (besides the talent to dance). Across the world in this time, people are forming online learning communities and connecting with people from across the globe. This international connection costs nothing and the entire world opens up to us.

The drawback of the online learning is primarily internet accessibility, and perhaps working from mobile phones with small screens. This is not easy to do as the participants could miss the details. One other thing is that traditional dance is so much about community and participating as a group with all the joy that the interaction brings. Since dance is very tactile, and a deep sensory experience, much of this can be lost when delivered online especially to the novice.  

Apart from the COVID-19 restrictions, what are some of the toughest obstacles in the work that you do, and what motivates you to overcome them?

It is difficult to contextualise the challenges as there are so many - it appears that every aspect of life in the arts is challenging. Nothing is easy - it comes with pain, sweat, tears and sometimes, even blood. Dancers and artists are like athletes. I like to say that we are "athletes of art" and because of that this machine or instrument, which is our body is finite, and yet we go on pushing it to our limits. So, there are very physical and mental challenges from the get-go - we can be as good as we want to be. Then the challenge is to make the audience realise that this is hard work, and we have invested so much of time, effort and money into it, that we would like them to appreciate the arts, to love it, to watch it, to patronise it. This is hard because Malaysia is not particularly an arts loving nation. The infrastructure is limited, it is not accessible. The list of challenges is just endless. However, our motivation is our passion - to share what we love and what we believe that we are good at.

What are your hopes and dreams for ADC and Malaysia’s performing arts landscape?

My hopes and dreams (and what I have been working towards all my adult life) is to see Malaysian arts on the global stage - not just at Tourism Fairs or Trade Shows but at the international theatres hosting us as artists. I want to see our Makyung, Bangsawan or Randai being played to audiences. I want to see ADC play a significant role in this international propagation of Malaysian arts while ensuring that every Malaysian knows his/her traditional arts. I would love for all cities to have their own theatre district so that everyone knows where to find it.

For ADC, I would hope that we could become more self-sustaining especially that our Dance Centre can fund itself, its teachers and all overheads. I would love it if we had our own independent space that is very accessible via public transport and producing work which the audiences are desperate to watch. I wait for the day that Malaysians and international audiences are fighting to get tickets to performances staged by us.

Behind the scenes of online workshops for the public to learn traditional Malay dance

Reviving traditional Malay dance via online learning and teaching

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Last Updated:
05 Oct 2021
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