By Shirley Tay
Megan Tan spends her Sunday nights practising dance routines in the Research Techno Plaza (RTP) carpark.
The second-year student from the Wee Kim Wee School of Communication and Information is part of Hall of Residence 2’s dance team, Bionic. Traditionally, the team would hold their dance practices in the comfort of RTP’s air-conditioned main lobby, practising four times a week, seven hours each time, in preparation for the Hall Olympiad Closing Ceremony (HOCC).
Scheduled to take place at the end of February, HOCC is a prize-giving ceremony-cum-dance competition which marks the end of the inter-hall sports and recreational games.
However, with a record 19 teams taking part in this year’s HOCC, and the increasing size of these teams, the competition for practice space is fiercer than ever.
Dance teams from Halls 7 and 12 have taken to using the same venue, pushing Bionic to venture into the carpark for their Sunday night-practices.
While Tan sees it as “a weekly push that will help build the strength of the team”, she maintains that the carpark is not conducive for dancing.
“The floor is extremely rough and dirty. We have to be careful of cuts and friction burns, especially as we have floorwork in our routine this year. Many of my friends, including myself, have suffered from bruises from practicing in the carpark,” she said.
“When cars enter, we have to take extra precaution to watch out for them and avoid them, which disrupts practice,” she added.
“We do wish we had our own dance room with ample space for us to practice in. It would be more conducive for practices and give us a safe space to bond together.”
Size does matter
Bionic is not alone in its struggle to find a venue to practice for the upcoming HOCC.
Over the years, hall dance groups have outgrown their studios, especially when it comes to practices targeted at dance formations.
The capacity of dance studios vary — studios built in older halls like Halls 1 and 2 can fit around 10 dancers, while newer ones in Pioneer Hall can fit up to 30. However, even the bigger dance studios have proved to be too small for practices where formations are needed.
Bionic, with 33 dancers this year, up from 28 last year, has never used the Hall 2 studio for HOCC practices.
“The studio can only fit approximately 12 dancers. However, since the size of the team has always been far too big, we have always ventured out to external venues such as RTP for practice,” said Pearly Tan, Bionic’s former dance captain.
Hall 10’s dance team, Soulmix, has also seen an increase in dancers to 57 from just 34 last year.
As such, the RTP, the School of Biological Sciences (SBS) and the Experimental Medicine Building (EMB) have become popular destinations among dance groups for practice.
These venues have areas suitable for dance-formation purposes, namely the open collaboration space on the 3rd floor of EMB and the open space in front of the NTU Chinese Medicine Clinic at SBS. These areas are sheltered and large enough to recreate the space the dancers will be allowed at the Nanyang Auditorium.
One size can’t fit all
Binjai Hall, Banyan Hall and Tamarind Hall’s dance teams are are not participating in this year’s competition due to an insufficient number of members, while the other Nanyang Crescent Halls do not have a dance team.
“All the vice-captains and captains of the 19 halls are part of a WhatsApp chat group (created a number of years back by Hall 7 and 8’s dance captains) specially used to deconflict venues for practice,” said Stanley Lai, the vice-captain of Pioneer Hall’s dance team.
Dance captains usually state their preferred venue, practice dates and time before they proceed to deconflict the venue with other groups who have indicated interest to use the same venue, on the same day.
“For venues like SBS, EMB, and RTP, two to three dance teams can use it for practice at the same time. However, since there are usually four teams who want to use the same venue on the same day, we deconflict it such that each hall gets an equal number of times a week at the same venue,” Lai added.
School dance clubs such as NTU MJ Hip Hop and NTU Breakers also share the aforementioned venues to prepare for the upcoming Joint Dance Concert scheduled to happen in April.
With an average of two to four dance groups frequenting each venue every night for their respective practices, overcrowding is inevitable, which decreases the quality of practices.
Rachel Lim, the vice-captain of Hall 10’s Soulmix, said that squeezing with other dance groups is stressful.
“Some halls have large crew sizes, and with loud music playing everywhere, it is hard for us to train properly,” she said.
Not a “free-for-all”
Management in certain school buildings such as SBS and EMB have also clamped down on dance teams, citing reasons such as the inappropriate rearrangement of school property.
The Apollo’s Dream art installation, the Lee Kong Chian School of Medicine’s first commissioned piece of public art, and other furniture were constantly moved by dancers during their practices, said the spokesperson of the school, Ms Siti Rohanah Koid.
“This art piece is extremely fragile as it is made of clay. These fixed items have also been carefully placed there, with a lot of thought going into design and space allocation,” she said.
Cases of indiscriminate disposal of rubbish by dancers at the venue, and noise complaints by the office and lab staff were also reported by Ms Rohanah.
But noise would inevitably be created during group practices such as these, said Hall 9’s dance captain Xenia Tan.
“During one of the practices during recess week at the medicine building, I was counting and not playing any music, but staff told us to quieten down because this was a shared space,” she said.
Cloud Nine, Hall 9’s dance team, eventually left the venue and moved to the bridge connecting SBS and EMB to practice.
Ms Rohanah emphasised that dancers are not banned from using the space for their practices. However, they have to use it respectfully with careful consideration for the main users of the building — researchers, students and faculty, as well as the cafe operator O’Briens.
Similarly, at SBS, the noise created by dancers have disrupted lessons that are held in the school’s lecture theatre. Furthermore, SBS is not suitable for dancing, as the tiles are slippery and accidents may happen, said Mr Ray Chong, the Project Manager of Building Facilities.
“Most importantly, we are concerned for the safety of the dancers more than anything else. If the students insist that they want to practice there, they should have a risk assessment taken and submitted to the Office of Health, Safety and Emergency,” said Mr Chong.
However, the SBS flooring is the most comfortable and conducive for dancing compared to the other venues available, said Pioneer Hall’s Lai.
“It is really just about making do with what we have, even though it might not be the best,” he said.
Ang Wei Qing, captain of Hall 8’s dance team and the champions of last year’s HOCC, believes that the school could help the dance community by allowing the use of more venues for practice, such as the Nanyang Auditorium foyer and multiple courts in indoor sports halls.
Performing at HOCC is important in contributing back to the history and culture of every hall, and more support should be given to dance teams, said Seah Cheng, who is not a dancer but often sees dancers practising at SBS and Canopy K after class.
“Walking past dancers during their practices at SBS has always been a spectacle to me — it is just like walking through the streets of New York City. Just like how street magic and busking adds to the life of New York City, dancers add vibrancy to our school life,” said the third-year student from the Asian School of the Environment.