By Samantha Koh
When Banyan Hall resident Low Ker Yang, 22, decided to sign up for hall dance during his hall’s welcome dinner, he knew he would be venturing into the unknown. Banyan did not have a dance team at the time, and hall residents like himself would have to be the ones to kickstart this co-curricular activity (CCA).
The second-year Renaissance Engineering Programme (REP) student said: “We started as a group of strangers and most of us had no prior dance background. We simply wanted to step out of our comfort zones and try something new in university.”
In the new Tamarind and North Hill halls — namely, Binjai, Banyan and Tanjong halls — where distinct hall cultures have yet to be formed, residents such as Low have stepped up to form their own CCAs in a bid to foster a sense of community.
The North Hill halls opened in 2016 while Tamarind Hall opened in 2017. Since then, residents have stepped up to initiate CCAs such as dance and jam band, overcoming challenges such as a lack of experienced members and equipment.
All in this together
Banyan Hall’s dance team, IntoXXIcate, started out when a group of residents with no prior experience in dance decided to form a crew during the hall’s welcome week last year.
They learned how to dance with the help of an external coach whom they hired with funding from their JCRC.
Although the team was passionate about dancing, they did not have enough dancers to participate in this year’s Hall Olympiad Closing Ceremony (HOCC), which was held on 25 Feb, just five months after the dance group’s formation.
Low, IntoXXIcate’s dance captain, said: “We were rather lost as we had no hall seniors to seek advice from. We didn’t even know about the common dance locations.”
“Thankfully, some of us had seniors from other halls who had been in hall dance, and they really helped us build our dance team from scratch,” Low added.
IntoXXIcate has performed at Banyan Hall’s Cultural Night and this year’s Freshman Orientation Programme.
“We intoxicated our audience with our dance moves in those performances,” Low quipped.
The team also learnt a lot from the experience, in terms of dance skills and working with one another, he added.
A year after its formation, the team is now more familiar with NTU’s dance scene and is ready to impart their skills to the incoming freshmen.
The dance group, which started with 30 members a year ago, has now doubled in size with the influx of freshmen and Low is hopeful that they will compete in HOCC next year.
“We may not be as established as the older hall dance teams or have as many dancers, but our small size has made us a very close-knit family.”
Back to the basics
Tanjong Hall’s dance crew, Royals, was the first of the three North Hill halls to take part in HOCC.
Royals had a bumper crop of 60 members in its pioneer batch, making them the fourth largest crew among the 19 participating halls, said JCRC president Thomas Lam.
Their recruitment success could be attributed to the captains’ goal of creating a nurturing environment for everyone to learn, said its members.
Dance crew member Shermaine Sng, 20, said: “The captains emphasised that it is a completely safe platform where beginners are welcomed.”
This made it less daunting to learn dance at Tanjong Hall as compared to learning it in an external school, the second-year Wee Kim Wee School of Communication and Information (WKWSCI) student added.
Since the dance crew consisted mainly of dancers with no prior experience, their main challenge was learning how to dance from scratch.
With the help of their dance captains and an external coach, most of their time was spent practising basic skills. They also had to polish their moves and cultivate an attitude of discipline, as dance rehearsals could last until 4am.
Royals eventually finished in 17th place at HOCC this year.
Royals’ dance captain, second-year REP student Yao Cheng Hui, 22, said: “Watching the video of us finally performing on stage during HOCC was pretty amazing. Seeing the piece we presented, I remembered every single practice we had before that day.”
Two is better than one
With a strong passion for music, Binjai Hall resident Darren Toh, 24, sought to form the hall’s inaugural jam band. He spent 10 hours over the course of two days borrowing equipment and holding auditions in September 2017.
Despite initial concerns that only a few residents would sign up, the auditions attracted close to 15 people, a number large enough to form two bands— Eleven and 2ply.
Even with sufficient members, though, the two bands went without proper equipment for almost a year, said Toh, a second-year computer science student.
“Every week, around five members, including myself, would bring our equipment from home. We brought our own guitar amplifiers and instruments to our music room so that we could practise.”
Despite these obstacles, the bands bonded over home-cooked suppers after their four hour-long practice sessions, he added.
The members started with just a public address (PA) system and two microphones. Over the year, they acquired a full set of band instruments after receiving funds from the Student Affairs Office.
Since it was formed a year ago, members from both bands have racked up a steady record of performances, at FUSE, a joint-hall music festival; MyStage at Northspine; and North Hill’s own jam band showcase, Rocking in the North (RITN).
“To be honest, I feel very relieved that it worked out. I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to shoulder such a huge responsibility because I was just a freshman,” Toh said.
“I am very glad to have met many like-minded musicians who have made it an enjoyable journey for me.”
Meanwhile, Tamarind Hall’s jam band started from a Telegram group chat.
Last year, some residents who were interested in music created a Telegram group, occasionally meeting up to jam. Keyboardist David Pei, a second-year student from the School of Social Sciences, was one of the 18 members in the chat.
The 22-year-old said: “We met once in a while in the first semester to jam together, but it was purely recreational. After a few sessions, we became more bonded and in-sync with one another.”
The Straw Hats was formed as the official jam band of Tamarind Hall earlier this year.
Even though the jam band did not lack musical talent, it faced difficulties in finding permanent members.
Tamarind Hall’s Cultural Secretary Nandika Lodh, 20, who oversees the band, said: “Many people were not interested in committing to the jam band in the long term, so we were missing a bassist and a drummer.”
Some of the jam band members resorted to recruiting musicians from their old halls in order to complete Tamarind Hall’s band.
“We were lucky to have members from other jam bands who were willing to step in and help. Without them, we would have missed out on a lot of opportunities to perform,” Pei said.
Like Binjai Hall’s jam band, The Straw Hats had to purchase its equipment on a tight budget. It took them almost a year to get a full set of instruments, as they had to wait for funding from their JCRC.
“I was a bit anxious because the equipment was essential for practices. Without them, my members couldn’t get a sense of how they would sound like in a live setting,” said Pei.
“This is quite important when playing in a live band where members have to be able to hear each other’s parts,” she added.
But the band eventually managed to obtain the necessary instruments and perform on stage, participating in RITN and FUSE.
Initially, the members doubted their own musical abilities as they had never performed together in public before but they overcame their fears and put on successful performances.
Lodh said: “Performing at these concerts, and performing well, was one of the greatest achievements in the past year. This year, we hope to perform at more events and become a better band.”
United as one
The residents’ willingness to step up in their new CCAs have helped the new halls build their unique identities, said JCRC members.
As the halls’ JCRCs spent a lot of time planning events and getting the halls up and running, there was no time to focus on fostering hall culture, said Lee Hui Min, 20, Tamarind Hall’s Publicity and Publication (PNP) Secretary, a second-year WKWSCI student.
However, the JCRCs were supportive of residents who wanted to set up their own CCAs. They provided the necessary funding and encouraged more residents to join these CCAs. They also organised events such as RITN, which gave Tamarind-North Hill hall residents a platform to showcase their talents.
“New halls are harder to nurture, so we have collaborated with the JCRCs of other halls,” Banyan Hall’s PNP Secretary, Catherine Tan, 20, a second-year student from the School of Physical and Mathematical Sciences said.
“We share the same goal of ensuring that our residents do not become hall phantoms.”