Long-time Malay dance performer Dina Nerina loves the opportunity provided by Chingay to learn the dance of another culture and also to perform – and it has become a family bonding time of sorts.
Her first Chingay performance turned out to be a dizzying experience, and not because it was different from the traditional Malay dances she was used to. For Dina, taking on the Qiao Hua Dan Chinese dance meant wearing a headpiece with a feather attached on top - and it was very tight and heavy!
The 29-year-old Community Programmes Manager’s performing experience at Chingay began in 2014 and has become an extension of herself as a Singaporean living in a multicultural society.
“During the practice sessions, we were the only Malays there and we felt very welcome. Overall, an amazing experience. I remember not having enough time to practice. But it actually turned out very successful and was a very memorable experience for me.”
How It All Started
Ms Dina started dancing at 4 years old after her mother enrolled her in the Sri Warisan Performing Arts school. From there, her passion for dance grew exponentially.
“Dancing is definitely a big part of my life right now,” she says. “Even with a fulltime job, I still do dance for quite a bit so that I can perform.”
Her dance teacher got her involved in Chingay so that they could experience being in the parade, and this has become a life-changing experience.
Embracing Chingay and Family Bonding
Ms Dina shares her Chingay performing experience with her sister and niece.
“We have a shared passion for dance and there was this opportunity for us to dance at Chingay, so we decided to do it together. The added family time before and after practices also became a bonus for us and it ultimately became a very enjoyable experience for us.
“Apart from it taking place during the Chinese New Year season, and being asked to perform a Chinese dance, being able to learn different dances made it very interesting.
“Every time I perform for Chingay, I get the opportunity to learn a new form of Chinese dance that originated from a different province in China. The time I get to spend with my sister and niece is another factor. I think we get too caught up with work so sometimes it’s hard to get to spend time with family. So now Chingay has become the perfect opportunity for me to bond with my sister and my niece as well as do what we love – dancing.”
For Ms Dina, remembering positions is one of the greatest challenges performing in Chingay. That, and the weather.
“As you know, Chingay is performed in a very big space and it is also performed live,” she notes. “That sometimes can be very pressurising. However, I realised that as long as I perform my best, I feel that it does not matter as I know I tried my best and enjoyed myself.
“Rehearsals are also done in open air spaces and sometimes the weather in Singapore is unforgiving so it can get very, very hot. We also have to repeat the same routine again and again during rehearsals so it became a challenge. But all that is forgotten during the actual performances, as the weather does not really hinder us from performing our best.”
Then there is the opportunity to make new friends from diverse racial and cultural backgrounds, learning and sharing along the way. Especially when her troupe of about 30-40 dancers are the only Malays from the combined contingent of 200-300.
Says Ms Dina, “Sometimes, when we go for rehearsals, there will be a lot of chit-chat where we end up learning a lot about each other’s cultures. I have met many Chinese friends who I keep in contact with till this day because of Chingay.”
Hopes and Dreams For Chingay
“My dream for Chingay is to be able to see more cross-cultural opportunities,” Ms Dina shares. “For example, more Malay dancers performing Chinese dance, more Chinese dancers performing Indian dance and so on. I think there’s a lot of value in learning dances from different cultures. Not only does it diversify your view towards certain cultures, it also improves your skills as a dancer all in all.
“I think the future in Chingay is definitely continuing to involve participants of different ages – children, to youths, to senior citizens. Chingay will become a very good platform for them to share experiences and bond. We can also use this time to stay active and definitely also to embrace the Chingay spirit of togetherness.”