Educating Not for the Present Moment, But Striving for the Future
(Left) Joey Ho, Choreographer and Teacher of Hibiscus Dance Company; (Right) Lina Lin, Choreographer and Teacher of Po Leung Kuk Tang Yuk Tien College Dance Team; 攝 Photo: Ka Lam
Many contenders thirst for affirmation of their efforts in competitions. In the Bauhinia Cup Dance Championships 2018 (The Bauhinia Cup) held in August, Lina Lin, with her work Collapsing, led students of Po Leung Kuk Tang Yuk Tien College to sweep the Gold Award in Ensemble Performance in The Bauhinia Cup, Gold Award in Ensemble and Outstanding Choreography Award in The Bauhinia Cup International Dance Championships, and Overall Champion of The Bauhinia Cup. Another competitor, Hibiscus Dance Company (Hibiscus Group), became the winner of Gold Award in Ensemble Originality Section of the Junior Bauhinia Cup Dance Championships 2018 and Overall Champion of the Junior Bauhinia Cup with Love & Light, an original choreography by Joey Ho. After the competition, the two choreographers and several of their young dancers sat together and learned from each other. They shared their stories of striving, perseverance, and persistence in dance.
林昭蓉作品《崩情城市》Lina Lin’s Collapsing; 攝Photo: Henry Wong
何祖宜作品《愛與光》Joey Ho’s Love & Light; 攝Photo: Henry Wong
Bringing Hopes to Everyone
Is achieving multiple awards within your expectations?
“Of course we hoped for satisfactory results in joining the contest,” Ho spoke frankly, “but I never demanded students to achieve any sort of awards; rather, I hoped for them to realize their full potential while enjoying dancing.”
“Since The Bauhinia Cup is a rather professional dance competition, we joined the contest with the attitude to learn, and winning awards was not the only item on our list. I intended to let students see their standard of dancing.” said Ho. Lin continued, “They [the students] had mostly participated in Schools Dance Festival, so their exposure was with students of the same grade. The Bauhinia Cup enriched their experience as they performed on the same stage as professional Hong Kong dance groups of different ages and levels, allowing them to see the various levels of the dance industry in Hong Kong.”
Teachers naturally want to give the best to their students. Ho’s Love & Light was an expression of love and warmth to children. “I thought of a similar theme a few years ago. It came up again as I happened to join the contest.”
So how did you brew the piece and let the ideas ferment?
According to Ho, the concept originated from reflections on teaching a group of children musical dance in Malawi, East Africa in 2015. “There were a dozen teens, and a few as young as four to five years old. They were all orphans whose parents passed away a long time ago. Although they had neither learnt singing nor dancing before, they were very talented and committed. In the end, they managed to learn to perform a forty-five-minute musical dance in just two weeks, and I was deeply impressed.”
“Once when we were eating at the canteen, a few orphans who had just been admitted to the shelter came in. A social worker gave them white rice, but they refused to eat. They said that they had never seen white rice and were afraid to eat. Again I was moved by this,” Ho said emotionally, “the children there brought me moving feelings and thoughts about life; plus, at that time, several cases of child abuse in Hong Kong came to light, and I decided to create a piece to express love.”
何祖宜（前排右一）所教授的東非馬拉威學生在2016年1月到赴港演出 Joey Ho’s (First from the right of the first row) students from Malawi, East Africa visited Hong Kong to perform in January 2016. 圖片由何祖宜提供Photo provided by Joey Ho.
何祖宜作品《愛與光》Joey Ho’s Love & Light; 攝Photo: Henry Wong
“I always think that if everyone on earth is pessimistic, people around them will become gloomy too; we are usually happier when we are around joyful people. Similarly, if we can give love and light to people around us, we can make them gradually feel better.”
Talking about “love”, Lin said she came from Taiwan to Hong Kong for her career 26 years ago. She always says that she has been lucky for encountering many helping hands in Hong Kong. Collapsing was a work triggered by her feelings towards Hong Kong and people living in this metropolis. “The first impression of Hong Kong was profound as I came from a rather rural place in Taiwan. It was 1992 when I came to Hong Kong, and the skyscrapers impressed me at once. I went to Central to see the tall buildings and beautiful night view, but it did not feel warm, as it was a cold city with robotic people.” That was why she chose square wooden boxes to express the spiky and stiff impression of urbanites, as well as the angry noise of beating the boxes. Inspired by movies, she even designed a movement with an open palm entwining the back of the neck, gazing at the audience with indifferent eyes, giving a feeling of fierce hunting and rivalry in the city.
“However, I also do not think very negatively!” Lin added immediately, “because I have run into many supportive friends here, and this is the bright side of my impression of Hong Kong. Therefore, the boxes are lit up in the end to highlight the optimism of the urban night view in Hong Kong, bringing hopes to everyone.”
林昭蓉作品《崩情城市》Lina Lin’s Collapsing; 攝Photo: Henry Wong
I Give Trust to You
Speaking of choreographing for secondary school students, Lin said, “Usually I will think of some movements, but students may not be able to do them and I have to try integrate with their bodies. Sometimes only one out of ten things prepared can be achieved. Therefore, I have to trust them very much, and let the dance become theirs. If the moves are forced and do not adjust to their bodies, it becomes deadly stiff on stage. So I have to trust their bodies, work from scratch, and take a long time to adjust.” Lin thought that by standing on stage, students should present themselves with a professional attitude, and so she trained them as professional dancers, and would not view them as amateurs simply because they were young.
So, how much time do you spend on rehearsals?
The silent students promptly joined the conversation, “We have to rehearse every week. Each rehearsal lasts for three hours……or even six hours during the summer vacation…… there are three to four rehearsals a week as the competition gets closer!” Lin instantly wrinkled her nose and complained to us, “Their t-shirts stank!” They all laughed as Lin spoke.
Dance Team of Po Leung Kuk Tang Yuk Tien College; (from left) Leung Chun-mo, Ian, teacher Ho Sau-chi, choreographer Lina Lin, Cindy, Alvin, and Kelly; 攝Photo: Ka Lam
Students usually try to avoid skipping rehearsals, don't they?
“I don't demand that they should not request days off. Since they had chosen dance, they should not take leave on the day of rehearsal. They are self-disciplined, or else they may be scolded!” Rather unexpectedly, Lin could be stern with students.
A positive learning atmosphere was also crucial. “Because they liked dancing, students took the initiative to stretch for warm up before rehearsals. The younger ones mimicked the diligence of the senior students, and it was that peer influence that made today's fruitful results possible.” Ho said, “When we were preparing for the competition, a student’s mother mistakenly signed up for a travel tour. The student cried and demanded rearranging as she would rather participate in the competition than travel. Luckily, the contest was scheduled the day before traveling. This simply showed how much the student loved dancing.” What a valuable experience for a young student to be aware and willing to bear the responsibility to achieve the goal.
A successful work needs not only a competent choreographer but also cooperation from performers. Therefore, Lin first shared her feelings, experiences, and insights in life with students through music. She thought that it was not difficult to coach movements with the students; what made it a challenge was to build the energy that would attract the audience. “After all, the students were still young. Without life experiences, they needed training in capturing the audience.”
“All this needed training and hardwork. They came in sync naturally after training together for a long time, becoming in tune in terms of emotions and dynamics.” The students unanimously recognized the importance of listening to the music. “Generally the teacher may not tell us directly the theme of the whole dance; rather, she asked about our feelings during rehearsals and talked about the emotions represented in a simple move, and we slowly felt our way into certain feelings and meanings. If our direction was right, the teacher would inform us, ‘Yes, that is the feeling,’ and let us develop. We called the movements using our names because they were developed from our ideas.”
Dance Team of Po Leung Kuk Tang Yuk Tien College; (Clockwise from top left) Ian, Leung Chun-mo, Alvin, Cindy, Kelly, choreographer Lina Lin, teacher Ho Sau-chi; 攝Photo: Ka Lam
A Little Difference to You
Undoubtedly, dance can provide students with an all-round humanities education. However, there are distinct differences between the dance education in Hong Kong and Taiwan.
“Only when there is support from school principals, as well as a dedicated teacher to help these young dancers, can the schools dance community in Hong Kong thrive.” Lin explained, “Taiwan has its own dance culture. From primary to secondary schools, there are experimental dance classes, so children start and continue to dance from junior school, which is different from Hong Kong, where one truly starts to learn to dance at the Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts (HKAPA). The road of learning to dance in Taiwan is straightforward, but it is stop-start in Hong Kong. There is no easy pathway for children who desire to dance as a vocation; it is too late when they are enrolled in the HKAPA to become a professional.”
林昭蓉 Lina Lin; 攝Photo: Ka Lam
“In Taiwan, children will not be classified when they receive dance education. They learn ballet, contemporary dance, Chinese dance, martial arts, etc; they need to learn everything in both primary and secondary schools until they can declare a specific dance major in college. Therefore, many schools will hire part-time dance tutors, providing employment opportunities to dance graduates. This is unattainable in Hong Kong, as parents here put studies and expertise at the top of their agenda, and never consider the artistic aspect.” After teaching in numerous junior schools and seeing many parents prohibiting children from dancing when they had to make a choice, Lin found it an enormous contrast to Taiwan.
After all, it is about the future prospects of the children. Students in this interview stated that they were really fond of dancing, but when asked whether they would develop it as a career, they saw it merely as a hobby. According to a male student, time management was of utmost significance to convince parents that dancing would not burden academics. “I had to show that I was responsible enough to make them permit me to keep dancing. I have not thought about the future, but will continue to engage in it as a relaxing activity.”
(From Left) Joey Ho and members of Hibiscus Group members Alvin, Joy, and Hailey; 攝Photo: Ka Lam
Lin reckoned that “time” is the most deficient in Hong Kong education. There is no time for children to dance when they have to prioritize other things, yet they want to dance. She said profoundly, “Parents ‘want’ but are not willing to ‘give’ time. Many parents of primary school students want certain certificates for higher competitiveness in secondary school admission; notwithstanding, they are reluctant to allot time to dancing, which is very conflicting, and exposes the lack of respect for the arts in Hong Kong education!”
“As a result, teaching secondary school students is happier, as they are better at time management. Being more mature, they can also understand your thoughts; I may reflect on myself when I berate them.”
Apart from being a dance practitioner, can dance bring students some differences to their future?
“I once met a student with outstanding academic performance. Her parents were extremely strict and demanded her to get really good grades; they even sent her abroad to study law. Her study was marvelous; yet, she was zealous about dancing and had never thought of giving it up. When she was studying junior high school, she even continued dancing without her parents’ acknowledgement, and quarreled with them over taking part in performances for many times. In the end, she became a lawyer. There were many candidates competing for the position, and the company settled on her among the pool of prominent students. It was because the company saw the ability to dance in her, and associated it with ability to flexible handling with legal cases.” To Ho, this is a feature of dance students. Although dancing may not become a career, it can make different from others.
As the Artistic Director of the Hibiscus Group, Ho does not allow students to train only for examinations. Instead, she encourages them to learn diversified dances styles, to persist with training, and to participate in overseas competitions every year, so that they can broaden their horizons, and learn with humility. As she said, “The fruits of hard work are borne in the future but not the present, and we cannot just have our eyes on the very instant!”