in Final Project, Process, Research

Frames Dancing: An Interview with Isabel, Dancer

Artist Profile (Isabel Phua) Retrieved from LaSalle website

Isabel is pursuing a BA(Hons) in Dance in LASALLE College of the Arts. Isabel has been dancing ballet since the age of 6 and has experience in classic and street jazz, chinese dance and contemporary dance. She was taught by ballet masters Cheng Hsien Fa and Jeffrey Tan. During her time in LASALLE College of the Arts, she had solos in a full-length work, Iris (2016), by Christina Chan and Aymeric Bichon, Patterns (2017) by Albert Tiong and an excerpt of Silences we are familiar with (2018) by Kuik Swee Boon. She has also worked with international choreographers such as Barbara Matijevic (Croatia), Chey Chankethya (Cambodia) and Martin Schick (Switzerland). She has an interest in understanding the way nutrition affects the performer and intends to further her study in this area upon graduation. In keeping with this, she has been researching how to improve aerobic fitness in pre-professional Singaporean contemporary dancers through a fitness-training program that she designed. She wishes to use her research to educate dancers on the correlation between nutrition and the body.

We had an hour long conversation in Lowercase in LaSalle and I transcripted the interview. Keywords and important notes are coloured and bolded. 

Interview Questions (Isabel)

1. Can you give me a brief introduction in dance?
Commercial dances can be fast, and it can be slow too. It can be big, showy as well.
Non-commercial dance style is more abstract. It is more challenging and it deals with more emotions and more body awareness is needed. The dancer requires to understand their body better.

2. What are the few dance styles that are frequently seen in Singapore?
Contemporary, hip hop, ballet.
Ballet is more classical, standard, comes from French court dance. Very regimental, can’t go down to the floor. Upright and there’s a straight line. Ballet still has a fluidity, though lines are fixed, it is still very fluid. just that it’s a very fixed structure.

After time passes, ballet becomes modern dance, and it breaks what the classical dance is. Instead of being upright, they go to the fall. After modern comes post-modern which questions what dance really is. After post-modern comes contemporary: Breaking the rules.

3. Is there a specific culture and country that contemporary dance belongs to?
No there isn’t. Contemporary dance can be anything. Does not belong to any country or region. Depends on what they want to express, or trained in.

Korea and Japan has a vibrant contemporary dance culture.

In Singapore, our contemporary dance tends to be very much influenced by Chinese, Malay, Indian dance styles. Hence, the principles behind it, are somewhat low, grounded, spiracle and circular. A little similar to Taichi. Indian dance is always bent, grounded. Their movements tends to be lower and grounded. American would be more modern, and lines oriented. Still using a lot of ballet technique.

4. Is there a ‘better’ dance?
To each his own. Isabel loves ballet.

5. How does dance express one’s self individuality?
The dancer has to reach upon a maturity where she can express a state of mind. She is able to show what she wants to show. There has to be a lot of training, and self-awareness. Performances are usually more mentally drained than physically drained. Experimental work goes more into thinking, and what state you are in.

Note: Isabel was recently in Venice for a dance program. 24 preludes with different states and she taps into different states.

“When I’m angry, express anger on stage, I tap on specific body parts to channel energy. It becomes a physical kind of. Emotions are very physical. The state of your body can inform your emotional health.”

6. Do you think dance as an expression is able to bring out the mood/authenticity of a place? Eg. if we were to shoot you dancing in a place of opulence, how will the dance style and movements differ from, say in a quaint and quiet place like a kampong?
Yes, it will affect. If you want the dancer to be affected, you can. The dancer can contrast the dance mood against the background as well. Depends on the artistic direction.

7. Do you agree that a dance performance/expression should be seen live instead of on screen?

8. If the medium is limited to screen only, how would you advise the film/dance could be improve to bring out the expressions and emotions intended?
Facial expression connects with people better. Also incorporate more human movement. When she wants to express a happy feeling, she would do an open kind of gesture with much body movement. To show depression or depressive vibes. She can show more side view, more down.

9. Does the dancer require music in order to dance?
The dancer does not have to have music or move in the relation to the music. The challenges come when the dancers have to dance in silence or against the music. It’s not hard for experienced dancers. Dancers listen to their body and the energy that affects them. Just like how any other stimulus will affect you. There is a theory of how the audience affects each other. Look for images, sounds, words that would affect the dancers’ mood.
Research: Daniel Kok. Independent artist. Director of Dance Nucleus

10. What is one aspect of dance that you’d like people to know more about?
Anyone can dance. Dance is for the soul. I’d be dead if I cannot dance because I simply can’t live without dance. In fact, you’re dancing all the time in life. Anything can be a performance. If I can’t dance, I can’t move. Even simple gesture can be a dance. Even sitting on this chair, talking to you, I’ve been moving non-stop. That is dance. It makes you feel alive.

11. Do you think there is sufficient exposure for Singapore dancers?
Making dance a career is tough. The government don’t really care about the art as general and they use it as a political agenda. If you use art, it’s more political stable. Non-commercial dancers can’t do exactly what they want. If they want funding or grant, there is a certain quotas to meet, and certain outreach to do. Do pro-bronc. Community becomes very niche. In Singapore, art is curated.

I’d think that the public is already wired to see dance in a way. Non-commercial would not thrive. Public would think they still don’t understand. It’s art for art sake. There is a barrier in communication as they are not aiming the general public. In London, it’s almost always full. Singapore’s market is not big enough. In Singapore, the tickets are not very expensive. Black box, $20. Esplanade, $40-$50. $20 – $70. It is very accessible.


move rhythmically to music, typically following a set sequence of steps.
(of a person) move in a quick and lively way.

a series of steps and movements that match the speed and rhythm of a piece of music.

(Extracted from

This project could be an evolution in the understanding of dance. Based on the dictionary, a dance is understood as to ‘move rhythmically to music, typically following a set sequence of steps.” In my research, I’m trying to explore the execution of dance without a music stimulus. 

Following the interview, I accompanied Isabel to attend a dance class conducted by Susan Sentler. I observed that dance is not simply involve the literal movement of the body. It also require the dancer to gain a certain sense of understanding of their surrounding and how they are affected by various stimulus to execute a certain kind of movement. In actuality, depending on your definition of dancing, everybody can be dancing all the time.

This exploration became even more interesting for me because as much as I realised that a single movement can be considered as a dance move, sound notes strung together could represent music.