Dancer Brings Iconic Spots In Singapore To Life With Gravity-Defying Moves
When I ask Chan Chao Peng (CP, for short) how he got into dance, he answers, “I think dance got me!”
During his polytechnic days, he wanted to enrol in a sports-related CCA but didn’t make the cut after two try-outs. Disappointed, he decided to audition for the hip-hop crew, but missed out on that opportunity as well because there were already too many auditionees.
“By chance, another girl from my class dragged me along for a contemporary dance audition, and from then on, my journey with dance started,” CP recalls. “I had no clue how to dance; I couldn’t even catch any choreography!”
During the audition, he imitated dancers from “So You Think You Can Dance” and leveraged on the flexibility he gained from Chinese martial arts he learnt as a kid. “I was literally kicking my legs and flinging my arms!”
The 23-year-old dancer has been making waves on Instagram recently by posting photographs of himself leaping and doing the splits in public spaces such as Jewel Changi Airport, Helix Bridge and National Gallery Singapore.
We speak to this agile artist and ask him about his passion for dance, and how he captures these amazing shots.
What do you love about dance?
What’s not to love about dance! Dance is something so intrinsic, so raw, yet abstract and purposeful. The immense mental and physical fortitude needed of dancers to be disciplined is one of the greatest beauties of dance. Dance is more than just an art form. The physicality of dance also makes it an intense sport. For someone like me who loves music and movement, that’s the reason I love this art form.
What are some of the biggest misconceptions about dance?
I think many might think dance is all about feeling good and looking good, but to me, it is built from sweat, tears and pain - a lot of pain! The hardship dancers go through, and challenges that we have to overcome and break through - these are what make dance special. The journey as a dancer, that is what matters most to me.
How did you come up with these concepts of leaping/doing dance moves in public spaces?
To be honest, I think there are many dancers who actually do dance photo shoots in public spaces around the world. There’s a certain challenge and beauty that comes from shooting outdoors as compared to shooting indoors. When you’re in a studio, it is a controlled environment, whereas for an outdoor shoot, you’re challenged to accustom yourself to the environment that changes constantly. In the end, it isn’t just about you and your photographer anymore. It’s about how you move to complement and interact with the environment and people around you, and most importantly, it takes a lot of communication and chemistry between the dancer and photographer to get a shoot done right.
How long does it take to get “the” shot for each photo? Does it take a lot of planning, or something you decide on the spot?
Well, for this series of photos that were taken, I worked with a friend of mine, Thecla (@orchildblvd). She’s a super talented photographer and an aspiring journalist. This is the third time we worked together. Our working style is usually based on environmental improvisations. However, what we do plan is the location of the shoot and type of outfit to complement the background. Everything else happens along the way.
There’s a lot of trial and error involved in each shoot. For example, for the recent picture of me jumping in front of the waterfall at Jewel Changi Airport - that’s just me being crazy and adventurous, and suggesting we take a photo of me jumping off the stairs 2m off the ground, just because I thought it would be cool! We literally just went for it, even though it was a bit dangerous. It only took two or three shots to get this image, but boy was it scary! There’s a lot of communication to and fro between Thecla and me. Sometimes I would suggest a certain angle that would work better for my lines. Other times, Thecla would suggest a certain movement that would look good and complement the environment.
So to answer the question as to how long it takes to plan each shoot, it really depends from shot to shot. Some are one-shot wonders, others take a while to get the right lighting, lines and angle.
What do you love most about dance?
Dance gives me the freedom to control my movements and emotions without the use of words, because sometimes, words are just inadequate. I’ve always been a very physically active and emotional individual, super active and also clumsy. Learning to dance was almost like having this wild superpower, my medium of gaining control. Dance allows me to enter a space to express myself, and using my body to create shapes and movements that are representative of what I feel. Dance has helped me through some of the toughest periods in my life. It gave me a space to clear up my emotions, and gather my thoughts together.
What is the most challenging thing about dance?
Overcoming your own doubt, fear and self-perceived limitations. Many times you see someone who dances better than you, do a certain move that you don’t think you could ever execute. You either rise up and take up the challenge, or hide and give in to your fear and self doubt. Especially for someone who started dancing really late, I’ve so much to learn and catch up with!
Many times I ask myself, why bother trying when others are already 10 miles ahead of me. That’s the mental hurdle that I - as a dancer, and a person - have to overcome. To tell myself that it’s ok to start late, but that it’s not ok to use that as an excuse to not work harder, to improve and to push my limits.
The constant need to motivate myself, especially in moments when I’m pushed to my limits despite not being the best (you will never be the best; but you can be the best version of you) - that’s the toughest part about dance for me.
How do passers-by react when they see you do what you do? Any interesting comments?
Many times people stop and watch, and they’re totally not shy about taking pictures of me (without my consent)! One time, I was doing a shoot at Haji Lane in just a pair of denim jeans, and someone walked pass and wolf-whistled. Another time, a girl commented that we had no decency because I was topless. (Laughs)
The moment I remember the most is when a boy (probably a tourist), an aspiring photographer, asked his mum if he could take pictures of me with his Polaroid camera. I obliged and did a few jumps for him. That was a really precious memory. Hopefully, he’ll fulfil his dream of being a photographer and maybe we can do a shoot together!