Flying high: An aerial dancer’s journey to the top
Shirley Wong is confident that any one, regardless of age, can give aerial dance a try.
Piano lessons, dance classes and language courses are just some of the many enrichment programmes that parents enrol their children in. For most kids, these activities would usually be relegated to mere hobbies as they grow older.
However, this was not the case for Shirley Wong.
First exposed to dancing at the age of five, Shirley knew then that she wanted to pursue a career related to it.
Ironically, despite being the ones who signed her up for dance classes, her parents weren’t too keen on her doing so. “My parents both came from [a] theatre background, so you would think they’ll be very supportive of [my decision],” says Shirley.
“But I think because they’ve been through it, they know it’s difficult,” she adds.
Against their wishes, Shirley still became a full-time dancer at a local contemporary dance school. While she did eventually take on an office job, a part of her always craved for a role which would allow her to remain physically active.
At that time, aerial dance was still a concept that was relatively new to Singapore, Shirley recounts. So when she chanced upon an aerial dance advertisement in a shopping mall, it piqued her curiosity.
“I was like, hey this looks like dancing, but it’s in the air,” she says. Shirley found the idea of dancing mid-air interesting, and decided to take a shot at it.
Shirley then returned to dancing again – this time above ground. As she became more passionate about aerial dance, she started pushing herself to participate in competitions overseas.
“Thankfully, I got some medals in return,” she says. “I was really happy about that.”
Shirley saw her medals as encouragement that she was heading in the right direction, that there was a possibility to pursue it as a full-time career.
Her wish was finally granted when Starz Aerial offered her the opportunity to teach and perform.
“[Being] in front of live audiences, 14 metres up in the air was really exciting for me, and very encouraging too,” Shirley shares.
After Shirley’s parents realised that they ultimately couldn’t keep their daughter away from doing what she enjoyed, they chose to support her decision.
“They will be the first to share my social media posts. They will come to all my shows and performances,” Shirley says.
While Shirley’s former dance career may have given her a slight advantage, there’s more to aerial than just dance and physical strength.
“Even though I have a background in dance, the advantages that I have from dance really are not as significant as you imagine it to be,” Shirley confesses.
“I think a lot of the muscle groups and the strength that you build in aerial dance are progressive, and that is really something everybody starts from ground zero.”
Shirley explains that aerial dance mostly focuses on the technique and basics instead of using brute strength. She has worked with students with varying degrees of experience.
“Many of my students here, they really come with no background,” she said. “Some of them don’t even attend any form of physical classes. No dance, no yoga, none of this, and this is the first thing they’ve ever tried.”
As a result, the classes are done in such a way that they are meant for absolute beginners, where techniques are largely foundational so that the students can learn from the ground up, explains Shirley.
With a low barrier to entry, Shirley encourages people from all walks of life to give aerial dance a try. She believes that people can fall in love with the artform just as she did.
“Find a place with a really good vibe, a coach that’s able to take care of you, and train safely,” she said.
“From a young child to an older student, anybody can try this.”