Singapore dance festivals


A platform to showcase dance extraordinaires and endear Singaporeans to dance as an art form, Singapore dance festivals began as early as 1982, then known as the Festival of Dance. The festivals became subsumed under a bigger performing arts congregation, the Festival of Asian Performing Arts, in 1993 which in turn merged with the Festival of Arts in 1999 to become the Singapore Arts Festival, an annual event that emphasises on the Asian performing arts. As it grows, the dance festival adds to its local repertoire performances by international dance troops. Both ethnic and modern dances are featured in the dance festivals.

Prior to 1982, dance festivals were annual events in countries such as Indonesia and Korea. A growing local interest in dance led the National Theatre Trust (NTT), with support of the Ministry of Culture, to propose such a festival in Singapore. In 1981, the NTT announced plans for Singapore's first ever dance festival to be held in March 1982. The objectives for organising such an event were to encourage the creation of new dance forms and to provide a platform for local choreographers, dancers and musicians to stage their new works.

The first Festival of Dance was held from 20 to 24 March 1982 at the Victoria Theatre. The debut festival was rated as "fairly successful" in bringing forth a combination of talents - well and lesser-known artists as well as new faces - and in stimulating interest in dance as an art form in Singapore.

The categories of dances that had been offered in the dance festivals are Dance Drama, Ethnic and Ballet (classical and modern). The festival harped on original works, and unlike other festivals that came before it, the dance festival did not dish out winners nor provided opportunities only for the best talents, hence attracting both amateur and professional groups. Except for the period 1982 to 1983 when the festival was held back to back, subsequent festivals were held biannually, to alternate with the Festival of Arts. The Singapore dance festivals were also seen as a staging arena from which the better performers in the festival would be picked to perform at the international and more prestigious Festival of Arts.

As the festival moved into its subsequent appearances, the organisers added an international flavour to the mostly local acts by inviting foreign troupes. They included Tanz-forum Koln from Cologne, Judith Marcuse Dance Company and Les Grands Ballet Canadians of Montreal from Canada, and John Wey Ling's Ballet Gala with Han Ballet from Hong Kong. In the fifth festival (23 November to 10 December 1989) when the festival was called the Singapore International Dance Festival, the Ministry of Community Development and NTT as organisers attempted to imbue greater professionalism and showcase more polished items by doing away with the previous practice of holding auditions to select performers. Instead, they commissioned local accomplished choreographers and promising dance troops to create their own work.

The dance festival made another appearance in 1991 as the Singapore Dance Festival before it was cancelled. The move was induced by the need to streamline the arts programmes and activities in Singapore. Spearheaded by the National Arts Council (NAC) which was set up on 1 September 1991, the Festival of Asian Performing Arts was launched in November 1993 to replace four smaller festivals;  the Drama Festival, the Singapore Dance Festival, the Music Festival and the Traditional Theatre Festival. The Festival of Asian Performing Arts aimed to promote ethnic and modern Asian arts with a focus on the art forms of Singapore's ethnic communities. The Festival also targetted both local and foreign performing groups, and it also welcomed performances that were fusion of East and West. In 1999, another merger occurred to bring major arts performances under a bigger umbrella. The Festival of Asian Performing Arts and the Festival of Arts merged as an annual event which is known today as the Singapore Arts Festival.

The dance festivals in Singapore had come a long way in alleviating the status of dance an a much appreciated art form in Singapore. It has also offered a much needed platform for local and foreign choreographers and dancers to showcase their talents. Some reviews of the standards of the dances in its earliest years were not favourable largely because the amateur dance troupes outnumbered the professional ones. But the spirit of the festival perservered and Singaporeans can now enjoy innovative dance performances at the Singapore Arts Festival every year.

Nor-Afidah A. Rahman & Nureza Ahmad

Comscapes for Singapore festival. (1989, April 30). The Star. 

Dance festival and role of the press
. (1983, December 16). The Straits Times.

Dance festival starts on fairy-tale note
. (1985, December 1). The Straits Times.

Dance festival to go outdoors this year
. (1987, May 11). The Straits Times.

Five-day music festival of ethnic and modern dance
. (1982, February 26). The Straits Times.

Lim, M. (1982, March 9).
Singapores first festival of dance. The Straits Times.

Lui, J. (1983, January 10). Asian performing arts festival to replace four smaller events. The Straits Times, Home, p. 24.

Tan, C. (1989, November 4).
Stage set for modern and ethnic dancers. The Straits Times, p. 30.

Tan, L. (1982, March 15).
Dances galore! The Straits Times, p. 4.

Walker, P. (1981, October 4).
A very exciting prospect for both dancers and dance-lovers. The Straits Times.

Further Readings
Ghost story makes a spirited dance step
. (1982, March 22). The Straits Times, p. 9.

Koh, B. P. (1996, April 4).
Substation's next surge - making room for young artists to grow maturity. The Straits Times. 

Lam, D. (1982, March 18).
The dancing years. The Straits Times, p. 3.

Lam, D. (1982, March 26).
Dance kaleidoscope. The Straits Times

Moving in the right direction
. (1982, March 29). The Straits Times.

Nanyang Technological University. (2000-2003).
Overall arts scene in Singapore. Retrieved September 9, 2004, from

The information in this article is valid as at 2004 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic

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