Festival of Dance

by Nor-Afidah Abd Rahman

The Festival of Dance was first held in 1982 as a platform to showcase dance practitioners and choreographers, and endear Singaporeans to dance as an art form.1 In 1993, the dance festival was subsumed under a bigger performing arts congregation known as the Festival of Asian Performing Arts, which in turn merged with the Singapore Festival of Arts in 1999 to become the Singapore Arts Festival.2

A growing local interest in dance in Singapore led the National Theatre Trust (NTT), with the support of the Ministry of Culture, to propose organising a dance festival in Singapore.3 In 1981, the NTT announced plans for Singapore’s inaugural dance festival to be held in March 1982.4 The event aimed to encourage the creation of new dance forms and to provide a platform for local choreographers, dancers and musicians to stage their new works.5

The first Festival of Dance was held from 20 to 24 March 1982 at the Victoria Theatre.6 The debut festival brought together local dance talent and stimulated interest in dance as an art form in Singapore.7

The types of dance showcased at the inaugural Festival of Dance were dance drama, ethnic dance and ballet (both classical and modern).8 The festival focused on original works9 and did not schedule heats prior to the event nor selected winners during the festival, hence attracting both amateur and professional groups.10 Except for 1982 and 1983 when the Festival of Dance was held in consecutive years, it was held biannually, alternating with the Festival of Arts.11

As the Festival of Dance moved into its subsequent editions, the organisers added an international flavour to the predominantly local acts by inviting foreign troupes. These included Judith Marcuse Dance Company from Canada and John Wey Ling’s Ballet Gala with Han Ballet from Hong Kong. In the fifth edition of the festival in 1989, the organisers – Ministry of Community Development and NTT – 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 troupes to create their own works.12

The Festival of Dance made another appearance in 1991 as the Singapore Dance Festival before it was subsumed under the Festival of Asian Performing Arts. The move was made because of the need to streamline arts programmes and activities in Singapore. Spearheaded by the National Arts Council, the Festival of Asian Performing Arts was launched in November 1993 to incorporate the Drama Festival, Singapore Dance Festival, Music Festival and the Traditional Theatre Festival.13

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 targeted both local and foreign performing groups, and also welcomed performances that were a fusion of Eastern and Western cultures.14 In 1999, the Festival of Asian Performing Arts and the Singapore Festival of Arts merged to form the Singapore Arts Festival.15


Nor-Afidah A. Rahman & Nureza Ahmad

1. Matsumoto Lim, “Singapore’s First Festival of Dance,” Straits Times, 9 March 1982, 1John de Souza, It Could Have Been a Rave but…: Five-Day Music Festival of Ethnic and Modern Dance, Straits Times, 26 February 1982, 3. (From NewspaperSG)
2. “About Us: Milestones,” National Arts Council, last updated 16 February 2017; Clarissa Oon, “Big Names to Take Stage at Revamped Arts Festival,” Straits Times, 11 November 2013, 3. (From NewspaperSG)
3. Lim, “Singapore’s First Festival of Dance.”
4. Pauline Walker, “A Very Exciting Prospect for Both Dancers and Dance-Lovers,” Straits Times, 4 October 1981, 3. (From NewspaperSG)
5. Lim, “Singapore’s First Festival of Dance.”
6. Lim, “Singapore’s First Festival of Dance”; De Souza, “Five-Day Music Festival.”
7. Walker, “Very Exciting Prospect.” 
8. Lim, “Singapore’s First Festival of Dance”; De Souza, “Five-Day Music Festival”; Walker, “Very Exciting Prospect.” 
9. Lim, “Singapore’s First Festival of Dance”; De Souza, “Five-Day Music Festival.”
10. Walker, “Very Exciting Prospect.” 
11. John Lui, “Asian Performing Arts Festival to Replace Four Smaller Events,” Straits Times, 10 January 1993, 24; “Bigger and Better Festival This Year,” Straits Times, 10 April 1983, 5; “Dance Festival Starts on Fairy-Tale Note,” Straits Times, 1 December 1985, 16; “Dance Festival to Go Outdoors This Year,” Straits Times, 11 May 1987, 1; Cephah Tan, “Stage Set for Modern and Ethnic Dancers,” Straits Times, 4 November 1989, 30; Christine Khor, “Good Stuff All Round,” Straits Times, 20 December 1991, 5. (From NewspaperSG)
12. Tan, “Stage Set for Modern and Ethnic Dancers.”
13. Lui, “Asian Performing Arts Festival.”
14. Lui, “Asian Performing Arts Festival.”
15. National Arts Council, “About Us.”

The information in this article is valid as at October 2020 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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