I REMEMBER: MY BALLET DAYS IN SINGAPORE

Patricia Hon, 70, still obsessed with ballet

Ms Patricia Hon (above), was a top ballerina in Singapore in the 1960s. Now a professor of dance in Seattle, she returns to teach summer classes at the School of the Arts every year.
Ms Patricia Hon (above), was a top ballerina in Singapore in the 1960s. Now a professor of dance in Seattle, she returns to teach summer classes at the School of the Arts every year.PHOTOS: COURTESY OF PATRICIA HON, ST FILE
Ms Patricia Hon (top left and above), was a top ballerina in Singapore in the 1960s. Now a professor of dance in Seattle, she returns to teach summer classes at the School of the Arts every year.
Ms Patricia Hon (above), was a top ballerina in Singapore in the 1960s. Now a professor of dance in Seattle, she returns to teach summer classes at the School of the Arts every year.PHOTOS: COURTESY OF PATRICIA HON, ST FILE

Dance doyenne Patricia Hon was introduced to ballet because her father decided she needed help with movement.

"When I was two or three years old, my dad would prop me up and my legs would not hold me up. I would collapse on the floor like a little puppet," she said. "We added ballet to our agenda when I was five."

She went on to become one of Singapore's top ballet dancers in the 1960s, making the news this week in 1965 with a farewell performance for the Singapore Ballet Group.

She was leaving for a fellowship in Cannes, France, where renowned American ballerina Rosella Hightower had set up a ballet school.

Ms Hon, now 70, remembers her group of five young dancers in the Singapore Ballet Group who were "absolutely smitten with ballet", the others being Francis Yeoh, Goh Soo Khim, Goh Choo San and Anthony Then.

"We even went to Europe at around the same time, except for Soo Khim, who went to Australia," she said.

The academy was run in the 1960s by Vernon Martinus, his wife Frances Poh, and Goh Soo Nee, said Ms Hon. "We had wonderful experiences dancing in Victoria Theatre and for Radio Television Singapura," she said.

"We were so inspired by our teachers, as well as by each other, and that gave us the passion for dance. It was enough for us to pack our bags and go away to look for our future in the dance world."

In Ms Hightower's school in France, she was offered free room, board and classes in exchange for teaching English to younger students. After that, she danced in Austria, Germany and Spain, where she discovered flamenco and classical Spanish dance.

In 1973, she left Europe for New York to study the Martha Graham technique. She joined the faculty of Cornish College of the Arts just five years later. She has been Professor of Dance at the school in Seattle ever since.

She returns to Singapore every year to teach summer classes at the School of the Arts.

The ballet scene for young people here today is very different from the one she grew up in, said Ms Hon, who is married to an American. "In the '60s, we were obsessed with ballet. Of course, our parents were looking for us to be professionals in academia, doctors, scientists, lawyers and so on, but we were driven individuals and we were courageous enough to leave regardless," she said.

"Now, parents are more protective and do not want their child to leave school to go to the unknown. The children have tuition in ballet - apart from their ballet classes - in addition to music, swimming, art and especially in their school work.

"Dance becomes diluted and so does not spawn the passion that we had in the early days."

She added though that young adults who leave home to pursue dance abroad today have an option not available in her day.

"We couldn't come home, because there wasn't a professional dance company here, but now you can audition for a spot in the Singapore Dance Theatre," she said.

"Incidentally, it was founded by two of our group who left Singapore in the '60s, Goh Soo Khim and Anthony Then.

"It is very exciting to have a professional company in Singapore, and Singapore is very lucky to have it."

Jennani Durai

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on August 02, 2015, with the headline 'Patricia Hon, 70, still obsessed with ballet'. Print Edition | Subscribe