YOUNG ARTIST AWARD WINNERS

Turning his dance hobby into a career

Young Artist Award recipient Mohamad Sufri Juwahir was a street dancer who turned his hobby into a full-time career. The 35-year-old hopes to use his craft to inspire and connect with the younger generation.
Mohamad Sufri Juwahir started out as a street dancer in secondary school when he hung out with his friends at the void deck and tried out hip-hop moves that they saw on MTV.
Mohamad Sufri Juwahir started out as a street dancer in secondary school when he hung out with his friends at the void deck and tried out hip-hop moves that they saw on MTV.ST PHOTO: JASMINE CHOONG

MOHAMAD SUFRI JUWAHIR, 35, dancer-choreographer

Mohamad Sufri Juwahir shocked his parents by dropping out of school to dance. He was studying mechatronics at Temasek Polytechnic, but it was dance, not engineering, that he felt was the true purpose of his life.

He started out as a street dancer in secondary school when he hung out with his friends at the void deck and tried out hip-hop moves that they saw on MTV.

He later picked up contemporary dance during national service and joined local dance company Maya Dance Theatre in 2008, adding Indian classical bharatanatyam dance to his movement vocabulary.

In 2015, he co-founded dance collective Soul Signature with his partner, Australian dancer Sheriden Newman. He went back to school eventually - to study performing arts at Lasalle College of the Arts on a National Arts Council scholarship, graduating in 2013.

When did you realise that you wanted to dance?

I realised I wanted to do dance after my national service. Prior to that, I was a street dancer doing a lot of competitions and that was more of a hobby. But after that, I was in a company, Maya Dance Theatre, and realised I could pursue my hobby and make it a career.

Who has the biggest influence on your work?

Maya artistic director Kavitha Krishnan and my partner Sheriden. Kavitha opened up my perspective in terms of viewing dance in different layers. Sheriden has a lot of passion in her and brings in a lot of energy.

What is the most difficult challenge in your artistic career?

The expectations of others. When I transited from being a street dancer to learning Indian classical and modern contemporary dance, people did not understand my learning journey and it caused me to question myself. For instance, people would ask me why I learn Indian classical dance when I am a Muslim. But for me, religion should be separated from the art form.

Who is your favourite artist and why?

Akram Khan (the British dancer-choreographer who founded Akram Khan Company). I just came back from his summer intensive (course) in July. There's a lot of thought, passion and integrity in his work. He is the inspiration for what I hope to do next in my career.

If you were not a dancer, what would you have become?

When I was young, I used to play soccer. I was also involved in BMX (bicycle motocross, an off-road cycle sport). Looking back, I think being physical is something I am attuned to. Anything to do with moving the body.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 23, 2018, with the headline 'Turning his dance hobby into a career'. Print Edition | Subscribe