top of page
  • Writer's pictureG Lee

It Is My Dance

Updated: Jul 15, 2023

Dawn & I standing at the entrance of the exam room
RAD G3 Exam: Dawn & I walking in with pride and confidence

I am a Barre and Yoga instructor. Three years ago, I started taking ballet lessons. I wanted to learn more about ballet so that I can teach barre properly with the correct terms and look. My first instructor, Shen Zhi Hua, is a 70+ years old dancer from Shanghai. Her energy level is amazing and her posture is perfect. Looking at her from the back, you would think that she is half her age. I learned from her for one term (8 classes) and then Covid hit so I stopped.

It wasn’t until 2022 that I re-started ballet all over again. I tried out a lot of adult ballet open classes to find one that suits me the best in terms of suitability, timing and location. I am now learning from Ms Sandra Guanwan (IG @sg_ballet_85) from JE Dance Academy at Joo Chiat CC, 3 times a week, 1.5 hours each time. The more I practise, the more I realize how demanding ballet is – it challenges your mind (to memorize the steps), your coordination (your core, legs, feet, arms, hands, head and your expression can be doing different things all at once), your musicality and of course your strength and stamina. The movements are very technical but also very graceful. Finally the penny dropped and I got to understand why ballet is a performing arts and not a sports. These are all some of the reasons why I got hooked.

We can totally sense Ms Sandra's excitement and support❤️
Dawn, Ms Sandra & I after our exam

I had an operation on my right knee in early 2018 due to a skiing accident. I overworked my left leg for the following 3 years. As a result, I now have even more problems with my left knee than my right one. The left knee cap (patella) is completely off-track and has shifted to the left because of my tight IT band. For that reason, It is very painful for me to kneel on the floor or to put weight on it, like when climbing stairs. In the beginning of our classes, I could barely bend my knees, let alone jumping. Ms Sandra is very understanding and never pushes me hard. However bending the knees (plié) is essential in ballet. When you can’t bend, it makes it very difficult to turn or jump properly. When I decided to do the ballet examination, I knew Ms Sandra was very concerned. She didn’t want me to injure myself even more as a result of it. But I am very glad that I didn’t let my knee problem stop me. I was also very lucky that I have a yoga/barre student cum friend, Dawn, to do the examination with me. We started training for our examination in August. Initially we practiced twice a week with Ms Sandra. We would also do open classes at other dance studios for fun. Since November, in order to better prepare ourselves for the examination, we had asked Ms Sandra to add a private class for us. For a good few months, I was doing ballet five days a week, on top of my 15 to 20+ hours of teaching. I would be lying if I said that my knee didn’t hurt. As a matter of fact, I was limping most of the time when I was not in ballet classes. A lot of my yoga students, friends and families ask me why I am doing it and if it is worth it. My limping got worse in December. For a period of time, it was a daily struggle – to stop or not to stop? You may ask why I bother to do the examination after all. I asked myself that question too (ha ha ha!). Ballet is an artistry that requires a strong yet flexible body and mental strength of steel. To be good at it, it takes determination and hours and hours of practice. There is no short cut. I admire that. Doing open classes is fun. However it is not good enough for me to perfect what I really want to learn. Doing a ballet examination will. That is why I took up the challenge.

RAD (Royal Academy of Dance) ballet examinations usually take place in March. When it was closer to the examination day, Ms Sandra would give us extra coaching. Dawn and I would also stay behind after our class to practise on our own. There was one fine day in late Feb that we practised for 5.5 hours followed by another 4 hours of practice two days later. After that, I literally could not walk. I had to go see a doctor. He told me to see an orthopaedic surgeon and to use crutches to walk! Thank goodness that after seeing a very good physiotherapist (Beatrice @ Physiotherabeat) and taking some anti-inflammatory medicine and muscle relaxants, I was able to move again a few days later. Nothing beats the recovery from a couple of days of good rest. My physiotherapist reviewed my class schedule and told me to limit myself to 3 hours of practice & teaching each day and I need one day of rest every week. She also told me that I need to stretch and strengthen my quads more to protect my knees. That seems to do the trick.

My 20 min yoga session before the exam
Yoga warmup with Chanel before the exam

March 18, 2023 was my RAD Grade 3 examination day. It was the day that I had been looking forward to since the seed of doing the examination was planted in my head. With all the practices and help from my teachers, I felt that I was ready. I knew I made a fair bit of mistakes during the examination and I was still far from perfect but I did my best. That is all that matters to me. I am glad that I was not too nervous during the examination and was able to enjoy the experience. I hope that my somewhat relaxed face would help score some brownie points despite my flaws. In any event, I totally enjoyed the journey. Doing the examination requires commitment, focus and dedication. More importantly, it is a good challenge for oneself. When I see how a lot of the parents put their kids through ballet examinations, I believe that it is only fair that we, as adults, can handle the same pressure. Look, I would never be a professional dancer. I don’t have the body and my feet are as flat as a sheet of paper. But it doesn’t mean that I can’t do ballet. It is my dance! No matter how I score in the examination, the journey itself is highly rewarding. It gives me a sense of accomplishment.

I learnt a lot through this experience. I pride myself as one of the most improved students – it is very comical how uncoordinated I am, especially when I have to learn new steps. I have a lot of respect for Ms Sandra for her patience and the ability to hold back from laughing out loud. In addition to ballet techniques, I get to know more about movements and my body. I met some amazing ballet teachers from JE Dance Academy – Ms Sandra, Ms Jenna and Mrs Skipp – to whom I am forever grateful. Their passion and tireless commitment to coach and help their students are inspirational. I am also very thankful to all my other fellow classmates who are totally supportive and encouraging. They didn’t mind doing the same dance with us again and again and they always cheered for us when Dawn and I practised for the examination. Last but not the least, I am very happy that I have Dawn as my partner in crime. She is a much better dancer than I but we always have fun together -- rushing to various open classes or just laughing at our decision to do the examination. I always look forward to our lunch after our class when we were both totally famished.

Going forward, I have decided to continue with ballet and use it as cross-training to strengthen my knees. My decision came as a surprise to some of my friends. They asked me, “Isn’t it better not to do so much to preserve your knees instead?” Funny enough, their question came as a surprise to me as well. That idea honestly never crossed my mind. I firmly believed that we should never stop using our body. The older we get, the more important it is for us to stretch and strengthen our body. That applies to our mind as well. Some of my friends tease me about starting ballet at my age. (Just in case you are wondering, I was born in the same year as Michelle Yeoh). But why not? Being able to learn and grow is equally important for us as we grow older as when we were young. Like what Michelle Yeoh said in her Oscar speech – “Dream Big… Dreams do come true….And ladies, don't let anybody tell you you are ever past your prime. Never give up." And here is my motto – Always believe and never give up!

Our gratitude to Ms Sandra, Mrs Skipp (on the right) and Ms Jenna (not in the picture)


Dawn and I received our grade in late April. We both got High Merit! Yay! Dawn says it all, “Regardless of the results, we have achieved distinction for our personal growth!” Completing grade 3 helped us with our confidence. Not only that we are working on the next RAD exam, we had our ballet debut at the beautiful University Cultural Centre, NUS, along with 200+ dancers on June 17. What a wonderful experience!


bottom of page