Tong Wen Yee wanted to dance - and nothing, not even a chronic foot injury which left her unable to walk for months, was going to get in the way of her passion
“Dance has always been my refuge… a safe place where nothing and no one can affect me.”
In a discipline as rigorous as ballet, it’s no mean feat to be able to stand out from a sea of talent. Watching Wen Yee leap gracefully along the boardwalks during her photo shoot, it’s not hard to imagine her pirouetting effortlessly across the stage…
But this wasn’t always the case for five-year-old Wen Yee when she completed her first ballet exam.
“I was painfully shy as a kid,” she shares. “Stepping into my first class at YMCA felt pretty intimidating. But I pressed on as I enjoyed dancing and was praised for doing the exercises well.
“Despite this, I didn’t have the confidence, and continued to feel that I was not cut out for ballet. So after completing my first ballet exam at five years old, I stopped dancing because I decided that it wasn’t for me.”
Finding renewed inspiration and purpose
It wasn’t till a decade later that she took to the dance floor again. Inspired by her friend (also a ballet dancer who had trained from young), Wen Yee decided to put on her pointe shoes again. This time, she kept them on for good.
“I admired how graceful and beautiful my friend looked when she danced, and regretted giving it up at an early age,” she reveals. Motivated, she began pursuing the art form through various classes. She was determined not to let anything get in her way of becoming a professional dancer. After completing her studies at the National University of Singapore, the English Literature graduate proceeded to pursue a Diploma in Dance, Dance Education and Pedagogy, at the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts.
Wen Yee credits her teachers for the unwavering support and guidance which gave her the courage and confidence to make her dream a reality. “I was never the best student in class,” she shares, “but my teachers were always very encouraging. They reminded me not to put myself down, and advised me to focus instead, on hard work and humility.” She pauses thoughtfully, before adding, “These are the qualities that determine how far you will go as an artist.
Building a career in the aesthetic arts takes dedication, commitment, and grit – that crucial element which sets apart those who manage to close the gap
between their dreams and reality. Today, Wen Yee is an accomplished dance teacher with the Singapore Ballet Academy – and it seems she has come full circle.“I teach kids as young as five years old,” she says. She can’t help but smile fondly whenever she talks about her students. “I love their enthusiasm!” she gushes, adding,“I’ll continue to impart to them the same values I was raised on as a young dancer.”
Rolling through stumbling blocks
Like the career of any professional athlete, a dancer’s is usually fraught with injuries. Wen Yee’s path was no different.
In 2015, she faced her darkest moments after sustaining a serious foot injury (necrosis of the second sesamoid bone) that forced her to take a prolonged break from dancing. “I did a lot of research on my own as most of my peers and mentors had no knowledge of my condition. I sometimes felt very lonely as it was not a common injury,” she reveals. “But through it all, my family was there for me. My students were also key motivators in my road to recovery – their very presence reminded me that I was not alone!”
Upon reflection, Wen Yee adds, “I’ve grown so much as a person after overcoming that low point in my dance career. I’ve learnt to appreciate my body for the strength and resilience it has demonstrated, and to be thankful that I still have the ability to dance.
“Since recovery, I’ve suffered three relapses which left me limping. So these days, I wear only orthotic shoes. I used to love jogging, but I’ve stopped doing it because my foot cannot withstand high intensity training.”
“Dancing is a physically demanding art form and with age, injuries take longer to heal,” she laments wistfully. “I’ve been forced to scale down my physicality and I miss sweating it out with my students in class sometimes. But,” adds Wen Yee, the steel in her voice evident, “I’m going to push on regardless of the challenges ahead.”
Do not fear the unknown, and enjoy the journey of pursuing your passion.
If something fulfils you and brings you happiness, you will find success
in your own measure.
Getting That Scholarship
Wen Yee depended on scholarships to help fund her education in aesthetic arts. Having successfully been awarded with three scholarships over the years, she shares her top takeaways to help would-be applicants prepare better.
1. Define your purpose
Have a clear view of your path ahead. For myself, I looked at what I hoped to achieve n the future as an artist; how I could contribute and give back to society; and how I could make my work relevant and useful to society. This kept me motivated throughout my teacher’s certification course, which took over two years of full-time study and teaching.
2. Get your documents in order
This includes all your certificates reflecting your achievements or participation in competitions or festivals, testimonials, transcripts, and letters of recommendation.
3. Let your enthusiasm shine
Most importantly, be certain of what you want to do, and show the scholarship panel just how much you want that scholarship. Your attitude will speak volumes about why you are a deserving potential recipient.
Find your sense of purpose and stick by it. Map out what you hope to achieve, and figure out how your work can make a difference to someone else. Everyone can contribute back to society, even in the smallest of ways.