International Dance Day: From Dancing To Disney To Killing It On TikTok 🔥
STORY: Sim Ding En
29 April 2021
In "The Agony and the Ecstacy", a biographical novel of the great Italian Renaissance artist Michelangelo Buonarotti, author Irving Stone writes: "One should not become an artist because he can, but because he must. It is only for those who would be miserable without it."
That certainly rings true for Kevin Tristan. The 21-year-old alumnus of School of the Arts Singapore (SOTA) started dancing - ok, moving - to Disney songs even before he was in primary school, and hasn't stopped since.
He even passed an audition to attend the two-week Summer Intensive programme of the world-renowned Nederlands Dans Theater, which has its headquarters at the Lucent Danstheater in The Hague.
Dance runs through his veins. In fact, to stay sane during the COVID-19 pandemic, especially during the Circuit Breaker Period, Kevin focused his attention on TikTok (which he had joined in 2019) not only as a way of curbing loneliness, escaping family issues, and connecting with others, but also as a platform for creative expression and just having simple, unadulterated fun.
"Social media was, honestly, my saving grace," he says.
In recognition of International Dance Day - celebrated every 29 April to highlight the value and importance of dance as an art form, and also to commemorate the birthday of Jean-Georges Noverre, the creator of modern ballet - we talk to Kevin about how dance is an allegory of life.
(If you want something less "heavy", discover some awesome local dance talents in our piece, "International Dance Day: Blowing Up Social Media With All The Right Moves", where Kevin introduces us to some of the hottest "movers and shakers" in Singapore on social media right now.)
You were quite the active kid in Lianhua Primary School - you were a hurdler and a dancer, so obviously you could move. How did you get into dance?
I really started getting inspired by dancing when I started watching "So You Think You Can Dance?" I was like, wow, these people are so good. And it's not about being the best dancer in your style. It's about being able to do all styles, to be adaptable and versatile. And that's when I was like, dang, I want to be that - someone who is amazing at anything that gets thrown at him.
And I think that's something that I've taken from my childhood all the way to where I am now. I still aspire to be that person who becomes good at whatever gets thrown at him.
Your sister, who is three years older, joined SOTA to do theatre when it was still a relatively new school a decade ago. Is that why you followed suit?
When I found out there was an arts school, and I was seeing all these dancers, I was like, I want to join this school. At first, my parents weren't supportive. They didn't even want me to audition. My dad was like "dance is a girl's thing".
My parents are very traditional. But my sister and I grew up in a very liberal world. And if we want to do something, if we want to work, then we want to do something that we enjoy.
What was your experience at SOTA like?
It was extremely intimidating. I came into a school where everyone knew what they were doing, and I knew nothing. But I think it worked in my favour. A lot of people trained very strictly before, and they had to relearn things, and taking away habits is harder than learning new things. For me, I had a fresh brain - I had nothing in my head about dance, so everything that went in, stayed.
When I joined SOTA, I was the only male in my cohort - it was a blessing and a curse, so I was cast for every performance. I would be put into big productions with those from Year Two and Year Three - usually, Year Ones don't perform at all because they're not ready to go on stage. But I was put in my first performance just six months into SOTA.
Do you remember the moment you realised, "Hey, I can do this professionally"?
When I was 15, I asked myself "do I actually enjoy dance?" I realised I I wasn't dancing for myself anymore. I was dancing to make sure that the teachers were happy, and that I was good enough so that I could be put on stage. That's when I was like, I need to like recalibrate how I approach dance. And that's when I started going, "Thank you, teachers, but I'm going to start dancing for myself."
A big moment came when I did a showcase, a duet with a friend - it was about losing someone. I got my first standing ovation. And I was like, whoa, this is a good feeling - it was not about people clapping for me, not the validation of being a good dancer, but the feeling of knowing that I had moved people, impacted people, made people cry, felt certain things about their life and reflect.
Tell us about your journey on TikTok (which started in 2019).
I never really took it seriously and never really used it. But then, during COVID, I got back to it because I was like, oh my god, there's nothing to do in my house. And then TikTok started becoming really fun - there were a lot of dance trends happening. And that's when I said, I'm going to do this every day, it's going to be part of my routine.
I'm a social person and I was so lonely. I would go days without talking to anyone; I didn't have the best relationship with my family. Dance was my outlet and TikTok helped me so much - I felt like I was still connected to the world. Social media was my saving grace.
I think I grew a lot on TikTok because of COVID, because that was a time when everyone was on their phones. Being a people-pleaser, and knowing that people liked my dances, I kept doing it!
What life lessons have you drawn from dance?
1) It's made me a more compassionate person. In dance, you go through so many struggles in an effort to get better and better. Everyone has is going through their own struggles and their own hurt and pain. Dance has taught me to be patient, and to be patient with myself as well.
2) Dance is a roller coaster, it's a good reflection of life. You have to keep moving on, keep practising. Whatever gets thrown at you, pick yourself up. If you give up, you're not going to move on from there.
3) Aspire to always be better than yourself. I've been told I'm too short to dance. So I have to dance bigger, I have to dance better. You have to be exceptional, you cannot be good, you have to be the best, or else you will not be even seen or noticed.