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Dance

Som Said

Pioneering Malay dancer and founder of Sri Warisan.

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Published: 12 Oct 2016


Time taken : >15mins

You have to learn through experience. You have to go through difficulties. Face them as they come. Don’t think of problems before they happen because they might never happen!

Som Said was born in Singapore on 3 Jan 1951. Growing up, she quickly learned and absorbed the folk music and dance traditions of her community, putting her preciously acquired traditional knowledge to good use eventually in a successful career as teacher, choreographer and impresario. After two decades of teaching and leading the choreographic efforts of the Sriwana cultural troupe, Som Said founded her own performing arts company, Sri Warisan, in 1997. The group has since put together important folk performances and dance-drama tableaus to be showcased at state, tourist and cultural-promotion events in Singapore and abroad.

Som Said, born in Singapore on 3 Jan, 1951, started dancing when she was a young girl in school. What initially was just a hobby for her became something she felt compelled to continue pursuing as she learnt more and more about dance.

In 1965, she joined the Sriwana cultural group as one of its pioneer members, rising eventually to become its artistic director. Her epiphanous experience as a Sriwana dancer under the guidance of Nongchik Ghani opened her eyes to the essence of Malay dance, leading to her being invited to join the National Dance Company. She travelled with the National Dance Company to perform at the Adelaide Festival of Arts, and this experience was to be hugely influential on her. She discovered the hard work and discipline involved as she encountered the high quality of international dancers at the festival.

While in Sriwana, she saw the constant falling back on Indonesian traditions of Malay dance, and she felt the need for a Malay dance that could be called Singapore Malay dance. With the constant encouragement of Nongchik Ghani and Francis Yeoh, Founder and Director of the National Dance Company, she was inspired to draw on her dance experience to create and choreograph her own works.

Som infuses her choreography—which often tells the stories of real people such as Tun Fatimah and Radin Mas—with her heart and soul, so much so that she will have had shed many a tear by the time she completes a piece of choreography. Her choreographic style blends deceptively simple Malay dance routines and gestures with contemporary moves and pan-Asian gestures.

Som’s talents have taken her to major folk festivals around the world, including the Nanning International Folk Song Festival in China (2008) and the International Folklore Festival in Zaragoza, Spain (2008). She received the Cultural Medallion in 1987 and the Public Service Medal in 1992 for her contributions to dance. In 2007, she received the Anugerah Warisan Kencana by the Malay Heritage Centre, Singapore.

Today, Som Said continues to share her love for dance with Sri Warisan, which she founded in 1997. Sri Warisan facilitiates some 3,000 Malay dance and music workshops each year in schools across Singapore, and continues to put on new local and overseas cultural showcases each year.

Timeline

1951

Born in Singapore.

1958

Enrolled in Bukit Batok East Primary School.

1965 to 1968

Enrolled in Anderson Secondary School.

1965 to 1998

Pioneer member of Sriwana Cultural Group.

Served as Instructor and Director of the Dance section from 1968–1985.

1968 to 1979

Accounts Control at Orchid Inn Hotel.

1969 to 1985

Dancer with the National Dance Company.

1979

Received the National Youth Service Award.

1983

Padepokan Seni Bagong at Yogyakarta, a 6-months scholarship to study Asian Arts.

1983 to 1997

Opened Ratu Sari Bridal House, where she worked as a costume designer.

1985 to 1999

Artistic director, Sriwana.

1987

Received the Cultural Medallion for her contributions to dance.

1990

Received the Min-On Arts Award from the Min-On Concert Association, Japan.

1992

Received the Public Service Medal at the National Day Awards.

1997 to 2012

Founder, Sri Warisan Som Said Performing Arts.

2007

Received the Anugerah Warisan Kencana (Golden Legacy Award) by the Malay Heritage Centre, Singapore.

2009

Received Singapore Today Commemorative Magazine Successful Entrepreneur award.


TributeSG

TributeSG celebrates the arts community’s most senior members, and those who have made a lifetime of contribution to the arts. These artists, administrators, educators, patrons, and champions include many Singapore arts pioneers who laid the foundations of the vibrant arts and cultural scene we enjoy today. The many profiles in TributeSG let us into the minds and worlds of these pioneers, and help us understand our shared arts heritage. When we revisit their works and rediscover their journeys, we learn where we came from and how we came to be. Collectively, their stories tell the tale of the making of a nation’s artistic identity.

In putting together this collection, the TributeSG team consulted an external advisory panel, consisting of Arun Mahiznan, Choo Thiam Siew, J. P. Nathan, K. K. Seet, Kwok Kian Chow, and Iskandar Ismail. Those selected to be profiled in TributeSG met one of the following criteria: they were at least 60 years of age as of 12 Oct 2016, or deceased, or had received national recognition in the form of the Cultural Medallion. This journey of arts archival officially came to a close on 12 Oct 2016, after four years of extensive research, interviews and collation of information graciously provided by the TributeSG pioneers, their families and peers. TributeSG also benefited from enthusiastic help from like-minded friends and organisations who supported Esplanade’s cause—to remember, honour and celebrate Singapore’s arts pioneers.

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