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The performing arts are still largely regarded as “unconventional” career paths for many in Singapore, so what do parents do when children express a desire to pursue the arts seriously? This Mother’s Day, we hear from mothers on what it takes to raise an artistic child and how to be a supportive parent. Read on as they share more about the joys and challenges of being a “stage mum”.
In this article, we hear from Akiko, mother of hip-hop dancer Yuka, as well as Harini, mother of bharatanatyam dancer Maya.
Yuka Koide moves with a confidence that belies her age, a distinct swagger in every step. The hip-hop dancer started dancing four years ago but only started posting her dance videos on Instagram last year. Since then, she has amassed a steady following of nearly 1,000 followers, leading to sponsorships by well-known brands such as JD Sports and Gaston Luga. In March 2021, Yuka lead her first dance workshop as part of Esplanade’s new children’s festival, March On.
Off stage, the 13-year-old’s demeanour is quite different from her stage persona. She is shy and soft-spoken, much like her mother, Akiko. “Dancing was my mother’s idea, actually,” says Yuka, with Akiko adding, “I only enrolled her into dance class as a form of exercise for her, but I was very excited to see that she took on so well to something I recommended.”
Now that she has more experience and exposure through dance, Yuka is starting to think about her interest more seriously and hopes to be able to turn it into a career. She has big dreams of not just being an instructor, but also a dance influencer who can change perceptions of the genre, to have street dancers viewed as artists and not just supporting figures for other art forms. Akiko supports this decision to view dance as more than a hobby, but also reminds Yuka to not neglect her studies. “Whether she wants to do dance full-time or part-time, I believe she should still study hard,” remarks Akiko, “I want her to have the knowledge and abilities for more opportunities in the future.”
Despite her concerns, Akiko is by-and-large an extremely supportive parent. She picks Yuka up from dance class as often as she can and helps her to regulate her schedule so that she has enough time to rest, study, practice and perform. Additionally, she presents Yuka with gifts and rewards every time she gains a new achievement, and often goes the extra mile for her daughter. “Sometimes it seems like my mother knows more than me!” Yuka says with a giggle, explaining how her mother regularly shows her videos and photos of new trends and dance moves from the street dance community.
Akiko’s words of advice for other parents are nothing short of sweet, “When your children excel at something, keep encouraging them and give them the motivation to be better. Be your kid’s number 1 fan!”
Bharatanatyam is well-established in Singapore with its own dedicated community, complete with academies, competitions, recitals, knowledge resources and public performances. Still, the classical Indian dance form does not have many full-time professional performers, as with many other cultural art forms in Singapore. Harini Ravilochanan grew up practicing and being exposed to bharatanatyam, although her career focus eventually shifted elsewhere. Nevertheless, she was happy to see her 12-year-old daughter Maya took a liking to it after she was enrolled into classes when she was five.
“Maya was always interested in reading and listening to stories, and was also very expressive with her thoughts, often recounting memorable events,” recalls Harini. Having grown up with the art form herself, she saw that Maya had the qualities to be a performer, and that dance would be a good outlet for her to channel her thoughts and expressions. “I was careful not to force her into it,” she notes, “I wanted her to become interested at her own pace.” Subsequently, Maya began to express more interest in the form when she turned nine years old, participating in more performances and school events.
While still young, Maya now treats the art form more seriously, which Harini was happy to see even as she remains cautious, “Bharatanatyam requires serious commitment and needs a lot of hard work, and I wanted her to realise this before she took a more serious step.” She takes the time to understand Maya’s feelings and her approach towards dance and is supportive of her journey. Their common love for dance has become a way for them to bond, and they spend a lot of time together attending shows, recitals or simply talking about what they love about bharatanatyam. Much like Akiko, Harini often takes on multiple roles for her daughter, doubling and tripling up as a make-up artist, costume manager, logistics support, etc.
Harini is conscious of the balance that needs to be struck, especially now where Maya is at an age where academic anxieties may overtake any other interests a child may have. She shares, “As parents, we may inadvertently lead our children to choose academics over other interests and we may try to guide them into a typical career choice. In my view, it’s helpful to identify the child’s interest and watch out for their commitment to the arts and support them in this pathway.”
She ends off my echoing a sentiment similar to Akiko’s: “Being supportive of the child’s artistic pursuits gives a lot of confidence to them and makes them do better in their chosen fields.”