Going onstage (www.esplanade.com).


Yan Choong Lian

Contemporary Chinese dancer, educator and founder of Dance Ensemble Singapore.


Published: 12 Oct 2016

Time taken : >15mins

What's most important is enthusiasm and sincerity.

Yan Choong Lian is a Singapore contemporary Chinese dancer, choreographer and dance educator. In the ‘70s and ‘80s, she performed and choreographed with the People's Association Dance Troupe and the National Dance Company and taught dance at the Kampung Glam community centre. Later on, she established the Yan Choong Lian Dance Troupe and subsequently the Dance Ensemble Singapore with which she continues to nurture generations of young dancers and create new works that reflect the spirit of Singapore.

Yan Choong Lian was born on 29 October 1954, and loved dance from an early age. While in River Valley High School, she joined the Singapore Practice Performing Arts School (实践表演艺术学院) and trained under the tutelage of renowned dancer and dance teacher, Goh Lay Kuan.

In 1974, Yan graduated from high school at age 20 and found work as a resettlement officer with the Housing Board. That same year, she joined the National Dance Company. Like many other dancers in the company, she held a day job and danced after office hours. Her time at the company was highly rewarding. She was presented with the opportunity to perform in Singapore and overseas at dance festivals, cultural exchange programmes and other events including the South East Asian Music and Dance Festival in Bangkok in 1976. In a short span of time, Yan became one of the company’s star dancers.

Yan resigned from the Housing Board in 1979 and went on to work for the People’s Association Dance Troupe (人协舞蹈团). For about eight years around the ‘70s to ‘80s, she taught children both classical and modern dance at the Kampung Glam Community Centre every Saturday. In 1980, she finally tried her hand at choreography and worked on the dance production Unfreezing Ice for the Kampung Glam Community Centre. The performance was selected for "Ballet Night" at the 1980 Singapore Festival of Arts, and received rave reviews. Encouraged by its success, Yan put up another dance production Two Faces of Man for the festival in 1982.

By then, Yan had become an assistant choreographer and instructor with the National Dance Company. In 1983, she was invited to create a dance item for VIPs at the ASEAN ministerial meeting in Bangkok, which was considered a great honour for a young choreographer. Weaving together elements of Indian, Malay, Chinese and modern dance, the performance was a hit with the multicultural audience. She also received the National Youth Service Award that year for her service to dance. In the years that followed, she represented Singapore on cultural missions to the US, Europe, Hong Kong, Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand, Brunei and Malaysia, and choreographed more works for the Singapore Festival of Arts, ASEAN Festival of Dance and other events.

In the ‘80s, Yan sought to improve and expand her own dance and teaching techniques. She completed three Chinese dance teachers' training courses, first at China's Beijing Dancing Academy in 1987, and subsequently at the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts (NAFA) in 1987 and 1988. She also completed a course in Chinese folk dance conducted by the Chinese Dance Artistes' Association in 1987. She then completed a six-month course on Chinese dance (long sleeves) at NAFA in 1989 and took on a one-year NAFA programme in 1990 where she learnt Dung Huang dance and rhythm. That year, she also passed her Chinese dance teachers' examinations jointly organised by NAFA and the Beijing Dancing Academy.

In 1987, Yan realised her lifelong dream and established her own dance troupe – the Yan Choong Lian Dance Troupe (严众莲舞蹈团) – together with her best students. She and the troupe were promptly invited to perform in the Miss Universe pageant held in Singapore that year, and went on to dance on television, at the 1988 National Day Carnival, the 1990 Singapore Jubilee Spectacular, among numerous other occasions. The troupe quickly established itself as Singapore’s leading contemporary Chinese dance troupe.

After a few years, Yan found that the troupe's headquarters at the Telok Ayer Performing Arts Centre was becoming too small for the expanding dance company. She sought help from the National Arts Council's Arts Housing scheme and, in 1993, relocated the troupe to a new home at Waterloo Street. When they moved, Yan renamed her troupe the Dance Ensemble Singapore (DES) (聚舞坊). Her husband, also a former dancer with the People's Association Dance Troupe, was appointed manager, while she continued as artistic director, choreographer and teacher.

The following year, Yan was awarded the annual JCCI (Japanese Chamber of Commerce and Industry) Singapore Foundation Award for her contributions to culture (performing arts) and used the award money to renovate the ensemble's premises. Although DES's main activities were dance training and performing, Yan also taught etiquette and piety to her students. She was determined to groom them to be respectful and gracious dancers and people.

Under Yan's leadership, DES has performed at major Singapore arts, cultural and charity events such as Festival of Arts, National Day, Chingay parades and HeritageFest. The troupe has also participated in many events overseas including the 8th International Children's Folklore Festival in Spain in 1996, the International Youth Dance Festival Macau in 1997 and 1999, Matsuyama Autumn Festival in Kagoshima, Japan, in 2005, and The Second China XinJiang International Dance Festival in 2011.

In addition to presenting well-received annual dance productions, the Ensemble has also performed in collaborative pieces with other arts groups such as the Singapore Chinese Orchestra (The Grandeur of Tang Chinese Orchestra Concert, 2004), and the Hong Kong Dance Troupe (Interweave, 2006).

Having accomplished so much in her career, Yan is very much sought after for her wealth of professional experience. She was invited to judge competitions such as the 11th Malaysia Chinese Dance Festival in Kuala Lumpur in 1990. She has served as a member of the National Arts Council's Arts Resource Panel (1993-1996), was involved in advisory committees for dance for then Minister of Community Development Wong Kan Seng (1987-1991), and the design of the Singapore Arts Centre (1992), as well as for the Sri Warisan Som Said Performing Arts Ltd (1998-2000).

She gave several talks on dance (National University of Singapore's Centre for Musical Activities, 1986), conducted a workshop for the Ministry of Education's Dance Workshop Series (2009), and shared her professional expertise at the 2nd Dance Education Seminar 2012 (University Cultural Centre).

In 2003, Yan received the Goodwill Award from the Singapore SOKA Association. In 2010 and 2011, she was invited to be a cultural ambassador for the National Heritage Board's Singapore HeritageFest. From 2007, she has been a planner for arts education programmes in primary, secondary schools and institutions.

Currently, DES is one of Singapore's top contemporary Chinese dance companies and has about 700 dancers including students, ensemble members and Yan's two daughters. Her older daughter – who received 10 years of dance training in the US – is a lead dancer there and is poised to take over the reins of the company.

Although Yan is grateful for all her achievements, she still feels motivated to help develop the Singapore dance scene. It has been her lifelong quest to develop and increase understanding in the community that as foreign artists help to inspire the Singapore arts community, our artistic expression is one that has to be distinctly Singaporean. With her ensemble's mix of local and foreign dancers and choreographers, Yan constantly develops and showcases homegrown dance expressions in new works that are relevant to and reflective of our lives and experiences in Singapore.


29 Oct 1954

Born in Singapore.


Joined the People's Association Dance Troupe.


Judge, National Dance Competition, Selangor.


Received National Youth Service Award, People's Association.

Instructor, Women Physical Education Teacher Society.


Choreographed The Lantern Fairy for Singapore Festival of Arts, invited by Ministry of Culture.


Choreographer, Asean Festival of Dance, invited by Ministry of Community Development.


Organising committee, Chinese Dance Night, invited by Ministry of Community Development.


Founder, Yan Choong Lian Dance Troupe.


Established Dance Ensemble Singapore.


Received the Japanese Chamber of Commerce (JCCI) Singapore Foundation Award.


Advisor, Sri Warisan Som Said Performing Arts Ltd.


Received Goodwill Award, Singapore SOKA Association.

2004 to Present

Artistic Director of Dance Ensemble Singapore.

28 Jan 2004

Artistic Director, Ren-Ri Charity Banquet, 护国金塔寺.

30 Jan 2004

Artistic Director, The Grandeur of Tang Chinese Orchestra Concert commissioned by Singapore Chinese Orchestra, Esplanade Concert Hall.

2 Feb 2004

Artistic Director, Chinese New Year Charity Show Mahakaruna Buddhist Society.

21 Mar 2004

Artistic Director, Cosmopolisation越界聚舞》, DES Seasonal production, Victoria Theatre.

24 May 2004

Artistic Director, ITA – Aites 2004 World Tunnel Congress ITA.

11 Jun 2004 to 12 Jun 2004

Artistic Director, Festival of the Arts Fringe, National Arts Council.

18 Sep 2004

Artistic Director, Chinatown Mid-Autumn Festival 2004 Official Opening & Light Up Ceremony, Chinatown.

25 Sep 2004

Artistic Director, Main Season Programme Resplendent, NAFA Lee Foundation Theatre.

5 Mar 2005

Artistic Director, Main Season Performance Magnolia《木兰惊梦》, Victoria Theatre

May 2005 to Jun 2005

Artistic Director, ASEAN Tourism Fair 2005, Nagoya, Japan.

8 Aug 2005

Artistic Director, Chinese Chamber of Commerce & Industry SCCCI National Day Dinner, Meritus Mandarin Singapore.

13 Aug 2005

Artistic Director, Singapore SOKA Association August Festival

24 Sep 2005

Artistic Director, Main Season Performance Crossings 现代舞专场 “汇点”, Victoria Theatre.

12 Nov 2005 to 17 Nov 2005

Artistic Director, Matsuyama Autumn Festival, Kagoshima, Japan.

23 Nov 2005

Artistic Director, Appreciation Dinner to Lee Foundation's Chairman Dr. Lee Seng Gee, The Ritz-Carlton Millenia Singapore.

4 Feb 2006

Artistic Director, Chingay 2006 Parade of Dreams Vitality (Procession), Orchard Road.

11 Feb 2006

Artistic Director, Main Season Performance Jewel of the Yellow Earth, Victoria Theatre.

22 Apr 2006

Artistic Director, Main Season Performance Chamber心语》, NAFA Lee Foundation Theatre.

30 Apr 2006

Artistic Director, Musical Potpourri Charity Night 2006, Jubilee Hall Raffles Hotel.

26 May 2006

Artistic Director, World Book Fair 2006 Opening, Suntec City.

30 May 2006

Artistic Director, 11th World Human Resources Congress Singapore 2006 Opening Ceremony, Singapore Expo Hall.

11 Jun 2006

Artistic Director, Fund-raising for Kwong Wai Shiu Hospital 2006 A Night of Love and Joy, SCO Concert Hall.

23 Jul 2006

Artistic Director, Main Season Performance Interweave collaboration with HK Dance Troupe, NAFA Lee Foundation Theatre.

21 Nov 2006

Artistic Director, The Plenteous Love, NAFA Lee Foundation Theatre.

26 Nov 2006

Artistic Director, Singapore Lam Ann Association 80th Anniversary Celebration, Singapore Expo Hall 3.

27 Jan 2007

Artistic Director, Chinatown Lunar New Year Festival 2007 Opening & Light Ceremony.

23 Feb 2007 to 24 Feb 2007

Artistic Director, Chingay 2007, Orchard Road.

21 Apr 2007

Artistic Director, main season performance 《寓言寓事》 (Fables), Victoria Theatre.

19 May 2007

Artistic Director, Singapore SOKA Association 2007 Festival, SOKA Auditorium Tampines.

30 May 2007

Artistic Director, Buddha Tootch Relic Temple Soft Opening, Chinatown.

4 Jun 2007 to 8 Jun 2007

Artistic Director/ Judge/ Dance Advisor , 21st Century International Dance Festival, Genting, Malaysia.

23 Jun 2007

Artistic Director, Exemplary Mother 2007 Award presentation ceremony for President S.R. Nathan, Ritz Carlton MillenIa Singapore

28 Jun 2007

Artistic Director, Abbot’s Birthday Banquet – Ven Shi Fa Zhao, Suntec City Convention Hall, Singapore.

30 Jun 2007

Artistic Director, Thomson Community Day 2007 Family Day cum Emergency Preparedness Day, Toa Payoh Lorong 1, Singapore.

8 Aug 2007

Artistic Director, SCCCI National Day Dinner, Grand Copthorne Waterfront Hotel, Singapore.

11 Aug 2007

Artistic Director, Xiang Lin Music Troupe Hokkien Opera Performance, Esplanade Recital Studio, Singapore.

8 Sep 2007

Artistic Director, main season performance 《真爱历程踽踽而行》 (Rite of Passage), Victoria Theatre, Singapore.

25 Oct 2007

Artistic Director, 3rd International Congress of Asia Pacific Hernia Society Event, Suntec City, Singapore.

30 Oct 2007

Artistic Director, Asean Minister of Transportation's Meeting 2007, The Legends, Fort Canning Park, Singapore.

9 Dec 2007

Artistic Director, Mediacorp Star Awards 25th Anniversary Celebration, Mediacorp Auditorium, Singapore.

2007 to 2009

Artistic Director, Chingay Parade of Dreams, Singapore.

2007 to 2013

Planner for Arts education programmes in various primary, secondary schools and education institutions.

8 Aug 2008

Artistic Director, SCCC1 National Day Celebration, SCCCI Auditorium.

9 Sep 2008

Artistic Director, Main Season Performance Man Beyond Horizon, Victoria Theatre.

2008 to 2009

Artistic Director, 《牛车水 新年开幕与亮灯仪式》 (Chinatown Lunar New Year Festival Opening & Light Ceremony), Singapore.

6 Feb 2008

Artistic Director, Mediacorp Chinese New Year Eve Special Programme 2008.

15 Feb 2008 to 16 Feb 2008

Artistic Director, Chingay Parade of Dreams 2008, City Hall, Singapore.

1 Mar 2008

Artistic Director, Main Season Performance Wings of Wonders, Buddha Tooth Relic Temple Theatre.

19 Apr 2008

Artistic Director, Main Season Performance Love on Stage情愫舞台》, Victoria Theatre, Singapore.

31 Apr 2008

Artistic Director, Chinatown Mid-Autumn Festival Light Up Ceremony, Chinatown, Singapore.

18 Oct 2008

Artistic Director, APAA Opening Ceremony, Suntec City, Singapore.

23 Nov 2008

Artistic Director, TV Channel 8 – 45th Anniversary Performance, Mediacorp TV Theatre.

31 Jan 2009

Artistic Director, Chingay Parade of Dreams 2009, City Hall, Singapore.

1 Feb 2009

Artistic Director, Lunar New Year A Toast of Spring Get Together , Celebration, Suntec City Conventional Hall 6, Singapore.

20 Mar 2009

Artistic Director, World Teacher’s Convention 2009, Furama Riverfront Hotel, Singapore.

7 Jun 2009

Artistic Director, True Hearts 2009 by Mediacorp Community Chest, Toa Payoh HDB Hub.

28 Jun 2009

Artistic Director, International Summer Dance Festival 2009, Philadelphia, USA.

19 Jun 2009

Artistic Director, DES U.S Premier Performance, Painted Bride Theatre, Philadelphia, US.

25 Jul 2009

Artistic Director, Main Season Performance Dance Musical《蝶梦.叠梦》(Butterfly Dreams), Victoria Theatre, Singapore.

29 Aug 2009

Artistic Director, main season performance 《古韵新意-华族舞蹈晚会》《千年之恋》(Chi-Extravaganza).

19 Sep 2009

Artistic Director, Chinatown Mid Autumn Festival Celebration.

14 Oct 2009

Artistic Director, 78th Interpol General Assembly Singapore 2009, Brani Terminal.

30 Oct 2009

Artistic Director, 2nd Singapore Hainanese Heritage & Traditional Cultural Festival, Singapore Expo Hall 3, Singapore.

5 Nov 2009 to 8 Nov 2009

Artistic Director, Federation for Asian Cultural Promotion 27th Annual Conference, FACP Malaysia.

14 May 2010 to 15 May 2010

Artistic Director, 《重逢8演唱会》(Reunion 8 Chong Feng 8 - Xinyao Concert), Esplanade – Theatres on the Bay, Singapore.

16 Jan 2010

Artistic Director, main season performance 《恋恋季情》(Awakenings), Victoria Theatre, Singapore.

17 Jun 2010

Artistic Director, Taiwan Premier Performance, Xinhua Auditorium, Tainan, Taiwan.

10 Jul 2010

Artistic Director, CDAC Racial Inter- Religious Harmony Night 2010, Singapore Expo.

8 Aug 2010

Artistic Director, National Day Performance for President S.R. Nathan at Istana, Singapore.

4 Sep 2010

Artistic Director, Main Season Performance Reverberations深思。记忆。告白》, University Cultural Centre, Singapore.

9 Sep 2010

Artistic Director, GP Festival @ Transit Terminal, Singapore Changi Airport.

11 Sep 2010

Artistic Director, Chinatown Mid-Autumn Festival Celebration.

18 Sep 2010

Artistic Director, Mid-Autumn Festival.

16 Oct 2010

Artistic Director, Charity Performance, Singapore Chinese Orchestra Concert Hall.

22 Oct 2010

Artistic Director, 6th International Congress of the Asia-Pacific Bariatric Surgery Society, Biopolis Auditorium, Matrix Building, Singapore.

31 Jan 2011

Artistic Director, Lunar Chinese New Year Celebrations 2011, Vivo City.

19 Mar 2011

Artistic Director, Performing Arts Festival 2011 (MOE, CCAC) , Ngee Ann City Civic Plaza, Singapore.

30 Apr 2011

Artistic Director, SOKA Performance, SOKA Association.

15 Jun 2011 to 26 Jun 2011

Artistic Director, Cultural Exchange Programme – Korea, Gumi Theatre, Korea.

15 Jul 2011 to 31 Jul 2011

Artistic Director, Heritage Fest at Ang Mo Kio, Tiong Bahru Plaza, Novena Square, Parkway Parade, Jurong Point.

24 Jul 2011 to 26 Jul 2011

Artistic Director, The Second China Xinjiang International Dance Festival, 新疆艺术剧场.

12 Sep 2011 to 18 Sep 2011

Artistic Director, Daejeong International Festival The Misfortune Emperor, Daejeong Cultural Centre, Korea.

15 Oct 2011

Artistic Director, Opening of Maritime Experimental Museum (Sentosa), Resort World Sentosa, Singapore.

18 Oct 2011

Artistic Director, Ray of Hope希望之光》Esplanade Theatre for Cancer Foundation.

3 Nov 2011

Artistic Director, Conference Session Pico Events, Shangri La Hotel.

7 Nov 2011

Artistic Director, Charity Concert for Kwong Hui Zhao Hospital, Singapore Chinese Orchestra Concert Hall.

16 Mar 2012

Artistic Director, Ministry of Education Showcase: Performing Arts Festival, Ngee Ann City, Singapore.

31 Mar 2012

Artistic Director, Dance Traces II: A Secular Expedition, The Singapore Airlines Theatre, LaSalle College of the Arts.

21 Apr 2012

Artistic Director, Kampung Heritage Performance, Heritage Performance, Bottle Tree Park - Yishun, Singapore.

9 Jun 2012

Artistic Director, Kampung Festival Performance, Bottle Tree Park - Yishun, Singapore.

11 Jun 2012 to 22 Jun 2012

Artistic Director, Chengdu, Sichuan Oversea Cultural Exchange Programme.

29 Jul 2012

Artistic Director, Heritage Festival at Causeway Point, Tiong Bahru, Jurong Point and Bugis Junction, Singapore.

1 Sep 2012

Artistic Director, Chasse to the Moon, DES Arts Production, Kallang Theatre, Singapore.

4 Sep 2012

Artistic Director, Mid-Autumn Celebration, KSL Resort Hotel Grand Ballroom, Johor, Malaysia.

11 Sep 2012 to 18 Sep 2012

Artistic Director, Input Cheongju International Dance Festival, Korea.

26 Oct 2012

Artistic Director, Singapore Chung Hwa Medical Institution 60th Anniversary Concert, Raffles City Convention Centre, Singapore.

30 Jun 2012

Artistic Director, Charity Performance, Singapore Chung Hwa Medical Institution.

9 Feb 2013

Artistic Director, Mediacorp Chinese New Year Countdown 2013《灵蛇舞动喜迎春》

20 Jul 2013 to 21 Jul 2013

Artistic Director, Heritage Festival at Plaza Singapura, Hougang Mall, Velocity@Novena, City Square Mall and Bugis Junction, Singapore.

27 Jul 2013 to 28 Jul 2013

Artistic Director, Heritage Festival at Plaza Singapura, Hougang Mall, Velocity@Novena, City Square Mall and Bugis Junction, Singapore.

8 Jan 2014 to 11 Jan

Artistic Director, Spring City @ Vivo City, Golden Travel Agency, Singapore.

30 Jan 2014

Artistic Director , Galloping Horse - Mediacorp Chinese New Year Eve Performance, Mediacorp TV Theatre, Singapore.

8 Feb 2014

Instructor, Esplanade Huayi Festival Workshop, Esplanade Rehearsal Studio, Singapore.

12 Feb 2014

Esplanade Huayi Festival Outdoor Theatre Performance, Esplanade outdoor performance.

15 Apr 2014 to 19 Apr 2014

Artistic Director, D.E.S. Dance Finesse 2014, SOTA Studio Theatre, Singapore.

25 Apr 2014 to 26 Apr 2014

Artistic Director, D.E.S. Dance Finesse 2014 into the heartlands, Tampines Primary School, Black Box Theatre, Singapore.

27 Apr 2014

Choreographer, Huang Zhao Jun, Doverpark Hospice, Singapore.


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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