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Dancing is often seen as a form of expression that takes on multiple genres to evoke emotions in the hearts of the audience. However, it’s not everyday where you would meet one who’s looking to pursue it as a future career.
Meet Cherry Yeo Xiao Wei, an 18-year-old lass from Petaling Jaya who recently made Malaysia proud by bagging three gold medals at the Mallorca Dance Festival (MDF) in Santa Ponsa, Majorca, Spain, and is looking to further forge her path as a professional dancer.
Began at the age of 6
In an exclusive interview with WeirdKaya, Cherry said her journey to becoming a dancer started when she was only six years old and that she was looking to do something “active”.
“Due to the fact that I wasn’t exactly interested in participating in sports, my mum signed me up for dance classes instead. Over time, it slowly grew as a hobby and I’ve been taking it more seriously since three years ago,” she said.
While most would attribute the start of their career to a certain life event or person, Cherry’s main influence was social media.
On social media, I was exposed to lots of professional dancers. That, in turn, encouraged me to believe that I could do the same as well.
“At the same time, my coaches also played a huge role since the start of my dancing journey as they’re always been trying to educate me on about the careers that comes by being in the dancing field such as a dance judge, coach, or studio owner.”
Juggling between dancing and studies
Cherry, who is a student currently on a gap year from her studies, recounted that one of the key challenges she faced was maintaining the level of motivation to keep practicing.
“As a full time student, it was tough for me to keep up with my studies and multiple activities at the same time. Furthermore, being an active dance competitor required me to train a lot more compared to those simply doing it for fun.
Thus, it was very hard for me to have a work-life balance as I’d either be studying or training for competitions. It also meant that I couldn’t hang out with friends or go out with my family.
When I asked how many hours does she spend training, Cherry said she trains from morning until night on the weekends and approximately 4-5 hours on the weekdays.
“It was definitely very difficult to cope with (the schedule) and I would have to take naps in between. But with time, my body was eventually able to adjust and maintain it.”
Surprised? Bet you were because this was my exact reaction when Cherry mentioned that she actually joined dance competitions during MCO back in 2020.
“Instead of training with my coaches physically, I’d be doing it via Zoom and since the competition was done online too, I had to move the furniture all around to ensure I had enough space to perform my routine.
“On top of that, I had to place my number tag on the wall and dance on the Zoom call while the music was playing in the background. Furthermore, there were issues with Internet stability that I had to contend with,” she described.
Despite the many hassles that came with competing online, Cherry still managed to exceed expectations and snagged two 1st placings and one 2nd placing for the Latin dance category at the Cebu Open.
Cherry added that as soon as borders were reopened, she took part in as many competitions as possible in order to catch up with competitors and regain her momentum.
“During MCO, all dancers, including myself, had a hard time picking back up their stamina as they were at home most of the time. Even if you were to practice at home, it’s quite restrictive and it takes time to get used to dancing in a big space again.”
Of ‘giants’ and triumph in Spain
Interestingly, Cherry told me that it actually wasn’t part of the plan for her to compete in Spain as she was scheduled to compete elsewhere.
“I was supposed to compete at the World Youth event in Armenia with a partner but he dropped out due to financial constraints. My coach then encouraged me to take part at the solo competition in Spain.
“Aside from myself, there were 9 other Malaysians who took part as well, where four came from KL, two from Kuching, and three from Johor,” she said.
Over 100 dancers were present at the event too, where they came from various countries such as Hong Kong, China, Kyrgyzstan, and Italy, who are considered heavyweights as they have won several championships previously.
It was quite intimidating because they looked so professional and since most of them were Europeans, they were very tall and definitely win in terms of size.
“I also had a hard time adjusting to the chilly weather throughout the three-day competition, where the cold air would often rush into my lungs right after I performed onstage, making it hard for me to catch my breath.
“However, I didn’t set any expectations on myself as this was my first solo competition in Europe and was there to just see how other solo dancers are like,” she said.
Given the circumstances she faced, it’s no wonder that Cherry was dumbfounded when she was named the winner in three solo female Latin disciplines.
I wasn’t expecting to hear myself being named the winner and it was an unreal moment. I didn’t quite know how to describe or react to it.
“As for what possibly gave me the advantage over the other competitors, I’d say it would be thanks to my background in rhythmic gymnastics and contemporary dance, where I incorporated some of its aspects into my Latin dance.
“Another factor would be my facial expressions and the presence that I brought to the dance floor, which was what most likely caused the judges to award me with more points,” she said.
World is her oyster
Cherry admitted that before the competition in Spain, she wasn’t considering having a career in dancing. But her mind has since changed following her momentous win.
All my life I’ve been told that there are people who are better dancers than us. While I still believe it to be true, it doesn’t mean that there aren’t opportunities for dancers like myself.
“After the Spain competition, I spent a lot of time thinking and after going back and forth on what to study, I’m now leaning towards pursuing a dancing career,” she explained, adding that she aims to do so in the UK.
When asked whether she feels ‘left out’ among her older sister and brother, who work as a dietician and accountant respectively, Cherry had this to say:
“It’s definitely something different, but I wouldn’t say that choosing dance makes me less qualified or smart.
“Furthermore, dancing has allowed me to express how confident I can be since I’m a quiet and timid person in real life,” she added.
Cherry also had a word of advice for those seeking to pursue a career in a field where most perceive to be bleak in terms of career progression and earnings.
“There will always be people trying to talk you down or say that it’s not a good choice. But the most important thing is to keep your mind strong and go for what you really love.”