According to my mum, I was a really active kid, so as soon as I started walking, she enrolled me in taekwondo, sports, dance and all sorts of activities. When I was three, my elder sister was doing ballet at that time and I thought it looked fun; that was how my affinity with dance started. What first drew me to dance was the fact that the human body could look so graceful and effortless in movement. I remember watching ballet from a very young age and thinking to myself, “Wow, dancers have such command of the body!” That and the fact that I love pink, so I thoroughly enjoyed wearing the pink ballet leotards and prancing around in tutus!
Years went by and this hobby turned into something more serious as my passion for this art form grew. Today, I’m a movement artist, choreographer and programme curator, and the various hats I wear are multifaceted. This allows me to stay open‑minded because I’m forced to see things through multiple lenses. My passion and interests bleed seamlessly into all my roles and I’ve found that this has freed me from expectations; I’m allowed to chart my own path.
A memorable milestone in my dance journey was receiving the National Arts Council Arts Scholarship to study dance in London—it helped make everything else possible. Another one for the books was when I got scouted from my graduation performance: I was just about to turn 18 when I got the call, so in the week I had officially finished school, I went straight for my first rehearsals with the dance company for the dance production Inala, not knowing that I was the youngest member there. On top of that, I was completely starstruck when I found out I’d be performing with stars from The Royal Ballet as well as the Rambert dance company, plus the Grammy Award‑winning Soweto Gospel Choir. Needless to say, I felt completely out of my depth, but at the same time, I couldn’t be more thrilled! We premiered this show at the Edinburgh International Festival in 2014, where we performed for 9,000 people over the span of three days. We then went on to do 93 shows in the UK, Russia, China and then finally, Singapore in 2019.
I vividly remember having a conversation with myself after completing the last tour, where I concluded I’d be totally OK if it were my last one ever. Having been in and out of tours since I started dancing professionally at 16, I felt it was a good time to move away from full‑time performing. Concurrently, I felt a calling towards teaching dance and using the tools I knew to educate as well as share how dance can be used for healing, not just for aesthetics and performance—I myself have had depression and eating disorders, and found dance to be a beneficial form of therapy that has transformed my life. So I made the transition from the performing arts to the healing arts (Stanley is now instructor, choreographer and programme curator at The Dance Circus, a collective of movement artists she founded in 2020 that uses movement as a medium for wellness, education and connection). The work that I do now is a small way to pay it forward, and I hope it can change the lives of others too.
Through the process of movement play and choreography, we can explore how our bodies speak louder than our words. Sometimes, our bodies can reveal truths we didn’t even know existed. In my line of work and practice, I strive to explore how our state of being, both mental and physical, affects things around us as well as our relationships. One theme we recently explored and developed was the relationship between body image and climate change. In our first workshop session in the dance studio, participants reacted to various prompts given by Thammika Songkaeo, the founder of Two Glasses (a Singapore‑based company that tackles environmental problems in multidisciplinary ways). As the session went on, one stood out for me: “How do you feel about your body?” Once we heard it, almost instantly and instinctively, the dancers, myself included, started to play with and pull on our clothes as if they were parts of our bodies. As that progressed, we quickly saw the undeniable connection between criticising our bodies and the way we consume fashion, and the fashion industry’s large impact on climate change.
Many of us fight demons when we look in the mirror, despite the beauty that we all have. In the society we live in, things are marketed to us as solutions—”This will help hide that lump”; “This will make you look a little bit smaller”. Marketing forces are ready to tell us to buy a solution. But we need to ask ourselves: if we don’t first learn to love and accept ourselves, would it ever stop? How long can buying as a solution go on? The overarching message here is that when we love ourselves more, we can better love our planet.
This year, The Dance Circus and Two Glasses came together to create a dance film, Changing Room, that approaches the topic of climate change from a new perspective. As our producer Thammika puts it, while many projects have already pronounced fast fashion a climate change villain on an industrial level, we aim to bring home the story of how that villain is connected to our inner selves: how we judge ourselves harshly, seeking perfection, and hope that the villain can help fix our problems. Body image has seldom been strongly linked to the story of environmental degradation, so we felt very strongly about diving deeper into the way we women see ourselves in mirrors every day, and exploring together how our womanhood and notions of beauty are implicated in environmental messes that can be prevented.
Our film premiere at The Projector this September was well received, with encouraging feedback from the audience. For us, this is just the beginning; there’s so much more planned to follow through and maintain this community we’ve built. There are scheduled movement therapy sessions led by The Dance Circus, while Two Glasses will find ways to engage the community by creating conversation spaces, which might take the form of, say, picnics. By doing so, we get the chance to further speak about these topics with creative and like‑minded individuals—the potential to grow this community and share our message is huge. The team is also working hard on bringing this message and film to college campuses to better educate the younger generation.
I’ve learnt so much through this whole process, from the production side of things to random facts that my team members had researched and shared with one another—from information about textile waste to details about colour dyes and the bleaching processes—but one big thing is perhaps the realisation that this fight is much, much bigger than I had initially thought. This project has opened my eyes to the large forces at work in our modern society that play on our vulnerabilities as women.
The way I see it, dance is a universal language—it’s natural and instinctive. Even babies dance instinctively when they hear music. More than that, dance is used as a powerful tool to not only communicate, but also connect. With this, movement therapy plays a vital role in helping individuals with mind‑body connection to support cognitive, emotional and motor functions.
As the author and body‑oriented therapist Linda Hartley wrote: “Cellular intelligence, the wisdom of the body, is intimately connected to the conscious and unconscious processes of mind and emotions. The body can reveal the secret, hidden, or forgotten areas of experience embedded within it, and as we learn to listen to the body in its constantly transforming expressions, we learn to know ourselves more deeply.” It’s imperative we focus on the aspects of mental, emotional and physical well‑being, given the turbulent years recovering from the Covid‑19 pandemic, and movement therapy helps with this. I noticed that post‑pandemic, there has been more awareness for conscious movement and it’s a great start!
What I love best about dance has changed over the years. It used to be how it took me around the world and the rush of adrenaline after each performance. But in recent years, especially since the pandemic, it’s more about how dance is such a vital tool for healing and connection, not only with oneself, but with others too.