'I've always had a yearning to dance': S'pore man who took up waltz at age 43

Kaypoh-ing Strangers: A man shares about his passion for dance and how he has always wanted to do it since he was a child.

Matthias Ang | June 18, 2022, 10:57 AM

KAYPOH-ING STRANGERS: What is going through the mind of the person standing in front of you in the bubble tea shop queue? What are the fears and hopes of the person sitting next to you on the MRT? When did the person walking past you on the street feel the proudest in their life?

Kaypoh-ing Strangers is a Mothership series in which we approach ordinary people in Singapore to explore their stories and find out how they see the world.

We came across Kavan Lio, 43, at Bendemeer Shopping Mall, just as he had bought a drink from a soya bean stall. He had taken the day off from work to take his mother to a medical appointment.

Lio, who works in anti-money laundering in a bank, shares how he was able to once again pursue his childhood yearning for dance through waltz, how he picked up the skill of mixing cocktails, and how a four-year stint working in Hong Kong changed him as a person.

What is something new you learned recently?

I started learning waltz in Oct. 2021. I saw an online post for lessons through a social community and I went to a trial class.

I liked the class and the people in it so I started going for classes every week.

I have always had a yearning to dance when I was a child because I thought it was very pretty. I was mesmerised by the films Foot Loose (1984) and Dirty Dancing (1987) — so much so in fact that I once "forced" my parents to take me to Swing Singapore so that I could dance with everyone on Orchard Road; I think this was either in 1988 or 1989.

Back then, Swing Singapore was a street party that was held at Orchard as part of the National Day celebrations from 1988 to 1992.

Then during my teenage years, my interest in dance was reignited when I saw the Japanese film Shall We Dance? in 1996. It is a very sweet story about ballroom dancing and the elegance in the film inspired me.

As for why I did not pick up waltz until last year, well, as a child I never did have the time to learn it properly. As an adult, it never really hit me to go and learn the dance because none of my friends are interested in this.

I am also at the current stage of my career where I have more time. I used to have to work between 10 to 12 hours daily because of the number of calls and cases I had to handle in my line of work. I did not have time for leisure.

So it was fortunate that I just chanced upon this class, where the regulars are friendly and the teacher is nice. So I decided to give it a go by signing up for a package.

So far, I've gone through four packages with this teacher. His studio is Ben Lau Dance at Tiong Bahru.

I just want to do it for my own enjoyment. Dancing competitively is too much pressure and I don't think I'll put on a show as I have stage fright.

Learning the waltz is actually quite tiring

If you look at waltz, it looks really elegant and nice but most beginners can't dance like that. It is a lot of work actually and it has a lot of intricacies. For example, there is footwork, the positioning of the head, and the need for the arms to keep the frame etc.. While we are juggling all these, we must still smile!

This has also helped me to understand that dancing also helps you to slim down. Every time we dance, it's about an hour plus and each time we touch one another on the back, everyone is sweaty.

In March, I decided to do classes twice a week to sharpen my skills. One of the classes is in a private setting so that I can sharpen my skills and execute moves differently, and with more poise.

In a group class session, you need to take care of the weaker ones. In dancing, there's the role of a leader and a follower. I'm trying to learn leading now.

If I am a good leader, I can guide a stranger as my dance partner into doing the moves I want. That is an accomplishment.

What else do you do?

I make cocktails for my friends.

I started making cocktails about 12-13 years ago, when I was in Hong Kong.

I picked it up from my friends there and after trying their cocktails, I thought to myself that I could do it better and decided to learn from YouTube or copy what bartenders did.

My signature drink is mojitos although I make many citrusy cocktails too.

Most people who drink my cocktails like it — there is enough kick inside, I am generous with ingredients and you may need only one or two glasses to feel happy or tipsy.

Recently on Fridays, I have friends who come over to my place and I have been stocking up on gin and whisky, as well as getting more ingredients for mixing.

I experiment according to what they like or the mood of the day. It's really just playing around and I'm glad that my friends enjoy it and don't mind my experiments.

Most of my cocktails are gin and juice-based, mixed together with citrus juices and spiced up with something like sparkling water, sprite, soda water, even prosecco or champagne.

Photo courtesy of Kavan Lio. "Gin with pineapple juice and Cointreau, shaken."

Photo courtesy of Kavan Lio. "Peaty whiskey orange cocktail mixed while binge-watching The Witcher."

As for mojitos, it was one of the earliest drinks I learned to do and I have made many variations since then.

Apart from the constant ingredients of lime and mint, I mix and match various types of alcohol with different kinds of fruit juices and see how it goes.

Photo courtesy of Kavan Lio. "Gin mojito with rosemary to add to the botanic fragrance of the gin."

Why were you in Hong Kong?

I was living in Hong Kong for work from 2009 to 2013.

It was not easy at first as my Cantonese was not so good and I had to read in traditional Chinese. Both of these have since improved and I am very grateful for that.

Another challenge was the work culture difference in Hong Kong. In Singapore, you can quickly have a rapport with the locals.

But in Hong Kong, the same tactics I used were not acknowledged so quickly; it takes a lot more effort.

I think Singaporeans in general are friendlier and we do know how to make foreigners feel a bit more welcome.

I'm more sensitive now, especially when I'm dealing with foreigners. My accent has to be neutral and it cannot have Singlish expressions, so as to make sure I'm understood.

The experience has also made me a better person as it taught me to observe my own behaviour in relation to another individual, and how to be more mindful and sensitive to my environment.

Hong Kong has amazing hiking routes and beaches which Singapore lacks

But I still fell in love with the city because of its natural landscape, the efficiency of its transport system, and the fact the city has a lot to offer.

Singapore lacks great beaches and beautiful hiking routes. The beaches in Hong Kong are pretty. There are natural beaches with powdery sand and clear waters.

I used to hike from Dragon’s Back to Shek O beach. Afterwards, I will take off my shoes, and sit at the beach while digging my toes into the sand, with a Blue Girl (a popular beer in HK) and a braised drumstick in the other!

Photo courtesy of Kavan Lio. "Probably 2012 on Dragon's Back."

Photo courtesy of Kavan Lio.  "At Shek O there are many hawkers from the local village selling BBQ snacks and beer. My favourite is a stall run by a very friendly Thai lady."

In fact, I did not want to come back from Hong Kong but I faced a lot of pressure from home and on hindsight, I'm glad that I made the decision to come back.

I think this maybe comes with age — I have mellowed down. Back then, I was in my early 30s in Hong Kong so I was really raring to go, like many Hong Kongers.

I have also come to appreciate the space we have. You can't get this kind of space in Hong Kong. Over there, social distancing is almost impossible, the house is small and urban areas are packed.

Still, I'm really grateful that I lived overseas and had exposure there.

Top photo by Pixabay via Pexels