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WORKING A DREAM. A love for music, a passion for dancing and a desire to teach. by Lesley-ann Naik.

Lesley, one of my ex-student who's since migrated to Australia wrote this as an assignment for school. With her kind permission, I have reproduced it here.

Katy Cheong is a small woman and yet her imperious bearing seems to fill the room. It is obvious that years of ballet have done as much to her posture as etiquette lessons would have. Even at the age of 48, she carries herself gracefully with a straight back and a proudly uplifted chin as she would have on the dance floor so many years ago. Even now, dance is still her passion and she continues to impart the art of ballet unto her students.

     Born on the 13th of October into a comfortable middle-class home in the bustling city of Petaling Jaya, Malaysia, Katy was the eldest child of the five Cheong siblings. “Therefore, it was quite vital that I ‘grow up’ quickly, with so many younger ones around,” Katy explains.

“... when I realized I couldn’t do without dancing...”

     She describes her childhood as fun. “In those days, the world was not so violent and it was safe to cycle to the neighbourhood convenience store without the fear of being kidnapped or robbed. It was more ‘outdoorsy’.  We did not spend hours in front of the computer or the TV,” she recalls with a nostalgic smile.

     Growing up in a family that shared a passion for the Arts both visual and performed, it was only natural that Katy Cheong would eventually pick up a form of it. “I have a sister who is a talented musician and a brother who is trained as a designer, while my father was quite accomplished at social dancing and still does Chinese Calligraphy,” Katy elaborates.

     Katy began ballet classes at the young age of 4 but due to her weak lungs, she was made stop.

     Now, she is quick to point out that dancing would actually have strengthened her lungs and eventually cured her wheezing. But in those days, health details such as this were not known to many.

     However, later on, at the age of 9 much to her joy, she was rewarded with dance lessons after achieving high academic results in school. “I have absolutely no idea why I wanted to do ballet so badly,” Katy elaborates. “I was sent to ballet class and henceforth I got hooked.

     Going to dance college after completing high school brought Katy a step closer to her dream of teaching dance. “The desire to dance and to impart dance knowledge came from within. Nothing influenced it, or me for that matter,” she claims.

     Making dancing one’s career is not a decision to be considered lightly but with the whole-hearted support of her father, Katy decided to pursue her dream when she realized how much she loved dancing, much to her mother’s displeasure.

   “My dad always believed that we should follow our dreams and reach toward our goals,” Katy states with smile. “Mum, however, knew it was going to be tough especially with my history of scoliosis. She was afraid that I would not be able to handle it.”

   Katy reveals that she had suffered from back problems since an early age but her love for dancing made her more determined to succeed.

     She strongly believes that having obstacles such as this taught her to be a better teacher, a more understanding one. “After all,” Katy says. “Had I been ‘perfect’, I would not be able to fully understand the struggles my students go through to achieve their own goals.”

     Graduating high school with honours, Katy applied to several famous dance schools around the world in pursuit of her dream. She was immediately accepted into London Dance Studio where she was to experience many new things. “It was a total culture shock when I went to London. The outlook, the approach, everything was so different. They weren’t so exam-orientated like we were back home in Malaysia,” she recalls.


“... because my passion was in teaching and not performing.” 

     Attending London Studio Centre, Katy had the opportunity to learn many other different dances besides classical ballet as well as drama and voice training which were taught by well-known ex-dancers, many of which still performed in musical theatres. “It was like entering a whole new world where everything revolved around dancing, music and stage!” she exclaims.

     Katy’s determination was spurred on even more when a deaf boy joined her dance college during her 2nd year. The boy’s courage to pursue his dance career in spite of this handicap inspired Katy to do better. “If he couldn’t hear and yet was determined to dance, I COULD and I SHOULD do better,” she exclaims with gusto.

     Reminiscing about her college days, Katy tells me about her experiences of dancing in clubs and discos with friends during her weekends.  It was the disco era (early 80s). “Dennis, one of my West Indian friends was a big guy. While we were putting our shoes and warming up, He would ‘move’ onto the dance floor so he could ‘clear’ the space for us. The other people would hurry to steer clear of him. Then when the floor is cleared, we would monopolise it,” she recounts.

     She laughingly admits that doing so was not very considerate of them, but being young and irresponsible, they did not care!

     Finishing college and receiving her diplomas, Katy returned to Malaysia and began teaching. When asked why she did not perform in theatres, she responds with enthusiasm, “Because my passion was in teaching and not performing. To teach dance is all I’ve ever wanted!”

     In 1986, she cut the ribbon to open her own ballet school in the busy town of Melawati, Malaysia. It was the final stage to the fulfilment of her dream, albeit a risky one. Nevertheless, Katy strongly believes that it is very stable in terms of public demand since it is a service industry. “I am not looking into becoming a multi-millionaire,” she says earnestly. “As long as bills are paid and ends are met, it's perfectly alright with me.”

     To be able to impart dance knowledge to her students and help shape their lives by their outlook toward art on the whole is what Katy considers her greatest achievement. “The enjoyment and pleasure they find in dancing is enough me,” Katy clarifies.

     Her ballet academy had recently organized a concert in which all the students had taken part in. “It wasn’t easy, with the tight budget due to economic downturn and shortage of helpers in making props and organizing the event. But the students had a great time, and I guess that’s most important,” she says with a satisfied smile.

     Without a doubt, Katy Cheong is an accomplished, not to mention a very determined woman. After all, to be able to proudly say that she has achieved her dream is not something many people can.


(didn't change a thing)



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