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Alison's Article

Unconventional Teacher

By Cheong Mun Tseng Alison

Looking at her petite frame and tiny feet, you would not think that this woman can fill the whole room just with her voice. She can speak French terms fluently and yet she is not French. After all French is the language for most Ballet terms and this lady is a remarkable unconventional Ballet teacher who most of her students regard as their second mother. The woman I’m talking about is Ms Phong Thing Kin or better known professionally as Ms Katy Cheong.

Katy who was born on 13 October 1962 in Petaling Jaya, Selangor, Malaysia to a comfortable middle class family was the eldest of five siblings. She said “my younger brother, Richard was four years younger than me so I guess I was the closest to him but most of the time I was the ‘tai kar cheh’ (big sister in Cantonese) so they look up to me for decisions and basically I played a lot on my own.” “She is a wise and protective older sister and she is ten years older than me so when she was younger, she was more like a mum to me. She would also sing ‘good morning to you’ in the tune of ‘happy birthday’ in the morning to wake me up, it annoyed me” Jasmine, her younger sister said.

She is not only like a second mother to her siblings but as they have grown older, she has become their support system. Her brother Steven said “She has been my pillar and guide and we share a lot of great personal conversations. I would describe her as calm, grounded, good listener and a great sister, mother, wife and friend.” Her sister Michelle described her as a wise person who is quick and sharp in her advice. Her brother Richard is proud that Katy is his sister as she is the best sister anyone can ever have.

“I feel like I cannot do without so I chose to do it, Ballet is my life,” she said when I asked her why she wanted to do a job that is related to physical activity despite the fact of her injuries.”There could be a few reasons as to how my injuries came about as I fell down a whole flight of stairs in my grandfather’s house in Menglembu, Ipoh during my childhood days which I can’t remember much but my mother told me that it was quite bad or due to the fact that my younger brother, Richard pulled my chair when he was fooling around and I fell on my back” She said.

“It is more difficult to demonstrate to my students but because of my disabilities, I can emphasise with my students who have injuries or even help them prevent injuries as well because I have gone through it but I guess it can be compensated with explanations or analogies as well. I would also use resources in the studio and also keep up to date with current happenings so students can identify” She said.

Looking at her, I can never tell that this woman could have such injuries and also suffered a slip disc about close to ten years ago as she is very physical while she demonstrates to her students and also observing her playing roughly with her dog, Nikki who she says is the most important person in her life other than her family as her dog is probably the only person who loves her as she is no matter whether she is smelling like the drain or smelling like the Channel No5 perfume and will always loyally wait for her at the door.

She is an unconventional teacher as she takes different approach with different student as each student is different and responds to things differently according to Han Pei Wun who is one of her longest students as she and her sister Pei Jean have been taking lessons from Katy ever since they were young.”I definitely think of her as my second mother. She gives good advice not only in ballet matters but also life” She added.

Pei Wun said “I don’t feel that there’s any generational gap or teacher-student gap with her as she’s not only outgoing but also very friendly and ‘in’ which actually makes it easier for us to confide matters to her. We have also shared quite a lot of funny moments together such as warming up in toilets, using inner wear as costumes for ballet competitions as well as weird analogies in class such as ‘you got to point your boobs (breasts) in that direction’.”

Sheng Wei Cheng who started his tutelage under Katy about a year ago said “Ms Katy is a dedicated, passionate, caring and great teacher who will give you guidance and motivations to help you pursue success. She is also a good friend who will give you advice in life matters.”Her assistant teacher, Tan Bee Hong said that she is an optimistic, earnest and direct teacher.

Katy furthered her studies in dance at London Dance Studio in the United Kingdom after she finished her high school studies in Malaysia.”It was an entirely different environment, I think if anybody ever have a chance to further their education or even just to have a short stay to stay anywhere else, it would be a good opportunity to grasp it and seize it because there were things that I learned there that I don’t think I can learn anywhere if I’m home” She said.

Although her father supported her studies while she was in the UK, she also took up a part-time job of being a dishwasher for a Chinese restaurant.”That was quite an interesting experiment and also an interesting part of my life. Prior to that, I did not need to do much heavy housework in the house so to do heavy labour in the kitchen of a Chinese restaurant and to wash the plates in hot water but also to be careful to not drop them so that my pay will not be docked, it was very challenging” She said.

She met her husband, Andrew Cheong who she has been married to for 28 years through mutual friends but she admitted that she talked to her husband’s brother more as her husband’s brother was more talkative than her husband.”My first impression of her was that she’s snobbish” Andrew said.”I think our relationship blossomed at a church camp and we got to know each other better.” She said.

“He was such a romantic by doing things such as opening the door for me and when we date, he would make sure that he would take me home then only go home on his own such as there were times we took a cab together but after he dropped me off, he would walked to the bus stop and take the bus on his own” She said.

“Before I left for the UK, He took me out for dinner and came with a bunch of flowers and asked me stuff like how long am I going to be away etc and towards the end of the dinner, he told me that he would wait for me. The amount of letters that we wrote back and forth could have enabled us to own quite a number of post offices in the UK and also Malaysia” She added.

“I started my ballet school with my parents help because I was barely earning enough teaching for other people however I continued in maintaining the ballet school. Of course, in the beginning, it was difficult. I had to teach aerobics to supplement my income as it was the rage back in the 80s however after awhile; it was practically my main income. I would teach it in the weekdays and ballet in the weekends” She said.

“A friend of mine who stayed in Taman Melawati encouraged me to start a school there as it was a growing community with no ballet schools there however I started it with the intention that my sister, Michelle would take over that school but my sister, Michelle was more interested in teaching music lessons hence I sold off my first school in Subang Jaya as it was the more viable place to sell. The response in the beginning was very slow and I even had to sell my car to help pay the rent however over the years, it has gotten better and now I have been teaching here for over 27 years.” She added.

The 49 turning 50 next month year old mother of two have a wide range of interests which not only ranges from dance to musicals but she also loves sci-fi television shows and movies. She is a huge fan of Star Wars and her favourite character is Chewbacca as she likes the sounds that he makes. Despite her busy time, she has maintained good friendships with her high school mates and close friends. Patrick Chan, a close friend of more than ten years said “she is my best of friends, full trust and non-judgemental friend.” Julian Wong, a close friend from church said “She’s a loyal and faithful friend who continues to be a very good friend.”

Her son, David who shares his father’s quiet nature just describes his mother as a cool mother and that she’s the best mother in the world and couldn’t ask for more. Her son’s fiancé, Putri thinks of her a second mother and talkative person that is young at heart, yet very wise towards her point of view. She added that Katy is thoughtful and nice and a little coffee junkie too.

Katy is like an energizer bunny who runs on Starbucks Coffees but yet looking at her, my mother who is so full of energy and positive energy despite anything anyone throws in her way, I now understand why I have the same character and why I take on challenges despite people saying that I can’t do it because I have the same spirit from my mother. Writing is my life just as she said ballet is her life.

 Alison wrote this for an assignment. In my opinion, I think its pretty lop-sided and biased. But since I AM her Mum, I guess she WILL be biased 

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