The Moxie Girl Campaign is a search for ladies who are at the top of their domain; scroll through a few pages of their stories, read about how they achieved (and continue to achieve) excellence in their field. We want to inspire ladies to find their Moxie. This month, we sat down with Chihiro Uchida, Principal Artist of Singapore Dance Theatre (SDT).
Being a principal dancer at Singapore's best dance company means she is by default one of the best dancers in town. As I approached Chihiro's apartment, I repeated my mental note to self: she's a dance diva so speak with restraint. Wait a minute, who is that beaming girl-next-door in t-shirt and jeans?
‘Thank you so much for meeting me on a Sunday’, said Chihiro almost apologetically. I don't blame her as dancers have notoriously intense training regimes. And besides, I was still reeling in from my shock at how friendly and down-to-earth she is.
Like most of her peers, Chihiro left her home country to pursue further training in Western institutions as dance, like most performing arts, is not particularly celebrated in Asia. But unlike most of her peers, Chihiro was always the youngest of her class - handpicked for an accelerated programme by her discerning teachers.
How did a young Japanese teenage girl at a tender age of 15 years old have the courage to pursue Ballet as a career?
“I only wanted to dance,”
affirmed Chihiro. I suppose part of that gusto came from scoring the prestigious scholarship to study at the Australian Ballet School.
She started in the corps de ballet in SDT and made her ascent through sheer hard work over the years. When asked how she made her way to the top, she humbly replied,
"For me, it's all about challenging myself to be better every single day. I didn't think of anything else."
If Chihiro isn't the living epitome of passion, then I am not sure who is.
Since there is no appropriate way to ask ‘Can I see your feet?’, I took a peek as Chihiro was strapping on her pointe shoes and found what I was looking for - blisters. “I don’t use thick padding because I like to feel the floor,” explained Chihiro. It sounds perversely counter-intuitive to embrace physical pain, this is the pain a professional dancer puts herself through just so that she can deliver the best performance.
As I gazed around the room, I spotted a huge tub of weight-gainer supplement on her shelf, “I take that to ensure that I have enough nutrients in my body so that I can build strong and healthy muscles,” quipped Chihiro casually. Diet, is of course part of the regime and Chihiro continues to defy the common conceptions about dancers.
With her pointe shoes on, the sweet tweety turned into a swan as she gently stretched her arms like wings and took flight. Every pose was executed so effortlessly that she looked weightless. The usually meek Chihiro had so much focus in her silky moves that it translated into an aura.
‘Again, but this time with your chin tilted up’.
‘Again, but look at the camera now.’
I was half worried that Irving, our perfectionist of a photographer, was stretching the patience of his model. Add pesky insect bites, soiled and damp pointe shoes from the rain, most tempers would have flared, but
Chihiro persisted on without a strain or a whine.
She had not Spirited Away, which coincidentally is the title of my favourite film from Hayao Miyazaki starring Chihiro (coincidentally sharing the same name) as the lead character. And just like the movie character, both Chihiros are on a journey of self discovery; one through the search for her parents, and the other through dance.
The photoshoot was slated for four hours, but by the second hour, we were almost done “because Chihiro gave me exactly what I wanted,” confirmed Irving. Consistent excellence is how professionals rise above the amateurs.
After witnessing the nuances of Chihiro’s expressions and the elegance in her limbs, I will gladly pay for front row seats in all of SDT’s productions. It also won't be difficult to spot her on the stage. Simply wait for the end of show and hear who receives the loudest applause and adoration.