By Soo Mei Fei

As Mei Fei recalls her experience at the ASEAN Youth Summit 2019 held at India, two years on, she finds herself still pondering about dance as the bridge that connects. “It is never an ending point, but a starting point that branches out to various paths. It is a journey that is simultaneously unique, and yet in some sense, universal.”

I rushed home from my Odissi performance at the Artwalk Little India festival, grabbed my luggage, and headed off to the airport!

That was how my trip to the ASEAN- India Youth Summit in Guwahati, Assam began from 3rd to the 7th of February in 2019. On this trip, I was accompanied by 8 other delegates from various walks of life – youth who were studying and working in various sectors in Singapore. I remember thinking to myself: what does a dancer do in a conference like this? What is the role of dance (or any art form), when considering global connectivity, diplomatic relations, economics, and all the other areas of life that seemed (to me, at that time) so far removed from art?

I found my answer during this trip: 2 simple words – art connects. Art is the bridge between two: two strangers, two generations, two cultures, two countries, and the list goes on.

My introverted self struggled to find a way to connect with others at the conference, yet when I introduced myself as a dancer, I quickly found myself in conversations about dance – memories, experiences, and a wonderful exchange around dance.

And I wondered about the role of Bharatanatyam – which is still heavily seen as a “traditional” “ethnic” art form to the majority in Singapore, and finding less support than art forms that are considered “contemporary”. I raised the question at a panel discussion: how do we ensure that “traditional” art forms continue to grow and prosper, in the world today? Ambassador Pham Sanh Chau very eloquently put it across: preserving an art form and viewership are two different things. It was such a simple idea but to me it felt like a huge paradigm shift. In passing on an art from one generation to the next, we build bridges that give access, and open new pathways.

Two years on, I find myself still pondering about dance as the bridge that connects. It is never an ending point, but a starting point that branches out to various paths. It is a journey that is simultaneously unique, and yet in some sense, universal.