Co-founders of STEP Studio Stephanie Loh and husband, Deo Amarawi (front centre, in blue jeans) are mentors to students from NUS Halls and youth volunteers from TOUCH Community Services. | Photo: Sim Ding En
There’s nothing like the National Day Parade (NDP) to remind us of the words of the American industrialist and inventor Henry Ford, dubbed the godfather of mass production: “Coming together is a beginning, staying together is progress, and working together is success.”
Gathering students from the Halls of National University of Singapore (NUS) as well as youth volunteers from TOUCH Community Services in Chapter One of this year’s NDP was the beginning, and the success of staying together and working together towards a common goal is evident not least to the duo who’ve nurtured the dancers through the months – Stephanie Loh, 36, and husband, Deo Amarawi, 34, the co-founders of STEP Studio, its moniker a reference to Stephanie’s name.
Deo and Stephanie lead the group in warm-ups, which are always necessary before any strenuous activity. | Photo: Sim Ding En
The spirited dance moves are complemented by an equally perky wardrobe. | Photo: Sim Ding En
Shine bright like a diamond: chrome balls add sparkle to this lively first chapter of the show. | Photo: Sim Ding En
The opening chapter is vibrant and energetic, to say the least, with a medley of deliciously remixed pop numbers (like Madonna’s “Hung Up” and Justin Timberlake’s “Can’t Stop The Feeling”) accompanying the throng of fresh-faced performers that include NUS students Lam Kaiyi, 22 as well as Teoh Kia Khee and Muhammad Asyraf, both 21.
Before they’re herded off by the Show Support team to the Marina Bay Floating Platform, the venue of this year’s NDP, we speak to the quintet about using their talents to celebrate the nation’s birthday, and whether the show gets old after having to perform it so many times.
Deo and Stephanie with (from left) NUS students Lam Kaiyi, Teoh Kia Khee and Muhammad Asyraf. | Photo: Sim Ding En
Stephanie and Deo, let’s start with a tough question: Is it a bonus or a challenge for you to work with your life partner?
Stephanie: Ultimately, it’s always a plus, especially when we both have the same drive, the same passion, and the same values that we have for dance. Both of us really love teaching the youth and we are both NUS Kent Ridge Hall alumni. So when we got this opportunity to come back as alumni to choreograph for the show partner (which is NUS and its halls), we had to say yes, we had to do it.
Deo: I guess definitely it’s very challenging. But as with everything else, when it is more challenging, it becomes a bigger plus. So it is, of course, hard as a couple, there’re a lot more problems, but we create even better things when you overcome all those problems.
Youthful-looking Deo and Stephanie are the parents of a two-year-old girl, Sasha. | Photo: Sim Ding En
Stephanie, we’ve been hearing you shout out all the instructions to the dancers during rehearsals. Between you and Deo, can we assume that you are the one who calls the shots?
Stephanie: I would say in terms of choreography, teaching-wise is mainly me.
Deo: That’s the reason it’s called STEP Studio!
Stephanie: (laughs) But behind the scenes, a lot of the groundwork, communicating with the dance captains is [handled] mainly by Deo.
Deo: I guess through the years, we do have a very specific way to work together, to communicate and create together.
Stephanie: We’ve a good partnership dynamic lah, over the years.
NUS student Lam Kaiyi is grateful for a national platform to showcase his passion. | Photo: Sim Ding En
You’re all from NUS. How does it feel being from the same institution and performing in this segment together?
Kai Yi: [Stephanie and Deo] being our mentors - it’s crazy that we got this opportunity! Suddenly, they just approached us and said, “We are choreographing for NUS”. We were just like, oh my god, sign me up!
It’s such a big stage. A lot of us have watched NDP over the years and it’s an amazing stage to be a part of. The whole of Singapore is watching, our parents are all like watching and supporting us. It’s amazing to tell my parents, “Hey, I’m on TV! I’m performing for NDP!”
And especially dancing for our mentors, they really do care for dancers like us. They provide us a platform for us to pursue our passion, to spread our love for dance to people who are watching, and inspire whoever is watching whenever we go onstage and dance.
For NUS student Teoh Kia Khee, the exuberant reaction from the crowd is most rewarding. | Photo: Sim Ding En
Not many people are able to use their passion for a national celebration like this. How does it make you feel that you can showcase and lend your talents to NDP?
Kia Khee: For NDP, it’s a very grand stage with a 25,000 seating capacity, so it’s really amazing to have this opportunity to just showcase what I really love, not just to like the public, but also to my family who get to watch one of the NE shows. It’s really very heart-warming.
I’m very, very happy to hear all the applause and cheers from the audience. And it makes all the hard work, all our rehearsals under the sun, our sweat, really worthwhile. So, I’m very, very thankful for this opportunity!
NUS student Muhammad Asyraf says this year's NDP theme is particularly apt, given Singapore's emergence from the COVID-19 sitch. | Photo: Sim Ding En
What does this year’s NDP theme “Stronger Together, Majulah!” mean to you as one of the dancers?
Asyraf: I know that dance and the performing arts in general has been struggling quite a lot during the COVID-19 period. And I think the theme for this year is really a important reflection of what Singapore has gone through, and how strong it has emerged even after battling three long years of a lot of hardship, and sacrifices that different people and different groups and communities have had to make.
So, this year’s team is really apt as a description of not just how Singapore, but also the performing arts scene in general, has emerged.
Photo: Sim Ding En
Apart from the main 9 Aug spectacle, you have to perform this show multiple times for the NE Shows and NDP Previews. Does it ever get old?
Kai Yi: The moment the doors open and we go out, and we hear the cheers and the screams - that's why we perform. (That's why I perform, at least.) And getting to dance with my friends whom I rehearse a lot with, it’s really a very, very good feeling. And we are all just out there to enjoy the stage every single time that we get to dance on the Floating Platform in front of Singaporeans.
Deo: True performers never get sick of the stage!
Stephanie: Ya! With every show, they’ve really shown a lot more spirit as young dancers, and it’s really nice to see them want to keep giving their best every single time.
Deo: In the finale, when the performers from all the chapters come in, you can see all of them in a mass dance, just having fun performing...
Stephanie: ...and sing the song very loud! No matter how many times they sing the song, they’ll not get sick of it. It’s very cute lah! Very cute.