American personality Patrick Duffy was once quoted as saying, “Dancers are works of art. They are the canvas on which their work is painted.” Our very own Suhaili Micheline couldn’t be a better testament to that.
On the dance floor, the 32-year-old is a force of nature. Some have even described Suhaili’s dancing style as ‘more contemporary with a lyrical touch.’ And it’s no surprise as her dancing stresses a lot on high kicks, turns and zany-but-still-clean movements. Comic and animal elements also feature quite significantly in her choreography. With such dancing prowess, it’s no wonder her performances are constantly met with critical acclaim such as the time when she was nominated for the 2015 Australian Dance Awards for Outstanding Achievement in Independent Dance.
The Girl Behind the Dance
Watching her work her magic on stage, one might be quick to assume that Suhaili is all business. However, the toned beauty laughingly refutes that. “Upon meeting me for the first time, some people do tend to think that I’m intimidating. But once they get to know me, they think I couldn’t be any more different. They say I’m this crazy, weird and spontaneous person,” she shares candidly.
So, was she always a dancer? Suhaili fondly recalls, “I’ve been moving around ever since I was a baby. When I was growing up, music had a special place in my heart – so to speak. The moment I heard music of any kind, I’d start moving my body. It didn’t matter where I was – at home, the mall, even the restroom – I’d go crazy!”
A Push in the Right Direction
But as much as she enjoyed moving to the beat, it never crossed her mind to pursue dancing. “It was actually my mother’s idea that I picked up dancing. Although I did sign up for classes, I treated dancing as a hobby. I never intended to do it professionally,” she admits.
This viewpoint lasted till the second year of her dance degree at the prestigious Victorian College of the Arts in Melbourne, Australia. “It was then that I finally realized dance was ‘it’ for me. Once it dawned on me, I became increasingly confident that I could pursue dance professionally and do something out of the ordinary.” Aside from her mother, the rest of her family and her friends played a role in solidifying her decision. “They were extremely supportive. I’m so thankful for them.”
Realizing the Dream
After graduating as one of the most outstanding dancers in her class, Suhaili went on to garner success both locally and internationally for works such as Pan Production’s Cabaret, Five Arts Centre’s Cheras The Musical!, Dua Space’s Men, Women, Kuala Lumpur International Arts Festival’s Nasi Ekonomi, TerryandTheCuz’s Sk!n and A Delicate Situation. The latter saw her teaming up with renowned dancer Lina Limosani at the Adelaide Festival Centre in a breathtaking performance which secured three awards at the Boh Cameronian Arts Awards.
Discussing her many accomplishments, she says, “I have fond memories of my journey as a dancer. I’m very proud of my win at the Boh Cameronian Arts Awards, which wouldn’t have been possible without my collaborators Faillul Adam and Pan Productions. Outside of dancing, I’m honoured to be a brand ambassador for Under Armour Malaysia. I get to represent the brand with other awesome Malaysian athletes whom I greatly admire!”
Nightmare come to life
Despite all her successes, Suhaili’s journey has not been a breezy one. At just 12 years old, she was diagnosed with scoliosis, a medical condition in which the spine is abnormally twisted and curved. “Back then, my mother would tell me to stand up straight, to not slouch. And I’d always reply that I was. In fact, there was once when a dance examiner failed me for not standing straight!”
She continues, “One day when I was running, I felt a painful stab in my lower back. That was when I finally got myself checked by a doctor. When my doctor diagnosed me with scoliosis, I broke down because it felt like my worst nightmare had come to life.”
Her inner turmoil and misery continued until she realized that there were many other dancers who shared her medical condition. “Stories about how these dancers adapted to scoliosis without allowing it to get in the way of dancing was very inspiring to me,” she says. This knowledge, coupled with support from her family and friends gave her the drive to undergo treatment and continue dancing.
“My treatment consisted of wearing a body brace as well as many sessions with chiropractors and physiotherapists. These days, my back’s a lot better. I’m more cautious with my body now. I do lots of exercises such as Pilates and swimming which are beneficial for the spine,” she says. With her scoliosis under control, she now looks out for her dance students. “Because I have scoliosis, I can identify those with the same condition as me. I can then help them rehabilitate and strengthen their backs for dancing.”
Be Brave, Be Honest
Not one to rest on her laurels, Suhaili has big dreams for the future which she doesn’t hesitate to share with us. “As long as I’m still alive, I’ll not stop educating people – young and old – through the art of dance. I hope to set up my own dance school AURORA all over the country. Who knows, maybe even build my own dance company producing local talent who will represent Malaysia on the international stage.”
She concludes, “Dance is a very tough industry as it can be brutal – not only physically but also emotionally. Dancers must be able to handle low-pay jobs and sometimes, non-paying jobs especially when they’re starting out. We also have to deal with rejection and competition from fellow dancers. Then, there are the critics of course. This is why I remind myself to stay brave and honest when it comes to dance. I want to make productions that carry an important societal message. I want my dancing to count. I see myself as more than just an entertainer.”
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