Mr Henry Teo (centre, striking a pose) with his ballroom dancing students. They dance three times a week at Paya Lebar Kovan Community Centre.
FOLLOW the sounds of the 1960s wafting from the corner of the Paya Lebar-Kovan Community Centre and you will find a dapper man in his late 70s teaching a group of students, mostly in their 50s and 60s, some stylish dance moves.
Meet Henry Teo Teck Heng… long-time dance enthusiast, retired primary school teacher and now a dance teacher. Three times a week, in the evenings, he gives ballroom dancing lessons as part of Paya Lebar Kovan Community Centre’s list of programmes. Each lesson lasts 1½ hours, with students dancing in pairs to the music under his patient guidance.
The soft-spoken Mr Teo’s passion for dancing was ignited way back in 1961 when, as a newly-minted teacher, he was captivated by a group of dancers at a studio in Outram. “My friends and I walked past a dance studio and saw a lot of people dancing. We told the dance instructor that we wanted to learn how to dance. All we had to do was pay a fee,” he recalled, with a laugh.
At $15 a month, considered expensive in those days, Mr Teo learnt to dance and continued when he got married in 1965. However, he took a break when his daughter was born as the dance lessons were expensive, and juggling between dance and his family kept him on his toes. He wanted to focus on raising a family.
But dance’s siren call was too much for him to resist. In 1978, he participated in a ballroom dancing competition organised by the Singapore Ballroom Dance Teachers’ Association with his younger sister. They came in second, a feat Mr Teo remembers fondly.
In 1990, when his youngest daughter entered university and he felt he had fulfilled his parental duties, he resumed dance lessons. By 1994, he felt confident enough to apply for a ballroom dancing teaching certificate under the National Association of Teachers of Dancing. It required him to pass theory and practical exams.
“The examiners were from England. When they asked you to dance a certain step, you had to do it. You had to ensure you danced according to the timing too,” recalled Mr Teo.
He passed with flying colours, but chose to further his dancing skills instead of teaching dance. It was only in 1999, when his dance instructor passed away, that he decided to teach ballroom dancing. Since then, he has been teaching at Paya Lebar Kovan Community Centre, welcoming anyone with a desire to learn how to waltz, foxtrot, tango, quick step and quick waltz.
One of them is Ms Diana Ng Tay Lin, 57, who has been learning dance from Mr Teo for four years.
“I started to learn dancing at 53, with no background at all. I couldn’t even follow the music beat! Many times, I felt like giving up. However, Mr Teo is very patient. He never criticises. He makes you feel comfortable,” said Ms Ng, whose dancing has improved leaps and bounds over the years.
While ballroom dancing has always been his first love, Mr Teo is familiar with other dance forms such as Latin dance, Rock ‘n’ Roll and Disco Rock too. “When you’ve been dancing for a long time like me, you observe and pick up other forms of dance easily,” he said.
It is a talent that he has applied to musical instruments as well: “When I was young, I picked up the guitar on my own. In my mid-30s, I learnt how to play the electone at Yamaha. I learnt how to play the drums at 18 and saved hard to buy a drum set for $250.”
Then, with a laugh, he added: “My mum told me to get rid of the drums because our neighbours would come after me! I sold the drums after some time!”
Mr Teo turns 80 this October and plans on waltzing through the rest of his life, for as long as he can.
“I will dance as long as I can dance, simply because it is my passion.”
If you are interested in learning some dance moves from Mr Teo, head down to Paya Lebar Kovan Community Club to sign up for his dance lessons.