Dancing Through Disability: Speaking to Kelvin Toh and Mr. Toh Cheng Siew on performing at Chingay 2024

Some people have two left feet when it comes to dance, but how about two wheels? For  Kelvin Toh, founder of Nuevo Dance Fitness, expressing yourself through dance doesn’t have to be limited to using your legs. 

Nuevo Dance Fitness was created in 2013 to promote active lifestyles through fun movements, like dance! Kelvin’s association with dancing goes back years before he founded the company, having been a ballroom dancer since 2002, but the discovery of how accessible dance and fitness could be for persons with disabilities came through a Chinese article from one of his school projects.

Today, Kelvin’s social enterprise has partnered with entities such as Sport SG, Singapore Disability Sports Council, and SPED Schools, allowing him to work with individuals with all disabilities. 2014 is an especially momentous year, with Kelvin choreographing the wheelchair dancing performance at the 2014 Asian Para Games Closing Ceremony.

The Chingay parade is another big event that Kelvin works on, and Chingay 2024 is his fourth stint as the main choreographer for one of its contingents. Audiences can expect to be enthralled by the Latin and ballroom dance elements performed spiritedly by his dancers (partly made of wheelchair-riding performers) accompanied by the energetic rhythm of EDM beats. But the special thing about this year’s edition is that Kelvin’s father is a new performer amongst the ranks.

Mr. Toh Cheng Siew, 71, has poliomyelitis — a disease that has affected him since shortly after he was born. Currently, he relies on a combination of crutches and a wheelchair to move around, but despite that, he continues to stay active through weekly strength and HIIT training, as well as participating in fun activities. In essence, he embodies the very work that Kelvin has been doing, so it isn’t surprising that he has invited his father to participate in his first outing at the Chingay parade.

Kelvin Toh Chingay 2024: Kelvin and Mr. Toh
Kelvin (left) seated with his father Mr. Toh Cheng Siew

We spoke to Kelvin about his work with differently-abled people and got Mr. Toh’s thoughts on his maiden performance for Chingay 2024.

Kelvin, as a seasoned participant and choreographer, what keeps you inspired to be a part of the Chingay parade, and what aspects of the parade resonate with you personally?

Kelvin Toh: As a seasoned participant and choreographer, the spirit of community bonding inspired me to be part of Chingay. Personally, I’m quite an introvert, but dancing has helped me connect with people, and each Chingay showcase has its learning moments, which help me to grow as a choreographer and coach. Seeing happy faces from participants after the practice and showcase is always a joy. Chingay is a great platform for my course participants to shine and dance their hearts out.

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Posted by Nuevo Dance Fitness 扭福 on Sunday, February 4, 2018

Nuevo Dance Fitness is renowned for promoting inclusivity. How does Chingay 2024 align with your mission of inclusivity, and how do you envision the dance performances contributing to a more inclusive community?

Kelvin: Nuevo Dance Fitness (NDF) started in 2013 as a social enterprise to support inclusivity programmes in Singapore. People’s Association has always supported promoting inclusive programmes as it has had a Wheel Dancing Interest Group, “D’Passion Wheelchair Dance Group”, since 2008. NDF has been partnering with D’Passion Wheelchair Dance Group since 2019, and we were delighted that our pitch “Dance With Nuevo”, a combined DanceSport and Para DanceSport team, has been selected for Chingay 2024. 

With the Chingay 2024 Theme “Blossom” and parade format, I’m able to include my dad and seniors with mobility challenges to join in the contingent to perform safely and shine on the F1 racetrack. Hopefully, through this showcase, we will have more individuals stepping forward to join our weekly Para DanceSport training with D’Passion Wheelchair Group at Kampong Ubi Community Club.

Mr. Toh, this marks your first Chingay performance. What motivated you to join this grand celebration, and how do you feel about performing on such a prominent stage?

Mr. Toh Cheng Siew: My Son, Kelvin, has been bringing me to Kampong Ubi CC for training with the D’Passion Wheelchair Dance Group since 2019. I went with the flow and joined Chingay 2024 with the whole team for fun. I feel happy, and as I have participated in NDP 2016 and other wheelchair dancing at the Purple Parade, I’m not as nervous as before.

The Purple Parade 2022 concert with Pathlight School and D'passion Wheelchair Dance Group

Posted by Nuevo Dance Fitness 扭福 on Sunday, October 30, 2022

Your choreography for Chingay considers dancers of various ages and physical abilities. Can you share the creative process behind designing performances that cater to such diversity, and how do you ensure that each dancer’s uniqueness shines through?

Kelvin: Upon knowing the Chingay 2024 Theme “Blossom” and the EDM music genre for Act 5, I selected DanceSport Latin Cha Cha Cha as the dance genre for the showcase. With my 19 years of DanceSport coaching experience, I have chosen effective Cha Cha Cha movements that look good for both standing dancers and wheelchair dancers. 

Adaptions have been made during our combined rehearsals. I’m blessed with a team of committed performers with a strong passion for dancing; I’m happy and proud of their progress and synergy.

Through dance, convey powerful messages of resilience and joy. What message do you hope to communicate to the Chingay audience and the broader community through your involvement in 2024?

Kelvin: Chingay has been an excellent platform for talents of all abilities and organisations to celebrate community spirit and bonding through dance. We hope our showcase can motivate more individuals to make their first step to join People’s Association Courses, Special Interest Groups and Expose Classes to kickstart their journey. Chingay is a People’s Parade for the People, and we look forward to seeing more new faces in future editions.

Having participated in multiple Chingay parades and Mr. Toh, embarking on your first, what challenges do you anticipate, and how do you plan to overcome them? Additionally, are there specific moments you’re eagerly anticipating or preparing for?

Kelvin: The first challenge was to gain support from various NDF partners to come together to form an interesting concept for the project pitching. On how we overcame this, I would like to express appreciation to Justino & Ching Dance Academy, D’Passion Wheel Dance Group, and Dance Participants from my dance classes across the country for their trust in me and their ability to commit to the project when I approached them in September 2023. Their participation has made this contingent a reality. 

The second challenge was logistical transportation, storage, and maintenance of our sports wheelchairs with a lean budget. A very big thank you to the People’s Association Lifeskill and Lifestyle Division for supporting and arranging logistic matters throughout the Chingay rehearsals and parade showcase.

Mr. Toh: As I’m 71 years old, remembering routines will be my challenge, especially when I’m nervous. Luckily, my dance partner, Ms April Kwek, will guide me and look to the rehearsals at F1 Pit Building to familiarise myself with the surroundings and positions.

Kelvin: I’m very eager to see the 230m floor projection on the parade route. It is the first in Singapore, and it is a unique experience to perform with it!

Being able to share your passion for dance is a unique family affair. How has this opportunity brought you closer, and what does having a shared passion with a family member mean, especially in the context of Chingay?

Kelvin: Working with my dad for Chingay 2024 has provided us with more time together, and my dad now understands how much time, effort and commitment I’ve invested in the parade. As my dad is an extrovert, friendships blossom between him and my course participants, with every training more like a cosy get-together with friends.

Kelvin Toh Chingay 2024: Dance Routine
Kelvin demonstrates a dance routine with Mr. Toh

Your journey with Nuevo Dance Fitness continued even after being diagnosed with a heart condition. How have life’s challenges influenced your approach to dance and choreography, and what role has Chingay played in this ongoing journey?

Kelvin: As a Heart Failure Survivor with episodes of Cardiomyopathy (Heart Failure) since 2017, I’m very sensitive to changes in the environment and bodily reactions, and I also recognise early signs and symptoms. This helps me to plan and adjust the choreography to suit individuals with different fitness abilities to prevent fatigue or sports injuries.

I have adjusted my lesson plans to observe a smooth transition from warm up to performance peak and cool down to keep the training and classes safe for my participants and me. At times, I do look very bloated in class due to medication and water retention, but I’m blessed with participants who see beyond that and continue to support my dance and dance fitness classes at Community Clubs, dance studios, gyms and sports centres.

The last heart failure was triggered after my COVID-19 infection in 2022. I’m working closely with my cardiologist to manage myself with due diligence and keep myself in good form for Chingay and my line of work.

As a choreographer, I will accompany my contingent, guide them to the designated performance areas, and teach them to react to changes so that they are less physically exhausted.

Nuevo Dance Fitness collaborates with various organisations. In the context of Chingay, how do you foresee your involvement impacting the community, particularly in promoting active lifestyles and inclusivity?

Kelvin: NDF hopes this showcase will foster more significant connections with PA, individuals and organisations to work together for adaptive programmes across Singapore and make them accessible to the community. With one person, I can only reach out to a handful. But if we have more like-minded individuals and organisations coming together, we can scale up and reach out to the masses.

As the parade date approaches, what are you most looking forward to, both personally and as a representative of Nuevo Dance Fitness? Are there specific elements of Chingay 2024 that will leave a lasting impact on participants and spectators alike?

Kelvin: My highlight is seeing my dad doing a Para DanceSport at a national event with my course participants. As a representative of Nuevo Dance Fitness, putting together an inclusive contingent after ten years of groundwork with the community is a significant milestone.

Act 5 is a very fun act where participants and spectators will be partying together with great EDM music specially curated for the parade. It’s going to be a family-friendly rave party for everyone!

Catch Kelvin and Mr. Toh’s performance at the upcoming Chingay 2024 parade on 23 and 24 February! Tickets for the event are now available and can be purchased from the SISTIC website.

Photos by Brandon Neo of the DANAMIC Team.

*Article updated with new visuals

Russell Matthew Loh

Watcher of films and player of games. Dabble with writing in between.

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