Passion for Dancing With A New Lease of Life

Step into Active Ageing Hub (Bukit Batok West) and you may be lucky enough to catch a glimpse of the beautiful flutter of pink fans and graceful bodies moving in time to classical Chinese music. Leading the dance is a lady whose poise and presence captures the attention of all in the room – this is Active Ageing Hub volunteer Mdm Chu Siu Lin’s dance class in session.

At 83 years old, Volunteer Mdm Chu is still doing what she does best – performing and teaching others how to dance. Before COVID-19 restricted groups to two persons, Mdm Chu led classical Chinese dance sessions every Monday afternoon at Active Ageing Hub (Bukit Batok West). For the fellow seniors who attend her lessons, these weekly workouts are not only fun and easy to follow, but also an opportunity for them to channel their creative energy through movement.

It’s easy to see why people are drawn to Mdm Chu – Here, she shares pictures of herself as a stunning 18-year-old during her heyday. Today, she still maintains the same charming smile, a gentle voice and a stylish touch in her fashion sense. Image by Chu Siu Lin

Mdm Chu’s talents have not only been showcased at our Active Ageing Hub in Bukit Batok, but also on stages around the world. As the daughter of a renowned dance troupe leader, Mdm Chu’s career on the stage began at the tender age of 9 years old, dancing and singing for audiences in Shanghai and Hong Kong during her growing up years and into adulthood.

Old photographs of Mdm Chu from ages 13 – 16, wearing various costumes and rocking it out on stage. Image by Chu Siu Lin

Having lived in Hong Kong since she was 18 years old, Mdm Chu began wondering about her birthplace. She came back to Singapore in 1994 to find her roots and settled on our shores for good. Here, Mdm Chu continued to teach at the People’s Association for 8 years, preparing and choreographing performances for the annual Chingay parade.

One morning, during a walk to explore the Bukit Batok neighbourhood, Mdm Chu stumbled upon NTUC Health’s Day Centre for Seniors (Bukit Batok West) where she was then referred to our Active Ageing Hub just upstairs.

“It was love at first sight,” said Mdm Chu when she described the moment she walked through those doors. Mdm Chu began her journey with AAH as a participant, trying out different activities like K-pop dance, yoga and English language lessons. To her, the Active Ageing Hub was an oasis – a caring community of fellow seniors all eager to learn new skills, and importantly, a second home where she felt embraced by the emotional support from her new-found family. “Everyone is a big family, everyone comes together to learn all kinds of things,” she said. When Mdm Chu was encouraged to volunteer, she decided to bring her passion for Chinese dance to her fellow seniors and felt grateful that she received the support to begin teaching classes soon after.

Above: Mdm Chu singing at a National Day dinner and variety show in Bedok. Below: Mdm Chu poses with a local dance troupe. Image by Chu Siu Lin

Despite the glamour of having travelled across oceans and putting on costumes to perform on glitzy stages in the past, Mdm Chu admits that she once felt lonely, even purposeless. Looking back upon those days when she was a dance instructor, Mdm Chu also recalls feeling the pressure of teaching dance for a living and having too many students. But today, volunteering with the Active Ageing Hub has brought her more fulfilment than she ever had before. “I don’t feel lonely anymore. I’m now emotionally supported by the community that cares for me.” In return, Mdm Chu expresses her honour at being given the chance to contribute back to society at her age through the dance lessons she teaches. She encourages her fellow seniors to take lessons at their own pace and reminds them to have fun in the process. “I’m happier teaching here than I used to in the past,” said Mdm Chu.

Mdm Chu and fellow seniors of Active Ageing Hub (Bukit Batok) taking part in K-pop dance classes before Phase 2 (Heightened Alert)

When Mdm Chu mustered the courage to come back to Singapore, she took a gamble by leaving behind the people and places she was familiar with. Yet, for this 83-year-old, her retirement from performing for a living was not the end of the line, but rather the start of her golden years. And much like what led her to find NTUC Health during that stroll through the neighbourhood, Mdm Chu advises that “seniors can take the initiative to look for opportunities,” be it to stay active, learn new things, make friends, or give life to old passions.

With COVID-19 restrictions relaxing, Mdm Chu hopes to return to leading classes with fellow seniors and meeting the community she holds dear to her.

Mdm Chu Siu Lin is one of the ageless seniors featured in NTUC Health’s Be Ageless campaign for her story on finding joy, love for the community and her journey to self-discovery. Be Ageless is an initiative launched in May 2021 to inspire and embolden seniors across Singapore to embrace their golden years.