Saturday, June 03, 2006

Ticket to Rant


It was not my intention to give this event the publicity it does not deserve. But the developments of the past few weeks pretty much forced my hand.

Evasive tactics, inadequate information, conflicting announcements, uneven treatment and just plain poor management compelled many of us to take the sort of aggressive actions we normally eschew.

Why so kiasu (that means afraid to lose in Hokkien and is a national trait no self-respecting Singaporean or resident can do without)? Because, despite numerous emails and calls from various members of the dance community, the organiser deigned not to respond to many of us because of our open and direct voicing of our concerns and opinions about this competition apparently held to promote our dance form to the world. Even getting information on how to obtain tickets for the shows was akin to getting blood from stone.

But let me not beat a dead horse in case it rises up and decides to do a pseudo-saidi dance move (insider joke, people, so don't worry about it). Many of us dancers dutifully queued for tickets today in the hot sun, in a room with no chairs or air-conditioning … and also no organisers and very lost, albeit super helpful and nice National Museum employees who had been given zero information and knowledge on how to handle a bunch of zealous dancers and curious tourists, just to see an event supposed organised for us.

Mind you, these were tickets just for tomorrow’s competition to pick the local representatives. The tickets for the final, so-called, international contest on Sunday will only be available from 9.30am on Sunday itself … the competition will begin at 10.30am. I shall say no more but guess what my thoughts are when they start with F and end with R.

Some dancers could not spare the time in mid-afternoon to indulge their curiosity. Thus, to aid my fellow dancers who could not attend any of the competition events, either due to time constraints or because they were just one of the many unfortunate members of the community left out in the cold information-wise, I decided I will post a running commentary when I return each night from covering the event.

Please note that these are my opinions and observations and may not be factual until I obtain clarification from … someone … anyone … since the organisers do not seem to think they owe anyone explanations.

I am not bitter … yet … just appalled. You will be too when you read about our experiences today.

We were told we could only obtain tickets from 1pm onwards at the yet-to-be-officially-opened-National Museum of Singapore. Each person was entitled to only 2 tickets. And we couldn’t re-queue for more tickets … something that came up after I jokingly said I could do what I usually do at amusement parks for my favourite rides … flashback to getting off The Viking and immediately queuing up again 7 times until someone distracted me by announcing dinner.

Thus, 3A Gurl, Charmaine, Charmaine’s mum, and a friend’s helper, all arranged to meet at 12.30ish at the museum just in case there were more kiasu peeps than us. Frankly, I doubted that was possible but 3A’s fervour and fanaticism is catching.

I was late so I arrived at around 12.40pm to see 3A sitting on the steps with a pale-faced and rather frightened looking young bloke. Hmmm, doesn’t look like 3A Hubby … toy boy?

It appeared I was 3rd in line after her and Pale-Face. How, Pale Face. He blanched … I could smell fear on him and I beamed even more broadly to his great discomfiture. The poor man had been conned into lining up for tickets for his colleague whose girlfriend was competing in the event. Rather convoluted, isn’t it? No wonder 3A and I kept messing up and declaring him the boyfriend, which terrified him even more.

And how he suffered. Stuck for 45 minutes with two cackling, half-crazed, aged dancers. Hi, my name is Waldorf and this is my friend, Staedtler. It was fun for us as we were in our element, leading the charge of many others to come. 3A somehow became the unofficial leader, loudly interrogating all and sundry and announcing (sans loudspeaker … not that she need it) the details of the event to everyone since she had researched it to the zenith. At one point, I half envisaged her with a pointy flag on a stick raised in the air like one of those tour guides. The funny thing was everyone was willingly and blindly following her and asking her all sorts of questions as if she was the organiser.

You might think that presumptuous of her but someone had to as the organisers did not show up till 1.15pm and even then they did not know the details and had no clue what was going on. If not for her, there would have been utter chaos.

We waited in an empty atrium for about 45 minutes with just a gold-draped table and fancy stain-glass roofs mocking our inertia. 3A & I sat down on the marbled floor, startling everyone who stared at us as if we were incarnations of Gandhi. 3A actually started buffing her nails, to the great amusement of Pale Face … who by this time had gotten used to us and buoyed by the presence of others, was looking less pale and petrified. I noticed Charmaine kept her distance … Judas …

At exactly 1.05pm, when there was still no sign of any officious looking people, 3A called the main organiser. While I did not hear the entire conversation, I was seated near enough to her to catch the drift. Paraphrasing, it went something like this …

Hey, A, this is 3A and I am at the National Museum with a whole bunch of people queuing up for the tickets of the competition but there is no one here. Can I just check what is going on and is there someone we should be looking out for?

Crackle, crackle, hiss, hiss … you are already there, and I am not, so what do you expect me to do about it? Just wait for someone to turn up. Crackle, hiss, hang up.



We were forced to tell everyone that the organisers would be late and that we only had to wait. That we were trying to smooth things over for them despite everything is an indication of proper manners inculcated in us by our parents and schools, for which we thank them and pityingly wish A had the privilege of.

When the harried organiser employee arrived at 1.18pm, she was apologetic and quite lost. She started counting out the available tickets on the spot, on a piece of A4-sized line paper with some numbers scribbled on it in pencil, from which she was obviously subtracting from the total of 200 … in front of 3A and I.

10, 10, 10, 20, 30

Excuse me, what are those numbers? I asked, smiling winsomely. (Don’t scoff!)

Oh, they are reserved tickets.

But I thought no reservations were allowed? I asked wide-eyed and innocently.

They are actually for the participants.

Oh I see, but I thought the theatre can house about 240 people and thus only 200 tickets were made available to the public because 40 were reserved for VIPs and participants? I blinked limpidly at her.

Er … blink, blink ...

Can you spell R..O..A..D..K..I..L..L?

I took pity on the beleaguered girl as she was just an innocent patsy. At such close proximity to the Holy Grail-like tickets, I could afford to be generous. Until she revealed that the tickets were not ready.

I’m terribly sorry but we have not printed them out yet but they would be ready in half an hour. You can leave your name and come back to collect them or we can leave them for you at the door tomorrow.

Silence … see below internal monologue …

Gee, I did not realise you did not know you had to distribute tickets today when you bloody announced it in early May! What the blooming, godforsaken, inane, f…

We pause now to censor the extreme usage of unsavoury language - regular broadcast will resume when rabid female is calm again.

Deep breaths … counting backwards …

Even Pale Face and the Japanese tourists behind him exchanged looks with 3A and I. We scrambled to write our names down but tacitly and simultaneously, announced that we would return in 30 minutes to collect our tickets. We had no faith that the tickets would actually be there tomorrow at the door. Can you blame us???

The five of us adjourned to a nearby café for coffee to wait out the great print job. Along the way, we acquired a follower, who we later realised was a student of the organiser. The poor dear had no clue what she was in for and at first she was chortling and snorting with hysterical laughter with us. Until she asked us if we were students of the organisers and we nearly died laughing.

What annoyed me was one of the organiser’s students informing me that they had been told that I used to be a partner and had learnt from them. Ironic when they used to turn up at my house to seek my help to correct their techniques and for choreography assistance and the only class I was ever involved in with them was when I taught a workshop for them. How interesting the way things are portrayed in Singapore! Lovely.

Unsurprisingly, the young innocent disappeared once we returned back to the Museum to collect our freshly minted tickets. Along the way, I tried to give the organisers the benefit of the doubt and mused that perhaps the hold-up was due to the sorting out of serial numbers on the tickets. The others gave me dubious looks but conceded that was possible even as we each silently thought that was incredibly lame. Asians are just so tricky … all those sub-text!

Getting my grubby hands on the ticket was a palpable relief … after all that trauma, these babies are as prized as a box of Godiva choccies. Or a bucket of Bluff oysters. Or a 100-year Grand Marnier. Or … sorry, got distracted there …

The tickets were printed on colourful paper. Green for the 3pm show and yellow for the 7pm show. Cool. Until I peered at Charmaine’s. Her 7pm tickets were blue and her 1pm show tickets were yellow. I was confused. I checked my yellow-papered tickets again to ensure I had not gotten the 1pm show tickets by mistake. Nope … 7pm it was.

Er, excuse me, miss, are my tickets printed on the wrong coloured paper? I think my colour coding is wrong.

Oh, no, no … there is no colour coding to differentiate the tickets. Why? Do you want to change to a colour you like?

Silence prevailed as I tried not to howl hysterically at this additional idiocy. You have no idea how proud I was of my supreme self control when I replied that I was fine with my pretty colours but had to look away, bite my lips and stare steadfastly at my tickets to maintain my composure. And then I noticed that there was no serial number.

These tickets that could not be prepared beforehand were just plain tickets with no coding, serial number or customisation.

Am I in the twilight zone? Is the organisation of tickets such a mammoth task? Did Pale Face think that dancers must be all muscles and limbs and no brains?

After being in events management for decades, such incompetence, arrogance and self-delusion is appalling to me. Being a member of the public, such cavalier disregard of my needs is off-putting. As a dancer, such criminal misrepresentation of my community is beyond the pale.

I attend this event out of fear. Fear that we will suffer needlessly for years to come because of the actions of a few. Fear that I will forever be apologising to the general public and friends who might have had to suffer the same indignities. Some may view our actions and rants as catty but seriously, they are all driven by fear.

For years we have fought for extremely hard-earned respect and dignity for our community. We have had to swallow many bitter pills, great insult to dignity, personal sacrifices, financial deprivation and struggle to keep our heads up and our conscience clear by doing the best we can not only for our fellow dancers but for our audience and scant supporters in Singapore. We are now in desperate fear that the years of struggle will be for naught as our voices are ignored, causing us to dance our way out of a murky future.

What’s sadder is that instead of roaring like lionesses, we are reduced to mewing like angry kittens because all our protests and passive aggressive resistance have been batted away by the arrogance of outsiders who think they know more about our industry and our dance than us and have set themselves as our spokespersons.

I will be spending this weekend in shamefaced horror and wounded dignity. Please … wish me good night and good luck.

Your incredulous dance correspondence,
Machiam Malu


Anonymous firedove said...

Hi MM,

Stumbled upon your blog when searching for the results of the competition. I'm one of the organizer's students referred to in your blog.

Just thought I'd clarify a little. Very sorry if I implied/explicitly mentioned that you were a student of the organizer -- that was definitely unintentional and probably a slip of the tongue. All we were told was that you were dance partners at one time, and I assumed that meant you did duets or performances together.

The organizer does have great respect for your ability as an Indian fusion belly dancer and acknowledges that you're probably the best in your field in Singapore.

Sorry once again for the miscommunication.

10:34 am  
Blogger MM said...

Dear Firedove

Thanks for the clarification but again, it is simply indicative of the often inaccurate assumptions that seem to be made constantly from your set without verification.

While I advocate adherence to your teachers, it is sometimes a good idea to open your minds to the views and opinions of your peers in the industry instead of taking the nuggets of misinformation as the gospel truth.

And if you term duets or performance as a partnership, then many of us are terribly indiscriminate and promiscuous in our partnerships then. I have danced with Sting before at a performance. Does that mean he is my partner? I have sashayed on the dance floor with Mo Geddawi - does that make him my partner? I have also once danced with Prime Minister Lee during a performance, Lord help us all if that means he is my partner. You can probably count half if not more of the dancers in Singapore my partners then.

I am sure the organiser has great respect for stuff but I certainly do not feel it in light of the massacre of my Indian fusion choreography recently and the lack of respect shown in not even attributing or seeking permission - although it is actually a blessing that I was spared that embarrassment.

Thank you again for giving me the courtesy and respect in clarifying your comment and attempting to defuse the situation. I wish you happy dancing and am sure I will see and hear from you again.

10:13 am  

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