SINCE catching her first major break six years ago, Cecilia Yong’s dance career has taken one perfectly timed leap after another.
Back then, Yong, a relatively unknown in the scene at the time, emerged as the winner of So You Think You Can Dance Malaysia’s second season.
Now at 27, she’s one half of South-East Asia’s top Latin dance couple (alongside her partner Alfred Choo), the undefeated champion of Malaysian Latin dance since 2004, a sought-after choreographer and an events coordinator.
But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. She has won a slew of local and international dance awards, performed as a main dancer for countless top local productions, and choreographed performances for brands like Maserati, Ferrari and Hennessy VSOP.
In other words, despite her unassuming demeanour, Yong is a true Malaysian champion, one who has dominated her sport for a decade and is still at the very top of her game.
However, Yong is not the sort to rest on her laurels despite her achievements. She starts her day at 6:30am every morning, and trains around four hours a day (and six hours a day in the weeks before competitions) – all on top of her other commitments.
“I am still curious! In terms of dance technicality and status, I have established my position. But I’m always improving along the way, and the curiosity to learn will always be there,” she said, adding. “If you stop being curious, you won’t grow anymore.”
Unlike most Malaysian competitive dancers, Yong can actually afford not to have a side career due to her constant success. Others aren’t as fortunate.
“We’re very lucky to have a sponsor behind us. Other dancers have to work to fund their careers in this sport, which is very expensive, and that slows their progress.”
Yong credits much of her success to the whole-hearted support of her parents through the initial stages of her career.
She started competitive Latin dancing when she was 16. She had to sit for her SPM examinations the following year, but her parents never stopped encouraging her.
“My father told me, ‘Don’t let SPM stop you from dancing! You just need to manage your time’.
“I’ve never met any other parents who are so willing to let their child live on the edge,” she added with a laugh.
The bubbly Yong got serious when we asked if she had anything to share with young dancers out there who want to follow her footsteps.
“People need to be bold and do the things they want to do,” she said. “Just do it, and even if you fail, you would have experienced it and become a better person.
Throughout her career, Yong has had many dance partners. However, she said that it is her current partner that she has the most chemistry with.
The question on many people’s minds, of course, given the passionate chemistry required in Latin dance, is whether Yong and her partner are in a relationship. It’s something that clearly irks her.
“When we dance, we don’t talk about feelings; we talk about technicalities,” she said. “Love is the last thing on our minds!
“What we’re ususally thinking about is: ‘What’s the next phrase of music? How can we portray it better?’”
And to achieve that requires some acting skills. Despite her tendency to fidget backstage before a competition, Yong is all grace the minute she steps onto the dance floor.
“Inside, we may be scrambling to remember the steps, but when we walk out we look calm no matter what.”