HE STARTED dancing during his university days because it was “fun”, but Mr Tan Yifan now makes a living from it.

The 36-year-old says: “I was in my freshman year and my architecture faculty desperately needed male performers for the annual Rag and Flag float procession. The choreographer dragged me into practice as I was walking down the corridor and the journey began from there.”

He began choreographing his own routines for competitions, “winning some and losing many others”. He also took on projects for celebrities, companies, commercial dance studios, student recitals and events like Chingay and the National Day Parade.

Upon graduation, Mr Tan worked as an architect for four-and-a-half years, then as a project manager for five years.

As he found himself increasingly frustrated by the dwindling time he could spend on his favourite hobby, he decided to stop working full time and teach dancing as a “serious attempt”.

Mr Tan says: “I believe that at different stages of our lives, we have varying priorities and pursuits. The variations in my career path were probably prompted by a mixture of curiosity, jadedness and a general mistrust towards conventional arrangements.”

Family support

While his mother “was not too thrilled” about his decision, Mr Tan had support from his father.

“My dad is an artist and my instincts are probably a reflection of his. My wife is also very supportive and believes in everything I do.”

He started off by taking over other instructors’ classes when they had shows and gigs. Soon, he was receiving direct offers to teach and choreograph.

Mr Tan focuses on hip-hop as he feels that its evolving styles are more than enough to keep him occupied. He trains himself by taking classes locally as well as in Los Angeles and New York.

“I once stayed in America for almost nine months consecutively. Sometimes, I literally camped at the dance studios,” he says.

Night and day

Currently, Mr Tan teaches dance at night and designs hobby collectibles during the day.

He says: “I spend long hours in front of the computer managing 3D-sculpting, so dance gives me a much-needed vision break and human engagement time in the night.

“A steady income requires regular weekly dance classes, which means I have to put in a steady effort in conducting them. I rarely miss any of my classes unless I’m on holiday. Students appreciate it when their instructor is always there and that the class content is constantly evolving with the right amount of challenge.”

Mr Tan maintains that his Bachelor of Arts and Master of Architecture studies at the National University of Singapore were the most intellectually stimulating and rigorous academic curricula he has ever gone through.

He says: “I definitely received some serious help in design management and articulation of visual elements from school as well as working as an architect.

“In the context of understanding alternative design disciplines, architecture work puts you in a frame of mind to know the required methodologies to solve problems. By extension, dance is also a design of body movement and stage space management.”

While there is no pay when he is sick and there are ups and downs in his motivation and energy, Mr Tan is grateful that he is doing what he loves. And that is why he chooses to remain positive.

To those wanting to take their passion for dance further, Mr Tan says: “To say that it is tough would be stating the obvious. But follow your heart and instincts and you won’t go wrong. No two people ever walked the exact same path in life.”