Summer Gan: This Malaysian dancer gets real about pursuing dance in New York City


By Deanna Cheah

Summer Gan: This Malaysian dancer gets real about pursuing dance in New York City

Dance was once a predominantly feminine industry with Ballet rocking Malaysia’s dance scene. It was the most common class to pick up (not forgetting piano) when our parents wanted us to pick up something creative. Fast forward to today where we see a plethora of dances being introduced and different professional syllabus’ to take up in preparation for a career in the arts—seeing organisations like Cendana, Aswara and TDS nurturing talented young individuals with western dances but also our Malaysian traditional dances. These are just some outlets for individuals to truly break out of one genre of dance and dip their toes into what the industry have to offer. Coming to a realisation that certain dances constrict our body movements and we are only confined to that one specific type of dance—but now introducing newer dances and merging your love for one with another could be a better creative avenue for improving. Dance is experimental and not being stereotypically good at a particular type just proves that the natural movement of your body can be found within the most unpredictable of genres.

Malaysian born Summer Gan’s first introduction to dance was ballet, but it was far from love at first sight—she hated the idea of running around aimlessly in a studio—today, her love and passion for dance transcends from New York to her home, Malaysia. This ballet trained dancer now experiments in all types of dance; contemporary; jazz; even theatre. Conversing with Summer, it’s evident that she places importance on experiencing more of what dance has to offer and trying different styles. “I took a ‘break’ from ballet and tried other dances and I actually got better at it when I came back to it”. In dance, it’s common to be fixated on your art and practicing for hours in a week might results in burnout and rather then seeing improvement. “Ballet is so common and it’s a great foundation for dancers, but how often do we stumble upon dancers that practice our traditional dances” cites Gan when talking about the Malaysian dance scene.


View this post on Instagram


A post shared by summer gan (@summercollection)

Many girls fall in love with ballet from the common attributes the dance holds; pretty pink slippers, big puffy tutu’s and Barbie’s Swan Lake. But where does the lightbulb moment strike for one? The thought of wanting to pursue dance as a real career and putting our blood, sweat and tears in to perfect our art. Ballerina’s would understand the struggle of giving up weekends for classes and the endless blisters we get from hours en pointe in hopes of being a soloist or a principle in a fancy dance company—but very rarely do we find someone that can truly say “I made it” or “I’m a dancer”. Again, how to we quantify this obscure industry as a real career? When does the title a “dancer’ actually hold it’s meaning. It’s a passion that lives on in many but only a handful fearlessly pursue it. Ahead, Summer Gan walks us through her sacrifices for her love for dance and how she chased this daunting career.

What inspired you to pursue dance overseas and more specifically why New York?

“I grew up consuming American pop culture from everything on TV and the internet. I was so drawn to its vibrancy, the humour, the glamour. It felt like there were no rules. New York felt like the center of it all and it has such a cinematic quality that just draws you in, working here has always been a dream of mine.”

What are some of the differences between Malaysia and New York’s dance scene?

“The diversity of people, access to world class training, legendary artists, shows, funding, the endless possibilities! New York has an indescribable energy and there’s so much happening around you all the time. People are hungry and passionate. I think that either inspires you or scares the hell out of you. Anything and everything is possible.”

Can you foresee yourself returning to Malaysia for dance?

“I don’t see it as a return as much as I never felt like I truly “left”. Malaysia will always be home. I’ve gone back pretty often and I produced my first project called WHY NOT HERE? at ILHAM Gallery in December 2020 that was so incredibly fulfilling. I can’t wait to do more of that with other Malaysian creatives.”


View this post on Instagram


A post shared by summer gan (@summercollection)

What are some changes you hope to see in Malaysia’s dance scene?

“Its impossible to speak specifically to the dance scene as I think it’s much bigger than that. Dance is not just the dancers, it’s also musicians, directors, writers, athletes, comedians, designers, producers, fashion and beyond. Our culture is so rich and unique and I hope we can embrace more of who we are and continue to shape what already exists.”

How can a Malaysian dancer succeed and what does it truly take to pursue a career in dance?

“Success is subjective. If I ended my career in dance at my last ballet exam I would have been very happy and considered that a success. I don’t think we can model our own success to what people think that might be and measured commercially, that’s such a dangerous rope to walk. I think if you want to pursue a career in dance, a lot of the work is beyond technique and performance. Getting to perform and do what you were trained to do is the best part! However, all of that comes with a lot of real life challenges, burnout, rejection, uncertainty, Visa applications, having to pay your bills etc. Learning to manage all that while maintaining your love for the process and craft, I think that’s success!”

What advice do you have to give to aspiring Malaysian dancers?

“Dance is more than just technique, so much of life and our environment shapes who we are and how we move. Pay attention to the things around you, be brave and enjoy the process!”


View this post on Instagram


A post shared by summer gan (@summercollection)

Take us through a typical day as a dancer in New York.

“It’s different all the time, depending on what I’m working on! Typically I’m auditioning, taking class, rehearsing and performing, going to see shows and ideally ending the night with dessert!”

You’ve signed up with a modelling and talent management agency. How did this opportunity come about and how does it fit into your aspirations?

“It happened very organically when my brother’s friend introduced me to his agent and she signed me from there. It’s been very exciting to be a part of the industry shift with body and racial diversity and beauty standards. It means so much to see more of myself being represented today. I grew up watching ANTM and was very shy so it’s very cool that at 5’4” I get to go in for brands I grew up dreaming of getting to work with!”

There’s this notion that it’s difficult to make ends meet as a dancer (or any profession in the arts, for that matter)—more so in an expensive city, such as New York. How do you manage it?

“Through a lot of trial and error and support from my family! Financial literacy is such an important life skill. Nobody teaches you this! I took time this year to learn more about my finances and it has been life changing. I also got more comfortable talking about it so having those conversations with my peers has been so helpful. Talking about money, especially as an artist, is never easy. More so we have to do it, and I like to believe we get better each time! Negotiate your contract and advocate for yourself!”

SEE ALSO: Third culture kids: The problems, benefits and true meaning of being a TCK

Explore More