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Aerialists soldier on through dizziness, discomfort during NDP practice

SINGAPORE — Dangling from a height of up to 13 metres, they will be performing acrobatic moves such as somersaults, spins and hanging upside down during a three-minute dance segment during this year’s National Day Parade.

Aerialists who perform in Act 4 and 5 of the National Day Parade (NDP) 2016 rehearse at the National Stadium on July 21. Photo: Damien Teo/TODAY

Aerialists who perform in Act 4 and 5 of the National Day Parade (NDP) 2016 rehearse at the National Stadium on July 21. Photo: Damien Teo/TODAY

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SINGAPORE — Dangling from a height of up to 13 metres, they will be performing acrobatic moves such as somersaults, spins and hanging upside down during a three-minute dance segment during this year’s National Day Parade.

And the bouts of motion sickness and dizziness combined with the painful bruises from a tight safety harness have been one of the “most physically gruelling” experiences for Ms Biwa Mastura Mohamed Said, one of the 26 aerialist performers.

Still, the petite 26-year-old has no regrets taking up the challenge, being the self-professed “adrenaline junkie” that she is — never mind her lack of a dance background and fear of heights.

The trick is not to look down, said Ms Biwa. “We just look at (our teammates), give a nod to each other and close our eyes. And after that, once the music starts, it just comes naturally.”

The aerialist segment in this year’s NDP will be the largest ever. Of the four segments they will perform, the most complicated formation involves 20 performers from the Singapore Armed Forces Music and Drama Company.

They have had to squeeze out as much practice as possible to get ready for the show. Major Tan Sheng Yang, 36, who is in charge of aerial training, said each rehearsal in the air can last only seven to 10 minutes, so as to minimise the discomfort from the harnesses, and also to allow another round of safety checks.

Rehearsals at the National Stadium could only start on July 1. But so far, each performer in Act 4 of the segment has clocked 130 hours of training.

At a rehearsal yesterday, TODAY witnessed the performers being hooked into to their individual harnesses, the safety checks, before they were hoisted slowly upwards. Like spiders spinning webs, the team spun in intricate, clockwork synchronicity, twisting and turning 360 degrees in mid-air.

Ms Biwa said that when she started training in May, she was put through an “intense crash course” — she was told professional aerialists undergo six months’ training. Initially, they learnt about the harness system and were trained on height confidence of up to 10m. Later, they moved on to ground choreography and body conditioning.

Ms Biwa said that after this experience, she would like to explore silk aerialing and pole dancing in future.

Fellow performer Wee Woon Wayne, 22, said one of the scariest and “most disorientating” moments initially was to hang upside down.

“It does get difficult when we’re up there and the choreographer is shouting at you from below, and you’re spinning and can’t control anything ... I guess you can translate that to life, when things get out of control, and you keep a cool head,” he said.

Mr Wee, who is passionate about dance and started off learning breakdance from YouTube videos when he was 13, joined the team to be more “versatile” as a dancer.

“The dimensions we can explore in the air is different from what we can achieve on the ground ... Dancing in the air helps improve our mobility and coordination,” he added.

Twenty-year-old performer Rajid Ahamed also described each airborne experience as “out-of-the-world”, even though he was on the verge of giving up a few times because the bruising from the harness made it difficult for him to walk. But the view alone was worth the tough, long hours of training, he said. “Sometimes, when you’re hanging up there, the wind blows in ... and you get a few beautiful moments. That’s a view that money can’t buy. It’s a special feeling.”

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