Emily is a coach, mover, and believer that you can build your best life.
Adaptability ranks high in her approach which compelled her to break into various professions and interests.
All said and done – NOT, because on top of her personal battles, life threw in another curveball in 2018 when she was diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukaemia, a form of blood cancer.
A “little” back story here that would perhaps enlighten you on why a death sentence in your early 30s could be used as breakout to conscious living – and thrive.
Now, let’s move away from third-party speaking to my preferred writing manner.
Those who know me know of my many interests, those who know me as acquaintances or superficially probably think I’m a jack of all trades – I’m fine with that.
Truth is, I ENJOY my many interests, and I EMBRACE them.
Over the past 20 years of being active, it is safe to say I have been more active than the average sedentary habitant of this planet.
My aspirations are not to be a world record weightlifter, or the next Flo-Jo, or the next world pole champion or go off on a Cirque du Soleil tour for 10 years (as cool as that sounds), or a UFC fighter, or throw myself from one rooftop to another.
What keeps me going is the desire to continue what I’m doing for a longer time, knowing that I am only going to get better and please my own standards.
TIP! Keep the people around you your favorites – those who accept what you’re doing and wish that you find meaning in what you do. Take the time to nurture those relationships.
I have been very lucky to have some beautiful souls in my life and have met some interesting people throughout my journey. Grateful for the experiences I have had, for without them, lessons would not have been learned.
So here, I’d like to divide this “About Me” section into categorized stories. These experiences have helped me grow as an instructor, as a coach, as a teacher, as a businesswoman, as a presenter, as a performer, as a practitioner, as a friend and as a human.
~ SPORTS BACKGROUND ~
At my Chinese primary school in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, I hung up my bronze and gold medals from long jump competitions proudly when I was 11 years old. (I wish I could say the same about Chinese calligraphy.) Performing started early in Kindergarten, eventually to some ridiculous dance routines for our annual Teacher’s Day and some other celebrated days during those primary years (NGL: now forgotten.) By primary 6, I enrolled in ballet for the sole purpose of being allowed to have long hair (yeah, it’s THAT kind of school). When I stopped ballet a year later, I never imagined I would wear leotards ever again and danced on stage with my butt hanging out. Read on for that.
Middle school in America started pretty gently for me since I attended a private Christian academy when I first moved to Tennessee. I was still playing horseshit-standard basketball with my brothers (just me being horseshit, not the boys) and I tried out for the basketball team in eighth grade, which you’d be surprise that I made the team, I was too. The episode of blacking out at one practice caused the condemnation of “suicides drill” that I happily loathe today. I transferred to a public middle school midterm and didn’t pursue any sports until my senior year. Why? Poverty mindset – I started working when I was 14 which left no time (so I thought) for sports.
Starting high school in America as a sheltered Malaysian Chinese girl was every bit as intimidating as those typical American high school based movies. You might have guessed it but PE was one of my favorite blocks (other than Spanish) because I can do something active rather than battle the wrath of sleepiness in class. (Academically uninterested & could not concentrate. ADHD? Never crossed my mind at the time). A memorable experience was the first time I had to participate in an American football (flag) game. CLUELESS on what I’d need to do if the ball comes my way and fully expected it NOT to. You see, my strategy was to stay AWAY from the very enthused teammates and the yearned object called a football. Coach wasn’t having it, he ran up right next to me and tossed the ball over. I caught it out of instinct but blanked out upon the sight of
these animals my teammates running towards me. I made a noise that sounded like shrieking racoon as I chucked the ball to the ground and ran in the opposite direction of the charging teenage beasts. I felt like a fool but I learned to adapt. By senior year, I made our school’s first girls rugby team. (I should also make the disclaimer that I got kicked off the team because I felt like I had to work over making it to practices.)
As an adult, I don’t play as much as I’d like to anymore. Basketball, football (not soccer) and rugby are still something I enjoy playing recreationally. Put some egotistical douchebags who have something to prove on the field though, and I am out. I’m in it to improve physical capabilities and team sports fun, not to risk breaking my money maker (life of a fitness and health professional).
~ MARTIAL ARTS ~
TL;DR: Practiced Capoeira, Muay Thai, Boxing, MMA/No Gi as a collective experience, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, Krav Maga, KungFu and a bit of Wushu from the bros. I am not a devoted martial artist and have trained purely out of interest and the instant gratifications from training. Ranks and recognition do not interest me but the psychology of fighters do. That interest led me to learn from the MMA Conditioning Coach certification course (by NESTA) and THUMP Boxing Level 1 & 2 (Australia). The friends I made through this world are proper ranked fighters and practitioners, where I got some insight into what goes on beyond the cage, beyond the ring, beyond the circle. Exposure to media making, both behind and in front of the camera, also got me traveling through Singapore and Philippines with TheFightNation interviewing ONE FC fighters, as well as homegrown events with MuayFit for Malaysia Fight Championship. My next interest in this realm would be weaponry and combat martial arts.
Can one grow up within a Chinese culture and NOT be fascinated with martial arts? Thinking back, I really should have asked my parents to enroll me in Kung Fu instead of ballet but hey, I still remember what I learned from ballet that serves useful today. The only martial art exposure I had was watching my brother Andrew train Wushu and childhood movies of everything Kung Fu.
My first martial arts experience was Capoeira in 2005 at the gym I worked at. They had an academy near my home though I ended up attending more Capoeira sessions at the gym than at the academy. That was a heck of a culture shock but I was struck by its cool factor of learning How-to-Eddy from Tekken. I did not continue much with Capoeira after a year, only the occasional drop-ins I was doing when we started using the academy to teach Pole Fitness in 2008. Oddly enough, I was never out of touch with the Bantus Capoeira Malaysia community because it seemed like every big event we performed at, Bantus team was there performing too. Capoeira resurfaced in my life in 2013 when a guy I was dating happened to be a professor and training resumed for me too. One thing I learned from that relationship is that I don’t respond well to my professor being my loverboy. Really. Although the training did me good, the “rodas” were overwhelming for me, especially when your boyfriend has hawk eyes on your building insecurities.
My second martial arts training was Muay Thai in 2007, also first experienced at the gym I worked at (that was a pretty awesome gym y’all.) Attending those group sessions motivated me to invest in private sessions that made a massive difference in my development. I highly recommend it if your situation allows one on one attention. Of course, that interest led me to visit Thailand every year from 2009 – 2012 for train-cations. THUMP Boxing for Fitness Level 1 & 2 certification courses came after, which gave me a better understanding of the difference between Muay Thai, boxing, and kickboxing. Knowing the fundamentals of pad work enabled me to offer variety with personal training clients and small group training clients. Nonetheless, I knew deep down I wanted to keep teaching it to a bare minimum as it was my sole stress release at the time.
On to the next training – MMA, which stands for Mixed Martial Arts. You know, that thing UFC had made massively popular? I honestly don’t remember what drove my interest in it before starting my first class with Peter Davis at MuayFit. It might have been my brother Andrew, who’s an advocate of learning and experimenting (Tim Ferriss-ish?). Predictably, I was hooked. My attendance went up and even joined some of the fighters conditioning sessions in 2010. A memorable session (because I felt like death) was a 45-minute outdoor session led by Arnaud Lepont (former GOW & ONE FC Champion) in Malaysian weather dedicated to sprint drills of all forms. I was very relieved to not have blacked out that afternoon. Naturally, I opted for private training between Muay Thai and boxing, even popped into Marcos Escobar’s BJJ academy when he was still in KL. I also made many new friends in that world, including Nogi champion Ludovic Parreira. This kind soul (but dangerous on the mats) invited me to host a TRX workshop at his academy in Marseille, France while I was transiting through UK/EU. In preparation for that workshop, I dwelled into how I can use the TRX system to help fighters improve their conditioning. That workshop was one of the most fun workshops I’ve taught, maybe it was also because not many spoke English so I got away with babbling. I might have gotten some payback during the nogi sparring sessions outside of the workshop.
As for experience behind AND in front of the camera, it was through MuayFit’s owner Paul who gave me the opportunity to gain experience filming and editing highlights for Malaysia Fight Championship, followed by Balls to Brawl competition. That led to meeting Wesley behind TFN – The Fight Nation, a news platform based in Singapore and we churned out a series of fighters interviews in Malaysia, Singapore and Philippines at the ONE Fighting Championship events. I had always wanted to give that role a go! That made me study MMA lingo and figure out the right questions to facilitate some great answers. Toughest part about that job was not revealing how clueless I felt.
I don’t practice any form of martial arts training anymore today other than grappling wherever and whenever I can. However, if I see an opportunity to learn combat martial arts and/or learn weaponry, as in attain the essentials to escape a dangerous situation, I’M ONNIT #practicalitywinsinmy30s
Related videos are on my YouTube page: https://www.youtube.com/emilytanasia
~ DANCE ~
TL;DR: Ballet for a year at age 12, that’s the only real dedicated classical training I’ve had in my entire life. For the rest of it, I faked it to make it. I mimic well and got amazing experiences performing styles of hip hop, street jazz, contemporary, Kpop and even Samba. Dance styles I’ve experienced include salsa, swing dancing, house, dancehall, bhangra, and breakdancing. My favorite style now is freestyling with no classification of styles, to a variety of music and spending most of the time with 3 limbs on the floor.
Ballet lasted for a year when I was 12 and a lot of clubbing from the age of 15. My first hip hop dance class was in California when I was 16 over spring break, followed by a second class in KL when I was 21. My brother Adam self-taught his dance style and probably holds me responsible for teaching him a crappy crip-walk when he was 9, which I had learned from a lovely ex. I also attempted break dancing with another ex when I was 15, and I still have a decent six-step and helicopter, I think.
I mention Adam because he has been a big influence on my exposure to dance. I fought hard to stay in control of my emotions most of my 20s and that shows when you’re trying to deliver a dance choreography. Learning a chorey’ without first tapping into the intention of what you are expressing is just moving your body to the beat. I muscled my way through many choreographies at my best to the beat but missed a lot of details. So much emphasis was placed on technicality and kind of lost touch with why I found it fun in the first place. Adam constantly reminded me to FEEL the music and the message, and the rest will come. Aight, brother, I get it now, I just needed over a decade’s time.
For a non-classically trained dancer, I consider myself very fortunate to have had opportunities performing various styles of hip hop, street jazz, contemporary, K-Pop and even Samba. Legit, I got paid to perform those and I wouldn’t trade those experiences for anything. The time when I was incredibly nervous was during the audition for the *Shaun Evaristo Experience, part of the United We Boogie 2011 event held in Singapore. We had 1-2 rounds of freestyle after having delivered back his choreographed piece. I recall thinking, “well this is where I’m going to look like a bigger idiot. Fuck it, just DO IT.” Expectedly, I don’t remember much of what I did, I suppose most people hardly do during freestyle. When the dancers’ numbers who made the cut were posted up on the door and I saw my number listed, I could hardly contain my excitement. It was one of my favorite memories of Singapore. (*Shaun Evaristo is the founder of Movement Lifestyle and worked with YG Entertainment choreographing for popular Kpop artists. He also performed for Omarion, Vanessa Hudgens, and Justin Bieber.)
Shan and Adam were always game to dance, these guys are also choreographers and I was the hungry-freeloading follower. I never found anyone like them in Hong Kong so it was back to attending classes once in a while, feeling a bit discouraged when you don’t gel well with the local style. It felt overwhelming at times when you’re in a beginners hip hop class and the instructor jammed in about 20 isolated moves for an 8 count block, I kid you not. The thought of going to class eventually became daunting. Random class hopping led me to experience House and Dancehall for the first time in Taiwan, those were truly happy times. The not-so-random special workshops were reminders on how lucky I was to have proper space at Viva Vertical because those superstars attracted so many dancers, it felt like I was shuffling on the market streets of Mong Kok. Workshop experiences by Brian Puspos, Jillian Meyers, Pat Cruz, Rie Hata, Koharu Sugawara.
Getting in the zone in dance was always something I struggled with, purely because the only time I dance alone was when I was out clubbing. Wait, the club wasn’t empty and I wasn’t alone in the club but you know what I mean, right? Well, I can no longer stand clubbing and recently found a way for my body to move freely to music. No judgment on technique, lines or the ridiculous aesthetics commonly demanded of performing dancers – for the first time in a long time, I was in flow mode at the Floor Flow Teacher Training with Marlo Fisken. For those of you who have taken the course and follow Marlo’s style, I like you, can we jam?
~ POLE ~
TL;DR: Started pole in late 2007 with Vee Lea. I joined her teaching in her apartment before Viva Vertical was officially registered and then as partner and director. Vee comes from a corporate marketing background and I was fresh from my operations management role for a large gym chain. We started teaching in a rented room of Talent Hub studio, partnering with Fiona Gomez, the owner of TH. Our partner studios grew from 1 to 6 in a couple of years, covering KL, Seremban, and Penang. In 2010, we joined forces with 2 more partners, Shan Liew and Samantha Yee, and opened our flagship studio of Pole & Aerial Arts in the heart of KL. Our 20ft ceiling opened doors for aerial arts performance training and is the first school of its kind in Asia. The demand had since called for the formation of a performance troupe named Viva Circus by Vee. My collective experience in teaching, performing, competing and judging has taken me to Australia, Japan, Philippines, Singapore, Hong Kong, Macau, Vietnam, Thailand, China, England and of course throughout Malaysia. I have competed in two international pole competitions in the solo category, where I won one of them. My favorite pole performances ’til date are Cell Block Tango, choreographed by Shan Liew and a Lyrical Hip Hop duet with my brother Adam, where I wore jeans for the act. The list of instructors and pole champions I have learned from making a long list but nothing beats creative jamming with my pole partners Vee, Shan, Samantha, and Adam. Viva Vertical had celebrated its 10-year mark; I still teach and train pole.
Having spent my crucial tween and teenage years growing up in a conservative state, of course I thought Pole Dancing was a “dirty” thang. During my job-to-job transition, I dedicated 3 months of doing everything I had put off, due to the crazy life of working while studying and then working full time 14 hour days, eventually leading to my burn-out. When I saw an ad for pole dancing class on Google, I thought, well heck why not. My first lesson was in Vee’s KL apartment on her locally made stage pole and Ikea closet mirrors. The first lesson didn’t sell me but it did bring me back for a second lesson. Those little doses of achievements made me an addict, and you won’t know what I mean until you embark on your pole training journey. Call me a pole junkie, sure, ’cause I was hooked.
I picked up quick and Vee, being ambitious with believing in other people, groomed me to start teaching beginners for her and for my first pole performance, which was for one of our student’s wedding party. I was SCARED-EXCITED-SCARED-NERVOUS, hardly ate anything other than Oreo cookies that day but having Vee and my brother Adam there with me got me through my first Pole debut. By the time I rocked out in my sequinned tank top, sports shorts and 2-inch knee-high boots though, I was IN THE ZONE. That exhilaration beat every sexual experience I had up to that point, I flippin’ love it.
Vee went on to register the academy as Viva Vertical and I joined as partner. We started by renting a room at Talent Hub in Sri Hartamas for classes and grew our partner studios from 1 to 4 the first year. Mind you, most of the studios were on the 3rd floor with no lifts, we CARRIED 2-4 portable poles up the stairs for each class, that was sufficient cardio and strongman work at the time. That first year, we had a huge partnership with Clorets to host Malaysia’s first Amateur Pole Competition, in which we had the pleasure of training celebrities Hannah Tan and Pietro Felix. We had grown organically with the support of Malaysian media wanting to feature Viva Vertical. I got to be on live TV like breakfast shows, feature segments, as well as radio, shows talking about pole dancing and my fitness journey. How dope was that! We had also been featured in almost all of the female magazines and health-related magazines in Malaysia, with braggin’ rights of an FHM feature (I CANNOT believe I lost my copy through one of my many moves! *sob).
Media hype aside, the company’s mission was to be Asia’s advocate in pushing Pole to be recognized as a legit form of exercise and artistic expression. We stuck to our mission and did not do any explicit performances, photos or videos in order to keep our branding consistent. I contributed to the development of our syllabus while Vee spearheaded everything to get our syllabus academically recognized. Her relentless pursuit paid off when we announced that our syllabus is used exclusively by IPDFA (International Pole Dance Fitness Association) and recognized by Fitness Australia. I have personally delivered our certification courses in Malaysia, Singapore, Hong Kong, Philippines, and Australia while Vee added UK and EU to the list.
My early 20s was pretty much spent riding the entrepreneur wave that Vee started. From making a Viva Pole (OMG never again), merchandising Viva clothing, hosting monthly community gatherings to hosting national competitions. My first involvement with the Amateur Pole Competition grew on the organizational scale with each year following, until I organized Malaysia Pole Championship 2010 with minimal support, which I am eternally grateful for Vee trusting me to do so. Other than manning that event, I also performed in the opening act, hungry from forgetting to eat the whole day (I don’t know why I kept doing that to myself.) At the end of the event, I found myself out back with a cigarette, crying – that was when I realized how emotionally invested I was since day one. They weren’t tears of sadness, it was just some well-needed bawlin’ from the job done and a lesson learnt – I need to practice better delegations.
Speaking of competition, I have competed twice, both times in the same year. I lucked out as my first competition at the International Pole Dance Fitness Competition 2010 resulted in a win for both Pole Fit category and Overall Champion. It was one of the best moments of my life because again, I never aspired to compete and just wanted to get through with the competition. I even volunteered to go first so I could get it done and over with to enjoy watching the rest of the competition. My body was taking its toll from running the company, organizing Malaysia Pole Championship while experimenting with ketogenic diet, and having to train – note: all not recommended while you are prepping for a competition. Of course, it was Vee who pushed me and I didn’t want to disappoint my best friend. In my second competition, I got through as a finalist at the IPC 2010, held in Tokyo. That was a period in my life that served one of the most difficult yet – newly separated from then-husband, moved to Singapore with frequent commutes to KL, worked with two astoundingly horrible humans in Singapore, no activities as a stress reliever, had a
low-budgetshitty diet, and had to train for a competition. That act on the Tokyo Dome stage still gives me shudders when I think of how unprepared I was, and still stands as the worst performance I’ve given. I vowed not to compete again unless I am commit to allocating proper prep time without the distraction of my other professional roles.
Being stubborn forced me to make errors repeatedly in different manners before I choke down a piece of humble pie and ask for help. BEST MOVE EVER. The minute I opened up to my other partners Shan and Samantha, it felt like Viva Vertical had another dose of NOS and we charged further forwarded. Together, we accomplished so much more, even the ideas that we didn’t dare to think of, Vee did. When they joined us, the partnership marked the opening of our first flagship studio Viva Stage in the heart of KL. That was a game changer for us, we might have overheads now but we have traded a little more cost for a home. Our studio was the first school to offer aerial arts as a recreational hub in Asia. It was a proud moment!
We went ham in using the space for whatever we could think of, including running my fitness sessions and charity events. Because we never hired anyone to do our advertising and marketing from the beginning, I developed the habit of being resourceful. Taking advantage of our free resources and maximizing any paid resources, back when blogging played a big role in SEO, I was blogging a lot more. Being fortunate to have worked with so many journalists, presenters, writers and PR executives, I stayed hungry learning and picking up whatever I can on PR strategies. I had to do cold calls when I was in sales, which probably helped me develop “thick skin” when I reached out to complete strangers/companies for the prospect of a business related tie-in. When you want to penetrate the fitness industry, you do things no one else has done yet. I used my relationship with the gyms I worked at to offer Pole classes targeted in a commercial gym environment. Class templates were structured differently to dedicated pole studios, to accommodate constantly mixed level classes. I also took what I had learned in managing a fitness gym chain and applied whatever is relevant to a smaller niche business. Building meaningful relationships results in bigger returns than running a small company based on inflexible corporate rules, an important thing I learned. The example of a leader trickles down to your team, which will solidify a reputation that is either great for business or you end up on the bottom 3. That is a constant reminder until today to be the best version I want to see in others on my team.
A growing team meant growing projects. When Vee started collaborating with Jerry Snell, a celebrated Canadian artistic director and programmer, the folks at Viva Vertical dived into the world of theatrical new-circus production. Together, we debuted our first raw 45-minutes stage time with just scaffolding as a stage prop, Shayna Swanson’s Crywheel act and a portable pole in Taiwan at an arts festival. That was also one of the first big projects where we started working with Psycusix, a flow arts groups born in Malaysia. That concept of mixed arts led to the Vee and Jerry’s brainchild of Viva Circus Festival, formerly known as Collision Arts Asia Festival. Through Jerry’s dedication in developing street kids with street dancing, Vee and I had the opportunity to work with Stairway Foundation in Puerto Galera, Phillippines. What a humbling experience that was, it also made me think twice about volunteering at homes without a long-term plan of retaining those relationships. Jerry passed in 2015, our industry had lost a true hero.
As for my involvement with the industry, I no longer make executive decisions. Sometimes I get to manage shows, sometimes I get to be crew for events like Malaysia Pole Championships and Viva Circus Festival again, sometimes I get to judge pole championships in Malaysia and Hong Kong. Although I no longer train pole intensively for performances, I still train to keep up doing what I love – teaching. After all, this pole quest changed my life and it’s going to change someone else’s too. If I can contribute to that change in a healthy and positive manner, I will give my time in doing so. Over the years, I have also enjoyed being a student again attending workshops and classes with some recognisable names – Katie Coates, Jenyne Butterfly, Suzy Q, Bobbi, Natasha Wang, Oona Kivela, Bendy Kate, Justine McLucas, Kenneth Kao, Marlo Fisken. One of my favorite memories was jamming at Carlie Hunter’s studio in Adelaide when she first opened, and super-thin spinning pole was still very new to me. As for self-training, I am now way more selective in which tricks to work for. Took me long enough to come to terms that not all tricks would look half as decent with my pint size frame, so now I choose to work on tricks that will either carry over to my other activities or encourage movement patterns I can flow in.
Update 2021 post-cancer and in recovery: I’m back in Hong Kong, completely content with my role as an instructor at Aerial Arts Academy 🙂
~ AERIAL ARTS ~
TL;DR: Started training in 2009 on rope before I picked up silks (tissu) and hoop (lyra). Since I started learning in London and Edmonton, Canada, and had since travelled back to London and Australia for skills top up. During Shayna’s visit to Viva Vertical, Samantha and I gorged on what she had to teach on silks, ropes and trapeze. Trapeze, both static and flying, don’t appeal to me as much as verticals, although I have performed a dance trapeze act once for a Christmas event while climbing up the ladder for flying trapeze made me shake nervously. I teach and perform on silks and hoop mostly with some amazing experiences in theatre halls and live TV. Eventually, I gravitated my interest back to rope and added conditioning on aerial straps to my training.
This was something I had never imagined myself doing. It wasn’t until my business partner Vee had brought her vision of Aerial Arts into our company Viva Vertical, that my interest peaked in 2009. As you do, you trust your best friend and follow her guide to learn in London. I then found a school in Edmonton for us to spend some intensive training time at, when we visit Canada right after England. That was a month of straight up train-cation. Since then, Vee had gone on to open Aerial Arts Academy in Hong Kong (because she’s a superwoman) while I focused on our company’s development in Malaysia. That led to us having the opportunity to develop Aerial Arts for recreational fitness with another school in Singapore, which opportunity I took and stayed in Singapore for 6 months.
Meanwhile, Viva Vertical grew as a company that not only offered classes and professional training but also as an entertainment provider. Being a homegrown company, I learned early hands on how to deal with clients, how to deal with site personnels, how to check rigging, how to manage and perform on the same event, how to handle accounts…etc. I’m pretty self sufficient, all I needed back then was someone to show me the ropes once and I can take on from there.
Wearing multiple hats can take its toll on one who wanted to be an artist. The fact that I was performing so much kept me hungry to continue traveling to teachers and our team kept Vee continuing to invite quality teachers to help us. I have learned how to be adaptable and developed better quick thinking from our many gigs with unexpected difficulties. Performing aerial acts have also taken me to some beautiful places and some amazing stages, from theatre productions to live TV, they make all the hardship seem even more worthwhile.
I had actually started my aerial journey with rope (Vee really had an eye for what suits one best). From there, it was silks (tissu) and hoop (lyra) that we developed more of for performances and classes. Over the years, I have done training on static trapeze from time to time but it doesn’t capture me the same way as verticals. Aerial straps is still the epitome of dynamic strength among my clouds of aerial-wish-list. Flying Trapeze was completely out of my element, which was something I tried on a New Years Day at Mid Air Circus Arts in Phuket. Complete trust upon MACA’s founder/my catcher Ben Martin, who is another beautiful soul I got to meet in my aerial arts journey. I also picked up a simple spanish-web sequence for a production performance, performed both as the flyer AND the spinner (woo!) thanks to Zacrobat. My most memorable performance is my triple-act in Secrets of the Lost Circus performed in the HK Academy of Performing Arts, where I had an acroduo act with Teddy (his first stage performance bless him!) + a rope solo + spanish web with Teddy. It was wildly emotional on stage and off stage, I still wonder how I appeared to have kept it together (or maybe I didn’t).
~ ACRO BALANCE & HANDSTAND~
TL;DR: Started acro training in 2012. Performed full acts with 3 different bases – Yasuaki, Teddy and Isaac – and performed short acts with 2 partners – Ea and Vee. First acro performance debut was at PJ Live Arts Theatre in Kuala Lumpur, followed by Hong Kong Academy of Performing Arts and Youth Theatre Chai Wan in Hong Kong. Handstands were always something I messed around with until proper training at age 30 in 2015 with Miguel Santana in Hong Kong.
First acro partner training sparked in 2012 when a former NICA coach Yasuaki moved to KL, chose to train at Viva Vertical Stage studio with his Club Med buddy Ben Lim. Yas taught me what he knows and we spent quite a bit of time learning sequences off of YouTube. We debut our first act at PJ Live Arts Theatre in our production called Neverland at the end of 2012. I admit, back then I didn’t appreciate how much a base has to do for so little recognition. ( Look at lots of the videos out there, the base does all the work! ) When I moved to Hong Kong, Ea Holme (aerialist and Rolfer) became my next acro training buddy who also taught me what she learned in Europe. During one of my trips to Australia, I had dropped in a community circus class and was talked into a two-high, my FIRST two-high. This guy took me around for a stroll and all I remember was that was the longest 20 seconds of my life where I was scared frozen, which is probably what kept me solid. It wasn’t until I met Isaac “Zac” Saleh, an acrobat from Australia to work on me and Teddy Lo’s act, that I learned more about what a flyer needs to do to make things more efficient for both of us, and that is to be solid (and give up the control to balance myself). There is also truth that this Aussie is more blunt with giving feedback and I’ve probably been sheltered by Yas and Ea’s kind souls (not that Zac isn’t kind). Teddy and I debut our act in Secrets of The Lost Circus at HKAPA in 2015 while Zac and I performed our first act at the Youth Theatre in Chai Wan, HK. I had also performed with Ea at a gigs in Phuket and Maldives, and with Vee at the Damansara Performing Arts Center in KL for Viva Vertical 10th Year Anniversary production.
My first proper training for hand-to-hand (aka acro; adagio) was in Melbourne, Australia with Spin Circus Camp in 2015. That winter camp also included eye opening teachings on verticals by Helene Embling, a renowned aerialist in Australia, handstands and tumbling by Spin’s team of instructors. My traincation mates Ea, Zoe Li and I managed to snag Spin’s founder Chris Carlos for some private learning and learn from him again in 2016. That guy is a trooper, he was SO sick from HK food (poisoning) but still taught us. RESPECT.
A month before Chris visited Hong Kong, Miguel Santana was brought in by Teddy at Crossfit 852. Miguel is a handbalancer and handstand artist and doesn’t teach any acro partner work but since we are on the topic of circus training, you guys should know that handstand training is a staple in circus schools. I wasn’t used to the volume of handstand training at Spin Camp that my injured wrist gave out on the 4th day and my right shoulder called a shut-down of function at the end of camp ( I was fine after a lot of rest though). After an intensive week with Miguel, I finally felt what it’s like to have a freestanding handstand at 15 seconds. I threw everything I learned prior out the window and just stuck to one method and cues, which is a consistency I learned that will improve you. He’s also a trooper, who was ALSO sick from HK food (poisoning) and still taught us. (Moral of the story – if you’ve lived on developed country’s food your whole life, prepare your iron gut before immersing yourself in local Hong Kong street food!)
Perhaps it’s the fact that we trained intensely as a group with Miguel and followed up training as a group with Teddy, that I often find it difficult to motivate myself training solo. So that is something I am currently working on – put effort into being diligent with solo handstand practice, even if I’m only clocking in 15 minutes a day. Also, I don’t have to state the obvious about lacking training in hand to hand right?…because…aún no tengo un compañero en esta ciudad…
~ MOVEMENT ~
In keeping up with trendy lingo, here it is. In this category, I could add the terms mobility, functional movement, animal movement…etc. No, they are not identical to each other but are often perceived and brushed off as the same thing. You do realize, however, that the core principles are very similar and have different interpretations. My interpretation of this trendy term – efficient use of the body’s capabilities.
Teachers teach you to move freely but intelligently. As easy as that reads, it is hard for a lot of us. There is too much going on to allow a state of pure pattern mapping. We worry about looking foolish, we worry about lack of strength, we worry about lack of flexibility, we worry about failing before trying, we worry about failing after only trying for 5 minutes, we worry about getting hurt, we worry about being laughed at, we worry about being judged, and again, we worry about looking stupid. But tell us not to worry, right? It is that easy, right?
Positive internal dialogue is the first lock I had to pick, I’m still fumbling my way through its thorns. The tools I have used to help vary from meditation to journaling. Although I feel that my progress in chasing flow is slow, it is progress nonetheless. No one other than myself will care more about my progress so the time invested to assess and address needs to happen.
This might dwell deeper than the average person needs to even attempt understanding but I hope it provokes thoughts beyond what meets the eye. Some see movement as animalistic movement, some think movement is acrobatics, some perceive movement training as fancy floor work. Well, movement can be interpreted as you wish. The question I often ask myself is, are my intentions clear.
~ PARKOUR ~
Training Philosphy. That was why I embraced this term known as the Art of Movement.
Instead of reading what I have to say, you can watch this short interview with the founder of Parkour Generations, Dan Edwardes (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p03afYqLxM4&index=2&list=PLUxJEtvAUqSIQyx7dIXUmPR_LRxg3_uFA) . He has many other interviews and I picked that one for a reason. Watch it and tell me if you know why.
My first session was with Shirley-Darlinton Rowat, senior coach at Parkour Generations and leader of a women’s parkour community @shecantrace in London. It was eye opening and eliminated negative annotations I harboured. It wasn’t the first time I was exposed to parkour, since my brother Andrew had started training ages ago in KL with a small group of enthusiasts, and I had watched many events where performers were supposably performing parkour. The acrobatic flips off high grounds seemed unnecessary to me, not to mention parkour stuntmen in movies never showed off fancy flips when they’re being chased. I know, in contradictory, pole and aerial arts do not serve any practical purpose either other than train you how to climb something really high but let’s move on.
The images and videos I had consumed revolving parkour were always extreme, I can vouch that I am very human when I say I have no desire to jump off a building doing 360s and 540s (twists;turns). Not once did I stop to research the origin of this extreme choice of training, or discussed with anyone who knew something I didn’t about it. That changed when Kevin, from Street Workout HK, put me in touch with the founder of Parkour Generations, Dan Edwardes. Our meeting agenda was to introduce their Parkour Fitness Specialist course to Hong Kong, after having great success in other asian countries, which led to an entire discussion of the art’s philosophy. That was one of the most enjoyable and enlightening meeting I’ve had. Dan set me up with Shirley and I had an amazing 2 hours ever.
Since then, I’ve attended a few outdoor sessions by PK Gen coaches Andy, Juwad, and the Parkour Fitness Specialist course with Dan at the Asia Fitness Convention 2016. The course was an introductory course targeting fitness professionals like myself, although introductory it was physically demanding. My takeaway from that course’s teachings is the discovery of even more freedom in exercise movement patterns with a carry over of discipline through martial arts. Invigorating, yet humbling.
Here’s an excerpt from http://www.parkourgenerations.com on PFS:
“Parkour Generations introduced its initial concept adapted to the fitness community in 2012, the Parkour Fitness Specialist Certification (PFS). PFS was the world’s first and only parkour-inspired fitness program, designed with professional fitness trainers in mind, and operates in collaboration with many national and international fitness certifying bodies and standards. Parkour Fitness Specialist provides a balanced and thorough introduction to the concepts of natural movement training, helping PTs implement some of these concepts into their own training paradigms. PFS went on to become the recognised parkour fitness certificate in the UK with YMCA Awards, giving people a way to become a qualified Gym Instructor or PT through our movement concepts. “
My fitness professional friends and acquaintances, ESPECIALLY them, gave me varied looks when they learned of my recent interest. Some looks were purely out of curiosity while some were splashed with judgement, I know that look because I used to wear it, same way I judged CrossFit but that’s in another story. I like it when I get to answer their question “Why parkour”, as it is then I get to share about this philosophy and how I have found it at the right time of my life.
There are deeper reasons on my current choice but I don’t feel like I have clocked in enough training to articulate those feelings. So until then, you can follow my journey on my Instagram @theEmilyTan with the visuals and captions.
Here is also another interview worth watching, with the founder of Parkour, David Belle ( https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZXVvjtG2H8c&t=4s )
~ FITNESS BUSINESS ~
TL;DR: My first job in the fitness industry was as a membership consultant at Celebrity Fitness 1 Utama, awarded “Rookie of the Month” my first month at age 19. After a transfer to operations department, I was promoted to Assistant Operations Manager and awarded “Employee of the Year” that year. By age 21, I was promoted to Operations Manager and experienced pre-sale/opening of 2 more new clubs – Subang Jaya and Bangsar. I left my position and company to pursue a career as a personal trainer in 2007.
The term “Fitness Industry” as most of us know it are mostly associated with Personal Trainers and Group Fitness Instructors, most people who are not in the industry hardly think about any other departments. The patient reception team who bear the early 5:30am shifts to get the gym ready at 6am for you, the ones who operate and manage the gym so you have a pleasant workout experience, the ones who got you so fired up about finally changing your life, the ones who didn’t get into this business for the money but for the experience of helping people move better. Without any of those behind-the-scenes roles, we would not have such fancy boutique studios and gyms today. The reason why I am familiar with these roles is because I have been in each of those roles before, including getting up at 3:45am to get to work. Oh, and hoovering, can’t forget #foreverhoovering .
While most people think I combat-crawled out of my mother’s womb ecstatic about being an exercise drill sergeant, I actually wanted to be in the profession of protection, think cop, secret service, spy. Might have been an influence from my book collection of Nancy Drew and the Fantastic Five by Enid Blyton. However, I developed the characteristic of being practical from a very young age, so when we were stressing out about what to major in college during those high school years, I imagined myself an international businesswoman and went on to major in Business. Funny how things turned out, this industry is a proper business and I went proper international – CHECKED.
Have you ever worked at a place like Hallmark? Yes, an actual shop selling greeting cards. That was the first part-time job I got in the mall when I first moved back to KL from the states. By lunch break on my first day, I was determined to get another job and quit Hallmark at the end of my shift. Celebrity Fitness had a pre-sale booth in 1 Utama Shopping Center and I rocked right up to the two men who looked like they were bosses, introduced myself and asked for a job. Those bosses were Mike O’Brien and Raul Tapia. Mike said I got one and for me to show up for training the very next day. I was in waiting mode for a few months before my term at college started so I was just settling to be a receptionist for the gym. I showed up the next day wondering how long the training would be for reception team and where I would have lunch in that area. It wasn’t until about 15 minutes into the training when Mike was talking, that I realized I wasn’t signed up for a receptionist job – I got hired for sales, Mike was VP of the company.
I had NEVER considered any sales positions for a job, largely because of the impression I formed growing up having watched terrible car salesmen ads and listened to my mom’s Tuppaware/insurance sales-stuff. It turns out I was alright at getting people fired up to join a gym with its 12-months commitment. Being awarded “Rookie of The Month” was a huge surprise and a wonderful boost for a 19 year old’s confidence. When college term started, I transferred to customer service department for the sake of part-time eligibility. After a year of part-time work, I was offered the Assistant Operations Manager role should I decide to go full-time. I did what every opportunist would and took the promotion. For a whole year, I worked long hours with the flexibility (my boss Min is awesome) to leave work at odd times to attend school and took turns with my dad chauffeuring my younger brothers to theirs. Looking back now, I really don’t know how I pulled off 15-hour days for a year and was awarded “Employee of The Year”. The burn-out arrived and I chose to put college on hold, focusing on my career instead. I was promoted to Operations Manager within 6 months, experienced opening 2 more new clubs, and learned that some people can get VERY (and violently) edgy pulling an all-nighter before opening day. Celebrity Fitness today is the strongest fitness-chain in Southeast Asia, which makes me feel even prouder to be one of the first “batch”. I left my position in Operations to pursue a career in Personal Training. I was 21 years old.
~ PERSONAL TRAINING ~
TL;DR: My first PT job was at the Jackie Chan Fitness Club, aka California Fitness. Yes I still have that photo with Jackie Chan 🙂 I started my education journey with NASM (National Academy of Sports Medicine) and have since continued with their specialty courses CES and PES. The courses I have attended in the past 10 years include Kettlebell with Steve Cotter, 5 TRX courses, ViPR, Movement Efficiency Training, THUMP Boxing for Fitness, CrossFit Level 1, CrossFit Gymnastics, SMR and more. I offer PT with a filled up toolbox.
The curiosity of personal training grew when an ex, who was a PT manager, would get up to train his 6am and 7am clients. It was bewildering to me that people wanted to hit weights that early in the morning, forgetting that I used to gym at 3am from insomnia issues. I decided I’d try out 6am training for a few weeks and concluded that it wasn’t my jam. What I did noticed was the interaction between a PT and a client during a session where the client is obviously handling some serious work. I mean, come on, most of us can barely be nice to another human being first thing in the early morning, let alone be a positive influential personal trainer to your client! Respect points went up for the profession.
I started paying more attention to my workouts, from the objectives to the exercise selection to the movement execution. I thought I knew what right should look like (when your Ex was a graduate of Kinesiology, you have standards to meet) but I lacked the understanding of what right should FEEL like. I also enrolled in my first certification course with NASM (National Academy of Sports Medicine) CPT (Certified Personal Trainer), followed with CES (Corrective Exercise Specialist) and PES (Performance Enhancement Specialist). My first personal training position was at a fitness center formerly known as The Jackie Chan Fitness Club, aka California Fitness in Malaysia when I turned 22.
Churning thru 14-15 hour days was something I was used to when I was in operations but when you’re a hands-on-feet-on-everything-switched-on trainer like me, those days usually resulted in a dangerous 40 minute drive home to pass out in your stinky work clothes. Fun fact, I had tendonitis in my achilles the first month I switched from wearing high heels all day (my uniform was office wear as manager) to wearing sneakers all day – so for about 4 weeks I was the trainer with a funny limp. As I took on teaching pole as part of my repertoire, I switched jobs to allow flexible hours at the new gym so I could teach pole as well. That was probably when the multi-jobbing started, when I was a gym membership consultant-slash-personal trainer-slash- pole instructor -slash- running a pole business. Still at age 22.
For the past 10 years, personal training had never left my pool of profession. Some might ask “don’t you get sick of it? don’t you get bored?”. It really depends on the type of person you are when it comes to choosing an outlook of life. My personal training journey wasn’t just one sided, I threw myself in the shoes of being a student many times through fitness education courses. In more recent years, I’ve also hired personal trainers to train me for some specific goals, more on that later. This kept me hungry to learn what I don’t know and relearn what I thought I knew. Major key – it also kept me humble.
Now, on outlook, do you see each session as a chore and a job to babysit someone at the gym for an hour? or do you see every session as a new opportunity to truly help this person who paid you? I have strong views on this, who’s up to be the change we want to see?
Update 2021 Post-Cancer & in recovery: As you would have it, our vibe attracts our tribe. The PT clients I currently help are affected by cancer and chronic pain. The insight to frustrations and effects of medication on our overall wellbeing have certainly been helpful in practicing empathy for them, and applying all of what I learned through countless sessions talking to doctors, psychologists, physiotherapists, care givers and healers.
By far one of the scariest things an introvert has to learn, is how to lead a large group. With everyone’s attention on you, how to keep a large group of people moving the way you want, while giving effective cues, while memorising what you’re meant to do for the hour, while thinking about what you’re meant to say after the last exercise, while keeping to the music, while not sounding like a broken record with your cues. This is where you learn who your real friends are, as they are to be your first guinea pigs group clients, gifting you their time and energy while suppressing any thoughts of wanting to kill you.
Before any group classes, I dedicated time to plan my sessions and rehearse the parts I hadn’t quite memorised well. I used to show up an hour before class to prep; today, I can teach a group class on the spot with no prior preparation. There isn’t a magic plan for it, I just found what works for my personality and teaching style thru various projects. I have taught pole, dance fitness, aerial arts, boxing for fitness, fit ball, ViPR, Flyoga fitness, aerial pilates, aerobics, bodyweight fitness, flexibility, SMR, mobility, movement, CrossFit, Pavigym Prama and TRX in group settings (both small and large on stage) and on TV.
PLAY sounds like a new trend. Doesn’t it sound familiar when you read fitness class descriptions and almost 90% of the time, the word “FUN” will be in it; we all know it isn’t true when all you can think of is “how much longer are we doing this stupid thing for?”. Enter Pavigym PRAMA. Imagine a dance dance revolution platform with lights that pop up and tells you where to go, then imagine going YouTube to find a follow-along exercise video, then imagine a HR monitor that tracks how hard you’re working, then imagine this bluetooth wonder that somehow syncs the exercise you are doing to the lights that are popping up, then imagine an app it uses to track your reps/sets/time, then imagine a sophisticated music DJ who plays music to push you during your working sets followed by chill music during your rest time – caught your breath? – that is my interpretation of the PRAMA experience.
Exposure to this concept (now more accessible) was like landing right on the bullseye; it brings everything together on a platform and allows the instructor to be creative while fully immersed in the one job – coaching. When trained and prepared well, this is the funnest experience for a group. More often, we hear people saying “time’s up already? I didn’t even noticed!” If you’re in Hong Kong, go for a few PAVIGYM PRAMA classes at Optimum Performance Studio, you HAVE to experience it. Here’s a video of it that went viral: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2-qSOLDGooM
The term Master Trainer has been thrown around poorly over the years, earning less respect from fitness professionals who think it’s a one day easy course you sign off to be qualified to teach trainers. Countering industry’s misunderstanding like that requires some stern enforcement, this is where I give credit to TRX Training. If you think it’s easy getting the title of a certification course instructor – inquire with TRX Training, speak to your friend who’s a course instructor for TRX, learn about this process; you will learn why most of us are tight with each other and have mutual respect for our roles and responsibilities. I may have been teaching group classes for a few years before I touched a TRX but I consider the most effective practical training started at my first TRX course in London, 2009. I met Fraser Quelch, Director of Education, at the first Asia Fitness Convention 2009 and found myself at the Instructor Training Course for the GSTC, held in Shanghai in 2010. Up to date, I have attended the STC, GTC, FTC, RTC and SMTC whilst delivered STC, GTC and FTC (Functional Training Course) in Malaysia, Singapore and Hong Kong.
It is also thru one of the many AHA! moments in our TRX education journey, where I learned how to be a COACH, not just an instructor. Thank you to the people whom I have learned from through their observations, evaluations and feedback – Fraser Quelch, Ross Eathorne, Linzi Arellano-Co, Marcel Daane and Andrew Chadwick. These guys not only walk the talk, they LIVE it.
~ THEATRE , BODY BUILDING , MENTAL HEALTH, CANCER~
Life stories coming soon 🙂