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#24 Namwhan Rawinan

Meet Namwhan Rawinan.

What’s it like to live as a world-class dancer? Namwhan currently dances with world renowned contemporary dance company Company Wayne McGregor. She was the only Thai dancer featured in Marc Jacobs’ fashion show at New York Fashion Week and 1 of the 20 candidates chosen to perform works by Wayne McGregor and Crystal Pite at Venice Biennale, by far the oldest and most prestigious contemporary visual art exhibition in the world. Let’s take a moment to step into Namwhan’s (dancing) shoes.

|| How It All Began ||

Were you always on track to become a professional dancer?

No, actually when I was young I doubted my skills a lot and never thought I was good enough. And though my parents supported dance as a hobby, they were still concerned about my future and how I’d make a living through dance.

Since I was good at languages, my father said:

“Why don’t you study for a B.A. in Language and Culture at Chulalongkorn University?”

“I could, but it’s not what I want to do. I’ve already found what I love, why won’t you let me pursue it? Why not let me follow my passion?”

After a lot of convincing my parents, and submitting audition videos to many ballet schools in America, at 17 years old, they finally allowed me to attend the Joffrey Ballet School in New York.

We’ve heard there’s a typical “dancer’s body” and that there’s a “born to be” element to it. What’s your take on this?

It’s unfortunately true to an extent in classical ballet, but it is improving. But contemporary dance is much less strict. As long as you eat healthily and take care of your body - you can dance.

Hard work and passion is what matters most. I don’t have the body of a classical ballet dancer, but I work really hard with the body that I have and try my best to reach my fullest potential.

Do you believe anyone can dance?

I truly believe you can do anything you set your heart and mind on.

How did you choose a style of dance to specialize in?

Growing up I studied ballet, jazz, contemporary, flamenco and hip hop. My teacher at the ballet school in New York encouraged students to attend different types of performances, explore new styles and go to workshops that excite us.

I discovered my love for contemporary ballet by watching a performance by Complexions Contemporary Ballet.

|| Dancing Queen ||

What’s a day in the life of a dancer like?

We arrive at work early before classes to warm up, to use the gym to build stamina, to exercise specific muscles that need to be worked on, or to do some stretching.

Then we have a 90-minute class. It’s usually ballet, contemporary or fitness.

After that, we start rehearsing. What we rehearse can really vary.

For example, right now we’re about to get into a new creation called “UniVerse: Dark Crystal Odyssey”. The choreographer will give us different tasks for which each dancer will create their own movements. It’s going to be really challenging and exciting.

This is what I love about my company: they encourage us to be creative, be ourselves and they value the dancers’ input.

As a dancer, you’ve mentioned the importance of maintaining your physique. Can you elaborate more on that?

Dancers are like musicians except our bodies are our instruments. I have to take good care of my body because this is what I use to work… If I have a serious injury, I’m in trouble!

I try to rest as much as I can, take a hot bath with epsom salt and eat healthily. My body is an incredibly important part of my work.

What’s a big turning point in your life as a dancer?

One day when I was jumping in ballet class, I constantly felt a burning pain in my right shin. I didn’t rest or seek professional help.

Part of it was because I wasn’t ready to hear if it was a serious injury and I had to rest. I was too scared I wouldn’t be able to perform at my graduation.

After graduating, I still hadn’t got my shin checked. I kept on jumping until I physically couldn’t anymore at an audition. That’s when I went to see a doctor.

He said:

“You have a stress fracture in your shin. You need to either have a surgery and take 2-3 months off to recover, or you’ll have to quit dancing”

The latter was not an option! What added to the pressure was that it was a really critical time in my life. As an international student, there’s a limited timeframe to find a job in the US and I was stuck in bed for months.

So I was very disciplined with my physical therapy exercises and I did everything I could to recover quickly. I got back on my feet and started dancing earlier than planned.

The most important lesson I learnt was to listen to my body and never let things spiral out of hand like that again.

Like acting, do you have to become a character when you dance?

No, not at all - I’m always dancing as myself. There are many different emotions in one performance, so each part is always me, but just in different states of mind.

What makes you stand out as a dancer?

One of the qualities I have is that I can be “punchy”. [smiles]

When a company chooses you, it’s because you bring a certain kind of energy they are looking for or have something different to offer or like a different “colour” to add to the company’s palette.

I admire and draw inspiration from every single person at my company, because each dancer has their own special way of dancing.

The same movement can be expressed differently by each person, depending on their energy and intention.

What’s on your mind when you dance?

Nothing. [laughs] I try to be in the moment, be present and ready to react to what's happening around me. A lot of it is muscle memory. We rehearse a lot so my body knows what to do right away when I hear the music.

You said you’d stop dancing by the age of 26 if you weren’t satisfied with your work. You’re 26 now and still dancing! What changed?

I didn't know I'd be working for Wayne McGregor [smiles]. I said that at the time because I could not keep auditioning forever and not getting to where I wanted to be.

So I set 26 as the age that if it didn’t happen, I had to do something else. I didn’t want to dance just to survive. My goal since I was young was to dance with a great company that I admire, and tour internationally.

What’s your ultimate goal as a dancer?

I’m not sure yet. What I’m doing is everything I’ve ever dreamt of. I’m living my dream, so I just want to enjoy each moment until I figure out what my next step will be.

| Up Close and Personal ||

What advice would you give your younger self?

I want to hug her and comfort her [smiles] When I was young, I read a book called The Secret by Rhonda Byrne and wrote down all the things I wanted to happen.

Now that it’s actually happening, I’m happy beyond words.

In your own words, what is love?

When you care about something so much that it’s your everything. That’s love. Whether it’s your parents, partner or career.

You mentioned people trying to guilt-trip you about following your dream. Can you tell us more?

Many people have said something along the lines of:

“You’ve left your family behind to follow your dream. Are you going to wait until they’re gone before you finally decide to return?”

It’s hard for others to understand, but my parents are very happy for me and want me to live my life to the fullest.

Deep down, I’ve always known this career path entails being apart from my family. It’s a fact that I’ve learnt to accept, but I still live with guilt every day because I care deeply about them.

What’s one of the biggest challenges as a dancer?

Dealing with rejections. There were times when I went to auditions and made it to the last ten dancers, but was not offered a contract.

This happened so many times, it made me seriously consider quitting dancing.

Rejection isn’t bad, but when it stays with you for too long, it can definitely take a toll on you mentally.


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