Almark Pantilag’s story is one of the rarer ones in Singapore today. For him, Singapore represents a land of opportunities, a place of social security and a place he eventually wishes to call home. Of course, many foreign workers have that rosy notion of Singapore before they came, but had it dashed after being exploited in a foreign land, robbed of money and left with a mountain of debts to clear. But not for Almark. He was more fortunate.
Almark, 33, is a Filipino dance instructor who is currently working in a local fitness centre. He came to Singapore in 2008 through direct employment by the firm, taking on at least 22 hours of classes or more a week. Just last year, he received the Most Popular Instructor Award for his work at the centre.
“When I first came to Singapore, I was like a newborn baby,” said Almark. It is the first time that he has been away from home and he said that it was a real eye-opener for him – the people, the culture, the food.
The single father and sole breadwinner of his family came to Singapore knowing almost nothing about the country. He took up the job primarily because it brought in more income for the family, and he never regretted that decision.
Almark feels that Singapore provides him with the platform to further advance his career. The self-taught dancer had perhaps already peaked his career back in Manila, Philippines. At the height of his career, he was a back up stage dancer for popular Filipino singers. But he never dreamed he would go that far in the first place.
He started dancing on the streets at the age of seven. He had never attended dance classes or even learnt ballet techniques. “Honestly I’ve never had proper foundational training; I don’t even know the Italian terms in ballet,” he revealed, adding that he was merely a street dancer in the past.
From there, he made friends who shared the same passion and formed a dance group in school. They then went on to compete in nationwide dance competitions, some aired on television. That was when he got his break. By popular demand, he began teaching dance.
Just when his career was becoming stagnant, his dance video managed to impress his current employer. After a successful interview, he was flown here to teach.
“I really developed my flexibility during my teaching here,” he said. It is indeed hard to believe especially when this instructor is widely known for his lyrical jazz classes. He also teaches hip hop, belly dance, bollywood dance and cardio latino – all of which he has had no official training in. Despite having raw talent, he was a fast learner. He self-taught the different genres of dance mainly through watching dance videos and through improvisation. Choreography, he revealed, was never an issue for him. “As a dancer, you have to listen to the music and feel it. Let the dance moves come to you,” he said. “Sometimes I’m dancing in my sleep.”
When asked if he prefers performing or teaching, he said that both are equally enjoyable. “It’s very different but in teaching, if I can see a lot of people smiling and following my dance steps, the feeling is so good, while in performing you can show your true feelings. Teaching and working out at the same time is really enjoyable if you like it.”
Just like everyone else, Almark has a dream – he wishes to own a house. His family live in a rental flat in the Philippines. His income of $1,800 allows him to remit money back monthly to support his family. That said, he recognizes the high standard of living in Singapore. “Living here in Singapore is really nice but you also got to work hard to support yourself and fulfill your dreams,” he says.
The lover of motorbikes also plans to set up his very own motorbike firm after he exits the dance industry – probably 20 years down the road.