Oran Leong

Oran is a Dublin-born dance artist of mixed Chinese and Irish heritage. In 2020, he was supported by Dance Ireland’s Emerging Artist HATCH Award.

Could you tell us about your dance journey so far? 

I got into Irish dance by chance at the innocent age of 6, thinking it was a breakdance class when my first teacher told me she could teach me 'how to break a leg'! For 18 years I trained and competed - from the local feiseanna to national and world championships. During the last 2 years of competing, I was invited to join the Dublin Youth Dance Company and I remember feeling an incredible sense of freedom in knowing that movement wasn't just restricted to competition, Michael Flatley shows and retirement at 30. I realised I was never going to become another Flatley. And I didn't want to become one. But I did want to journey into the world of contemporary dance and art making. Undertaking an MA in Contemporary Dance in 2016/2017, I continued to take classes and workshops wherever I could, connected with Fidget Feet Aerial Dance Theatre which has spurred my love of dancing in the air, I applied for various open calls, funding, opportunities (with acceptances and rejections) and I've said yes to anyone who's wanted to work with me.... It's a relatively new journey of only 5 or so years, this life of an independent dance artist!

Have you had to overcome any obstacles?

Oh my gosh, too many to list! Growing up is hard enough but when you're a male dancer in Ireland, bullying is inevitable. I know many a lad who's given up in order to fit in. And I know a number of trained dancers who have given up because financially, being an artist is hard. After I graduated I struggled with the voice of fear telling me to "get a proper job" and even now when work dies down, I feel the pressure of society to be doing something "more." 

Injuries are a huge one. People assume that if you get injured you've bad technique. But I think dancers get injured because we're asked to do too much, don't get enough rest (because we're afraid of not getting work again if we refuse), or because we push ourselves in an effort to please others and validate ourselves. Dancers are athletes and if a rugby pro can pull a hammy, so can we roll an ankle, bruise a bone and tear a ligament. The difference is to see ourselves as athletes and get - and be given - the proper recovery time, nutrition, training and rehabilitation.

Last but not least, I've been fortunate enough to work with warm and kind people. However, I've also had teachers and choreographers that haven't been encouraging, they've mocked my crap turn out and told me I was too small. A message to the younger dancer: You're not going to please everyone physically and artistically, nor do you have to. Just surround yourself with those who appreciate what makes you you and build your tribe against the ones who discourage.​

What has been the highlight of your dance journey to date?

I've had many a highlight and I'm so grateful for each of them and for the people involved: doing a dance degree, being invited to work with a variety of companies, getting Arts Council funding, learning new skills, overcoming major surgery to dance again, having a 6-yr old come up to me after a show to say 'I really appreciate what you do' (cue heartfelt tears!), flying off a 40m crane in the Gaoth Dobhair rain.... but I think the highlight of highlights has been the open, generous, talented, supportive, enthusiastic and intelligent people I've met along the way. Young or old, emerging or established, they each influence me more than they will ever know. I love creative people!

How did your experience as a HATCH award recipient impact your dance journey? Have any other important opportunities shaped your experience?

​I received the HATCH Award when nothing was happening in the arts world because of the pandemic. Truth be told, I was seriously contemplating accepting a job as a postman. Dear colleagues told me that if I didn't get sacked for prancing around in an An Post uniform, I'd be absolutely miserable in civil servant security. Simply getting HATCH was enough to derail that decision and then my wise and tender mentor, Fearghus Ó Conchúir, helped me embrace what it is I do as an artist, what is it I want to do, what I'm figuring out and how to find worth in that. Though we never got the chance to meet in person, our online Zoom conversations steered me back to my passion of dance and curiosity in life. I was supported to write my first bursary application and grew in confidence to take more ownership of my artistic intention. I also bonded with my fellow HATCH recipients and feel supported by them in our different journeys.

How has Dance Ireland supported you as a professional member?

​Dance Ireland has provided letters of support for a variety of reasons, any questions I have can be sent their way and I always get a prompt informed answer. They support me through reduced classes and workshops, offering studio space, inviting me to dialogues and information sessions. I feel represented by a body that genuinely cares for the professional dancer.

What’s next for you?

​In the very near future, I'm fortunate to have a lot of performances coming up with Fidget Feet and Croí Glan. I've some residences in dance and mentoring in aerial dance, and Infinite Pants contemporary circus company is building a new show for early 2022. It's been a busy and exciting summer! But it's important to take a break to avoid burnout and spend time doing nothing and being comfortable in the silence. It's often there where I'm most creative so I'm looking forward to that!