Felix Huang has an intensity about him that belies his calm exterior, and that might be understating it just a touch. Though only 31, the urban street dancer shows wisdom and even a little weariness behind his smile and mellow demeanour.
There's kindness just beneath the somewhat hardened veneer as well, as this is someone who works closely with kids on an everyday basis. So while getting under his skin and finding out what makes him tick may not be the easiest of waters to navigate, that he is committed to helping youngsters find their way in life through the arts is clear at the outset.
He has a certain presence, making his points using assuaging, authentic tones that communicate his intent on making a difference with today's youth. And this is no pet project for the time being either, for he has cut his teeth working with marginalised youngsters who need a strong guiding hand and innate kindness, for them to truly flourish.
Huang is a dancer, and his list of achievements in the physical world of urban arts and street dance runs long. While he is known in street culture circles as a strong proponent for young talent, he is also one of the top dancers in the region himself. He has been bestowed with many accolades, the most recent of which was as part of his team Radikal Forze, which will represent Singapore in the Braun Battle of the Year finals, to be held in France next month.
This is a man whose battleground is the dance floor. And his battle cry is a call for support as he champions the youths in Singapore on the outskirts of the system, saying they need a way back in. To him, there isn't a dearth of talent in street culture. Rather, it's a lack of critical support that he attributes as the reason for the urban arts not taking off as quickly and seamlessly as it should.
"Actually, honestly, if you were to ask me, Singapore has an abundance of talent when it comes to art, when it comes to being an artist. Musically, visually and with movement, we have an abundance of talent here! And if you were to rank us in terms of Southeast Asia, I think we can be one of the top few," he said.
"The only pitfall of being an artist in Singapore is that it's really tough to get by. So a lot of good artists end up having to do two or three jobs to make ends meet. And as time passes, you end up compromising developing your artistic side and getting caught up in life, in society. So, a lot of talent drops out. Because they don't see prospects, their parents don't see prospects, their families don't see prospects and the people around them don't see prospects," he observed.
The owner of Recognize Studios in town, he and his team provide a haven for kids to work on their passions, at minimal cost to the youths. He has a pool of instructors from different backgrounds, races and styles teaching interested youngsters the ropes and grounding of the industry.
To him, it's important that these kids — many of whom fall in the marginalised strata of society here — have a safe space to fuel their passions, so that they feel good about themselves and can bond with their peers in positive ways.
"Most of the kids that I deal with are from middle-income to low-income families. The rich kids don't need us, they have their own things to do. So I try to reach out to the kids who don't have the money, to instill some kind of teaching, ideologies, methodologies," he explained.
"I teach them how you should approach certain things, using the very thing that you love to do -- rather than just having a fixed goal of making money. You know, have a fixed goal of doing something that you love, and the money will come later. It's important to work hard at things," he added.
Today, after 14 years in the field, he has an unwavering focus on the next wave: new talent who are breaking past the threshold and making the craft their own. It's clear he has a soft spot for challenged and sometimes troubled kids who are struggling to get by and yet want to carve a niche for themselves. This pathos amidst chaos is what resonates with the dancer — he too has taken the road less travelled, it would seem.
Most recently, Huang has gotten funding and support from the National Arts Council to run an outreach program for the Singapore Boys' Hostel, from November to December this year. The holistic program offers kids the chance to engage themselves in dance, art and music, in order to channel their energy and creativity in ways that will allow them to enjoy themselves and carry these skills forward.
To Huang, there is nothing better and more natural than passing the baton on to willing and interested youths.
"What drives me is just the community itself. I don't want to sound like some kind of hero, or anything like that, but I have always felt that I had a more important role to play than just growing up, getting a job, getting married, having kids and doing all that. I always felt I had a bigger purpose to what I'm doing. I feel this urge to provide, I don't know why. So I do."
His discourse is dance and his vernacular is to put his money where his mouth is, and reach out to those who need the support. Relatively-speaking, he is young, to want to take on that mantle. The artist himself acknowledges the need to for infrastructure to be put in place, emphasising that this support needs to come from the government as well, for changes to be far-reaching.
"They need a closer ear to the ground and to stop quantifying things. I think the problem is people always have this habit of making sure there are results and that it's quantifiable. There are some things that cannot be quantifiable, like how the kids feel, you know?" he said.
"When you're trying to provide for the youth, it's not really a business. It's an on-going investment of your time or your money. The model of a facility that is setting out to provide for youths shouldn't be modeled as a business. Definitely it has to be at some point of time, to be able to sustain itself, but towards providing? I think there should be some leeway in most aspects," he asserted.
He also stresses the need to call things as they are.
"By the time you actually get through to the kids, it's not just about teaching them something — it's also about gaining their respect so that they listen. So, yes, it takes a while, and it's not a very simple process. It's not like a school, it's a lot of things that are more personal, rather than just a framework and a structure to things."
Colouring outside the lines is a sentiment that clearly resonates with a man who is used to dancing to his own beat. But with the respect and regard of a community of young people behind him, his is a message that holds water. Huang is serious about his cause, because he is keeping his eye on the prize: Singapore's youth who just want a real shot at making a living in the arts. This is a call to action that needs to be heard.