Alaine Handa: A Journey of Dance, Writing, and Culinary Delights with Chokladbollar
“Living is a form of not being sure, not knowing what next or how. The artist never entirely knows. We guess. We may be wrong, but we take leap after leap in the dark.” – Agnes De Mille.
In the spotlight shines Alaine Handa, a remarkable individual who has been driven by her passions from a young age. Despite growing up globally and living in various countries, Alaine has remained true to herself and forged her own path. While her family has a strong business background, she fearlessly pursued her creative talents in dance, writing, and even baking chokladbollar. Her unique journey and unwavering dedication make her a deserving candidate for the spotlight.
From an early age, Alaine Handa had a clear vision of her purpose in life. Instead of succumbing to societal expectations, Alaine embraced her identity as a "Third Culture Kid" even before many of her peers grasped the concept. This deep understanding of her multicultural background shaped her worldview and ignited a passion for exploring diverse cultures and experiences.
With a spirit untethered by conventional constraints, Alaine pursued her passions in dance, writing, and baking. She fearlessly expressed herself through the art of movement, dedicating herself to the pursuit of excellence in dance. Furthermore, she honed her writing skills to share her unique perspectives and personal journey, capturing the hearts of readers worldwide. And let us not forget her delectable creations of chokladbollar, a fusion of her Southeast Asian roots and her love for Swedish culture. Through her various endeavors, Alaine Handa has demonstrated an unwavering commitment to embracing her passions and forging her own path in life.
What inspired you to pursue such diverse creative interests, and how do they all fit together in your life? What advice would you give to someone trying to find their own creative path but struggling to narrow down their interests or figure out where to start?
I’ve always been a creative person since I was a very young child. There was never a doubt that I would pursue creative projects in my life. How does it fit together in my life? I’m not sure how to answer this except that my brain decides and fixates on an idea and pursues it with an ALL-IN attitude and mindset. Also when people don’t believe me or think my ideas are grandiose or even slightly far-fetched; I am driven to pursue it even further to prove them all wrong. So in a way, being your own biggest cheerleader is really important and secondly to find those that do believe in you. If you want to do a creative project, don’t listen to the negative people around you, and just do it. If you live a life with constant fear then when you get old, you will live a life full of regret.
Can you tell us more about your blog site, Travel with Alaine, and what inspired you to start it? And your published book about chokladbollar, can you share the story behind the book and why you chose to write about this topic? Also, you have traveled to many countries; what motivated you to travel, and how has the experience been?
I started “Travel with Alaine” to write down my memories of different trips and places I have been in. I wanted it as a reflection at first but then realised that people were interested in reading my stories. It sort of developed into a site that could inspire others to travel to places they have always wanted to go to. Memories are also precious to try to hold on to because you never know when your memory starts to fade and all you have left are the pictures as mementos. I personally think it's important to be able to tell your story even if it's just for you and your loved ones.
I published my cookbook “In Search of the Best Swedish Chokladbollar” in 2018. I was sort of obsessed with making chokladbollar and each time I made a batch, it was better and better. I didn’t know at the beginning of that journey that I would end up writing and getting a cookbook on chokladbollar published. At that time, I was enjoying making them for my friends, family, colleagues, and acquaintances. My first taste of chokladbollar was like “love at first bite” and then when I learned the recipe from the person sitting next to me on a plane ride, I became obsessed with making the perfect chokladboll. I enjoyed it so much that started experimenting with different variations of flavors inspired by my globally nomadic life.
My journey has taken me across Southeast Asia, the USA, and Europe, where I have experienced the joys and challenges of living in different cultures. Each place brings its own set of adjustments and adaptations. Some locations have felt more familiar and easier to navigate, while others have presented exciting yet daunting obstacles. However, one of the most enriching aspects of living in diverse countries is the way it broadens your perspective. As both an outsider and an insider, you develop a unique lens through which to view society, encouraging deep reflection on the world you inhabit. This constant interplay between different perspectives fuels personal growth and a deeper understanding of the complexities of the societies we live in.
I enjoy traveling to new locations to discover different culture, food, art, architecture, and history. I am also a winter sports fan and love figure skating and skiing so sometimes I travel specifically to partake in these sports activities. I’m definitely attracted to locations that pique my interests. I’ve traveled to perform on tour in different cities and countries quite a bit in the past and during the downtime, I was excited to explore the places surrounding the venue. I suffered burnout sometime in 2013-2014 and needed time for myself to recharge so I booked my first solo trip then was hooked on travel since then.
How has your experience teaching dance to kids and elderly people, especially those with dementia, impacted your personal and professional life? How do you tailor your dance lessons to meet your student's specific needs and abilities?
I began my journey as an assistant dance teacher during my high school years, initially as an assistant teacher. This experience propelled me to pursue teaching dance in various studios and schools across the United States. Upon returning to Singapore following my career in performing and choreography in New York, I continued to share my passion for dance in both studios and school settings. Additionally, during my postgraduate studies at a hospitality university in Switzerland, I took the opportunity to teach dance classes to my fellow students. Afterward, I extended my teaching expertise by conducting workshops when I visit Singapore and Malta.
Currently, I have the privilege of teaching dance classes to individuals of all ages, ranging from 7-year-olds to spirited 90-year-olds, in various settings. While my primary focus lies in teaching ballet, contemporary, and tap dance techniques to teenagers and adults, I am particularly thrilled to instruct figure skaters. As a former figure skater myself, guiding these aspiring skaters aged 7 to 20 is immensely rewarding. They come to my classes driven to learn, which simplifies my role as their motivation is already ignited. By incorporating ballet, jazz, and contemporary dance styles, I am able to nurture their musicality, body coordination, flexibility, stability, expression, and strength. Witnessing their growth and unwavering dedication brings me immense joy as I help them integrate the art of dance into their figure skating endeavors, making every moment in the studio profoundly worthwhile.
Last year, I embarked on a meaningful journey of teaching special needs individuals and the elderly in a unique class called "Sitting Dance". Although it initially presented a challenge, as these classes are conducted entirely in Swedish (unlike my other classes, which are taught in both Swedish and English), I quickly adapted to the format. Each week, I follow a consistent structure to establish a routine, which helps the participants feel more comfortable. The focus of these classes is to assist them in moving their bodies, but it goes beyond physical benefits. Witnessing the profound impact these sessions have on the participants often brings tears to my eyes. I can observe improvements in their body coordination, and even the smallest movements bring genuine smiles to their faces. Teaching these classes not only enhances their physical well-being but also influences them in countless intangible ways. This remarkable impact motivates me to return week after week, eager to continue guiding and inspiring them.
Throughout my 18+ years of teaching dance, I have honed my ability to tailor each class to the unique needs and abilities of my students. It has become second nature to adapt and customize my approach. However, despite my experience, I still experience a flutter of nervousness at the start of every new term. The nagging worry that the students may not warm up to me or the occasional imposter syndrome can dampen my spirits. It's certainly not the most pleasant feeling to grapple with, but I push through it, relying on my expertise and passion to deliver engaging and fulfilling dance classes.
Can you share a particularly memorable moment or experience you've had while teaching dance to kids or elderly people?
The end of each term brings me immense joy, for it is during this time that students, irrespective of their age, abilities, or special needs, seek me out to share their sincere appreciation for my classes. These encounters serve as a powerful reminder of why I am so passionate about my job, as they highlight the profound impact I have made in even the slightest manner, brightening someone's life. Knowing that I have contributed to their happiness and growth makes this profession all the more rewarding.
How has your work as a dancer and teacher influenced your mental health and well-being, and what strategies do you use to maintain balance?
Dance has always been a part of my life since I was 4 years old. Wherever I am in the world, the studio and dancing will always feel like home. Dance has saved me in many ways to ground me. I don’t want to sound like a cheesy dance film, where the protagonist dances out her feelings when she was trying to deal with something mentally, but I have certainly danced to deal with whatever mental struggle and it sometimes ends up in a piece of choreography.
Alaine Handa, an adult "Third Culture Kid," has found her homes in Sweden and Singapore. She embarked on her educational journey by studying dance at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). Later, she expanded her knowledge by pursuing hospitality management at Les Roches International School of Hospitality in Switzerland.
Apart from her achievements in the fields of dance and hospitality, Alaine is also a published author. Her book, titled "In Search of the Best Swedish Chokladbollar: A Southeast Asian Falls in Love with Fika," offers readers an exploration of her personal experiences. It delves into her journey of discovering and falling in love with the Swedish culture's traditional treat known as chokladbollar, while being deeply rooted in her Southeast Asian heritage. The book is available for purchase, and Alaine provides signed copies through her website. Additionally, it can be found at various bookstores, including The English Bookshop in Sweden, The Moon bookshop and Fika café in Singapore, and Books for Cooks in London. Furthermore, the book is readily available through major online retailers worldwide such as Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Waterstones, Adlibris, Apple Books, Kobo, and other reputable platforms.
Alaine Handa's diverse background, passion for dance, and commitment to promoting cultural understanding make her a truly inspiring individual. Whether through her captivating dance performances or her written works, she strives to bridge the gap between cultures and foster a more interconnected world.