Cheryl's talent in dance and rhythmic gymnastics helped her secure a place in St Margaret's Secondary School.
There are leaps and swings, rolls and runs, spirals and circles. With rope, hoop, ball, clubs and ribbon, Cheryl Ng performs with fluid ease a range of sequences that blend precise control and rhythmic grace. A dancer at heart, the Sec 2 student can thank her art for the opportunity, through the Direct School Admission - Secondary Exercise (DSA-Sec), to take to the stage as well as pursue her studies at St Margaret's Secondary School.
It was through her skills in dance that Cheryl clinched a place at St Margaret's even before she sat for her PSLE. She got in via the DSA-Sec, which allows Pri 6 pupils to apply to secondary schools of their choice using criteria other than their PSLE results.
Under DSA-Sec, 56 secondary schools can select pupils based on their achievements and talents in fields such as music, sports and science. Each school has its own merit-based criteria and may conduct interviews or trials to assess individual applicants. Typically, the selection exercise takes place from June to August, and by October, qualified students would have received offers from the schools of their choice.
Participating schools have the discretion to offer places to DSA-Sec applicants amounting to between 5% and 100% of their Sec 1 intake. For Niche Programme schools, the DSA-Sec ceiling is 5% of each cohort who are shortlisted for having excelled in arenas that match the school's specialty, from robotics and rugby to badminton and concert bands.
It's a stretch: Cheryl has added to St Margaret's Secondary School medal tally in national competitions.
With its focus on the Visual and Performing Arts, St Margaret's naturally topped the list for Cheryl, who was drawn to the school's track record in Chinese dance. The school is a regular frontrunner at the biennial Singapore Youth Festival (SYF) Central Judging, having secured the coveted 'Gold' or 'Gold with Honours' award for the past three SYFs.
Joining this proud tradition, Cheryl has already won accolades for St Margaret's in her first year, with a gold medal under her belt. Besides Chinese dance, she is also a member of the rhythmic gymnastics team. Her performances at the National Inter-School Rhythmic Gymnastics Championships have led to a 2nd placing in the group event and a 3rd placing in the individual event.
Cheryl's first steps into the world of dance and gymnastics go back to her Pri 2 days, when she was going through a dance move during PE. "My gymnastics coach spotted me through that dance routine," she says of her recruitment into the team at her alma mater, Pioneer Primary School.
"It's a very active sport," said Cheryl. "I like the routines and find them very special." Performers must learn to use five apparatus in their choreography, each of which requires different techniques and accompaniment. "Normally the rope and the clubs are accompanied by fast music, while the ball is accompanied by slow music," explains Cheryl. "So you have to play around, testing out different moves and getting to know the equipment."
A Cluster Centre of Excellence for the arts, St Margaret's Secondary School offers opportunities for students to develop in the visual and performing arts.
The ribbon is a particular challenge for Cheryl as it often gets tangled up during the dance, while the clubs are a heavy pair for Cheryl's petite frame. "If it drops, you might hurt yourself," she says. "We have to practise a lot and eventually learn how to handle it properly." Nonetheless, Cheryl has acquired sufficient mastery of the clubs to win national awards.
Her background in rhythmic gymnastics sparked her interest in dance, since both involve choreographed routines that are made up of similar movements. By the time she was in upper primary, Cheryl was actively involved in both the rhythmic gymnastics and Chinese dance CCAs.
Encouraged by her primary school coach, Cheryl picked St Margaret's Secondary School and underwent a rigorous process that culminated in an audition cum interview. "I was nervous, and didn't really express myself well," she recalls. "They asked questions like 'why do you want to come to this school' and 'why did you choose dance?'"
For the audition, Cheryl had to perform one choreographed item as well as an impromptu piece. "I had to dance in front of six teachers," she recounts. The experience was nerve-wracking, but the teachers "were friendly and cheered for me".
Receiving the acceptance letter was thus a dream come true, and now Cheryl is raising her art to new levels. "The teachers and students are really friendly and I have improved in my flexibility," she says of her twice-weekly training sessions. "I would like to achieve more medals during the competitions. I also hope to be a ballet dancer in the future, to travel around the world and perform for everyone."