Street dance pioneer ScRach MarcS tells stories through movement.
Text by Stephanie Peh
Interview by Jai Rafferty
Formed in 2008, ScRach MarcS is a dance duo consisting of Rachel Lee and Marcus Tan. With roots in classic street dance, the husband-and-wife team expanded their repertoire over the years, delving into other dance forms and modes of presentations. Approaching their art with openness has proven advantageous in a systematic city where the essence of street dance—improvised, spontaneous and social—seems to contradict. Yet Rachel and Marcus have found ways to keep moving, their sleek robotic movements rebelling against rigidity.
A marriage of the East and West, the Singapore psyche can be conservative and open at the same time. “Living in this middle ground is interesting because we get to bring out the best of both worlds. You are a hybrid, which is new,” says Marcus who believes that while Singaporeans have Asian values like diligence, they can also be creative like the West. Instead of existing on the extreme ends, Singapore sits in the middle like an “in-between culture”. The downfall is that when it comes to artistic endeavours, it becomes challenging to pinpoint the Singaporean identity or style.
However, this cultural conundrum inspires the duo. “We are constantly bridging, adapting and evolving,” Marcus adds. Unlike countries with centuries of civilisation, Singapore possesses neither deep history nor tradition as a young nation. In that sense, it has a lot of freedom to write its own story and tends to borrow from different cultures. A fitting descriptor for this melting pot of ideas would be rojak—a delicious local salad comprising ingredients from various ethnic groups. And that is how the choreographers, educators, performers and creators have approached their work—by not restricting themselves to the confines of artistic genres or presentation formats. Popping and waacking need not be limited to the streets, it can be showcased in a theatre hall and tell a story like plays. Beyond a physical stage, dance can also be showcased in digital realms to create immersive experiences.
Like most dancers, their journey began with passion. Back then, learning new moves required the duo to travel and learn from other people. There were no YouTube or TikTok tutorials. “The first few years of our practice were about building a community from scratch. We were trying to gather information and sharing it with one another,” recalls Rachel. They spent their early years learning, organising classes, jamming sessions and taking part in competitions, which seem become insufficient for the couple who wanted to understand dance in an all-encompassing manner.
The pivoting year came in 2014 when they visited the United States, meeting people born of the community and immersing in places where street dance originated. “It was like a restart for ScRach MarcS. We started to work with each other more to create works as movement artists,” Rachel explains. It was no longer just about winning competitions but also showcasing dance to diverse audiences and cultivating long-lasting interests. As seen on their television debut on Dance Floor (Season Two) where they were crowned winners, their approach became driven by relatable narratives and feelings. “There is more behind dance than just movement,” says Marcus. “Sometimes dance can act as a mediator as well,” he adds.
Looking towards other aspects of life and creative fields beyond dance help them learn new perspectives. They find inspiration in places such as the Sultan Arts Village and the back alleys of Gelam Gallery where creativity is boundless on graffiti-filled walls. Possessing strong cultural elements, the architecture of the Singapore Musical Box Museum and Queenstown Sports Complex push them to tap into history and memory to create new visual narratives.
The manner of looking at a time and place to convey emotions through dance is in fact what street dance is about. Originally from the 70s in New York, street dance was an act of rebellion against high-art and highbrow dance forms with sub-genres tracing back to African American ghettos. Inevitably, this deep history does lead the duo to question: Can street dance resonate with people who love it but are not from the culture? Does that mean that they can never fully be a part of it? “How original can we be if we do not come from the community or the era?” Rachel wonders. With awareness of the origin of street dance and their personal lineage, they realised that instead of trying to be original, they would rather be authentic and true to themselves.
When asked about the name, ScRach MarcS, Rachel tells us that it is made up of their nicknames, Rach and Marcs. “We could spell ‘scratch marks’ with our names and we liked that it can be associated with street culture. It’s the idea of leaving a mark or an impression,” she elaborates. Fittingly, inserting their names into their craft reflects their approach—you can’t separate Rachel and Marcus from their performance identity, and vice versa.
This editorial provides complementary content to Hidden Places, a film series that showcases an alternative Singapore through the eyes of four homegrown creatives. Watch the films here.