5 Things You Don’t Know About… Farah Sulaiman
I would not thought it possible to come up with 5 things we didn’t know about this beloved figure who has taught and choreographed to two generations of dancers and is starting on the third. Yet, Farah Sulaiman is used to rising to challenges and rose to this one, sharing secrets she says will surprise even her closest friends. For your reading pleasure:
“My favourite musical is Hello, Dolly! and has been ever since I was in it as a student.” She played dual roles in the play; she was one of the townspeople putting on their Sunday clothes, and she was a bellboy singing and dancing the show stopping title song. On a trip to the UK when she was only 14, she also saw it on stage starring Carol Channing. If you don’t understand why that made this writer’s eyes widen with awe, you are either very young and/or need to brush up your Broadway.
When she was very little, her family sold her for one sen
And they did it because they loved her. “I was a sickly child,” Farah explains. Running out of ways to make her better, her parents ‘sold’ Farah to an Austrian woman who was a close family friend. With this symbolic purchase, Farah was supposed to be “’reborn’ as a healthy child – cleaned of my illness.” As part of the ritual, she was also given a new name: Zainal. Farah laughs at the memory. “I don’t know why they chose that name; it’s a boy’s name and in those days I hated it when people called me Zainal.” Still the name stuck and her family still calls her that. Even her husband, who started off calling her Farah, soon began calling her ‘Lan’.”
She started training early for a career in espionage
Very early. “I used to do kung fu. I loved the form and…” she pauses dramatically, “I wanted to be a secret agent.” There was one drawback: “I hate the sound of gunfire. I don’t even like it when balloons pop.” Even so, with a passion for martial arts, horse-riding and fencing Farah seemed well on the path to achieving the career of her dreams when doctors found a meningioma in her brain and put a stop to activities that could get her hurt. At least that’s the official story – and every secret agent has one. Of course, there may be another truth, a secret identity to Farah that she can’t reveal, or else she’d have to kill me.
She learned to do the split with some fairy magic… and a small puddle of water
Yes, the elements and Farah’s rich imagination conspired to turn her into a dancer. “When you are small, everything is big, so I used to pretend I was a fairy. One rainy afternoon I was dancing in the garden in our old house in Federal Hill. Suddenly I slipped in a puddle of water and fell into a split. It didn’t hurt. I’d tried before but never managed after that, I could do it whenever I wanted.”
She still carries a flame for her childhood love
“I was in love with Astro Boy.” Is that a blush? But the love was true, and used to dream about him. Literally. “I had this recurring dream where Astro Boy and I were flying over the heads of villains. Only it was always indoors and the ceiling was low so they could jump up and reach us.” A long and loving marriage, several children and a grandson later, Farah still remembers her first love. “I was recently in one of those anime shops and saw a statue of Astro Boy.”… that is a blush! “I bought him home.”
“To me, if a musical has acting and singing but no dancing, I can’t enjoy it. Something too big is missing.”