Breadth of Bodies: Discussing Disability in Dance. Lusi Insiati

Episode Summary

Breadth of Bodies: Discussing Disability in Dance seeks to investigate stereotypes often used to describe professional dancers with disabilities. Lusi Insiati.

Episode Notes

Breadth of Bodies: Discussing Disability in Dance seeks to investigate stereotypes often used to describe professional dancers with disabilities. Spearheaded by Emmaly Wiederholt and Silva Laukkanen with illustrations by visual artist Liz Brent-Maldonado, the team interviewed 35 professional dance artists with disabilities around the country and world, asking about training, access, and press, as well as looking at the state of the field.

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Details: Authored by Emmaly Wiederholt and Silva Laukkanen, illustrations by Liz Brent-Maldonado, design by Christelle Dreyer, edited by Donne Lewis and April Adams, audiobook narrated by Sami Kekäläinen.

Episode Transcription

Lusi Insiati is a member of Nalitari Dance Troupe. She joined Nalitari, the only inclusive dance organization in Yogyakarta, Indonesia, when it was first established in 2013. Initially an art spectator and enthusiast, she became actively involved in dance after attending Nalitari’s very first workshop. Lusi continues to dance with Nalitari and has appeared in several performances, both in and out of Yogyakarta. She passionately continues expressing herself in art as an effort to increase public awareness of a more inclusive society.



How did you get into dance and what have been some highlights in your dance history?

Initially, I was just an art enthusiast. I’ve always liked things related to art. When I saw my niece learning and practicing Balinese dance, I thought it would be fun to be able to dance.

I joined a pantomime group in March 2013. The pantomime event was for the anniversary of the city of Yogyakarta. Many organizations and communities were invited to perform, including a disability organization that I was part of that put on the pantomime performance. That same year, a friend from the pantomime group invited me to join Nalitari’s dance workshop. I’ve been dancing there since.

Every performance is a highlight. I had the chance to join a two-week workshop with Introdans from the Netherlands in 2014, and the last day we held a performance together. The experience was quite new for me at the time. I was excited to be selected to represent Nalitari in the collaboration. The dance foundation in Indonesia is traditional, but the dance foundation at Introdans was ballet. I was shocked. All the workshop participants learned a little about each other’s dance forms, and after that we created a collaborative dance that everyone could do. We weren’t forced to master anything, but instead use the knowledge to explore what we could do. The theme was “move!”

Once, Nalitari danced in the center of Yogyakarta under hard rain. It was terribly cold and my teeth were clenching, but that was okay. None of us called it quits. We kept dancing in the rain.

One piece I especially loved was called Circle of Life. The dance represented the circle of life from birth to death. We explored movement on that theme.

How would you describe your current dance practice?

At Nalitari, the teaching and practice method is adjusted to people with disabilities. Any movements we can do, that is what we do. At rehearsal, we don’t make a distinction between the people with and without disabilities. All the movements depend on interpretation.

Once we enter the repertoire, we learn what the dance is about so the dancers can learn how to express the idea. After that, there’s a part of the dance where dancers can explore the idea by ourselves and a part where there is a guideline for movement, but it doesn’t have to look the same.

We practice twice a month with all the members of Nalitari, but if there’s an upcoming performance, we add more practices. There are about 30 people involved with Nalitari.

During the pandemic, we haven’t had any practice. I haven’t been able to see my friends, but I practice at home.

When you tell people you are a dancer, what are the most common reactions you receive?

First they are surprised. Sometimes they’ll ask a question like, “How can it be?” or “What kind of dance do you do?” Then I answer by saying that I move the body parts that I can move. I always take the time to explain.

When collaborating with non-disabled people, there are always challenges. In the beginning, they might feel afraid to get close or they act awkwardly. But as time passes, people adjust and it automatically feels easier to get closer or communicate. We build understanding.

In Indonesia, inclusive dance is starting to happen more, but it’s not common. Sometimes other dance organizations invite disabled people to participate in a workshop, but they’re not like Nalitari. We dance inclusively all the time.

What are some ways people discuss dance with regards to disability that you feel carry problematic implications or assumptions?

Most of the time, comments from people who come to see our performances are positive and encouraging. They want to learn and see more. They want to know how we practice.

The concept of inclusive dance is not common in Indonesia. When we perform, people see us as a disability organization, and the way they write about us is that we’re amazing and great just because we work with people with disabilities. The comments are never about the art. Also, the non-disabled dancers are written about as supporting the disabled dancers, when in fact it is a collaboration. We work together side by side. We raise each other.

My dream is that all my disability friends can one day access dance, and that our performances are of good enough quality to be exhibited. I don’t want people to come to our show because they have pity, but because the dancing is good quality.

Do you believe there are adequate training opportunities for dancers with disabilities? If not, what areas would you specifically like to see improved?

Not yet, but if there’s someone who wants to do that, then why not?

There is also a limitation for people with disabilities to access traditional dance forms, but at Nalitari, we do not have those limitations because we do contemporary. Traditional dance is very strong here, especially in Yogyakarta. We have very strict standards. Even non-disabled people can’t do certain traditional dances because of their body shape. It’s a very strict culture. If you do traditional dance, you’re called a “dancer.”

For people with disabilities to follow all the rules of traditional dance is very difficult, but if institutions or universities start to understand that people have their own uniqueness, then perhaps things will one day change.

Here, we have a special school where all the children with disabilities go. We call it the Extraordinary School. Every region of Indonesia has at least one. Dance training would be especially great in those schools. They sometimes offer dance classes when there’s an upcoming competition or performance, but it’s not regular.

Nalitari has a yearly exhibition and we usually invite the teachers and students from the Extraordinary School for a workshop with us. I am one of the mentors for those workshops.

Would you like to see disability in dance assimilated into the mainstream?

We already are in Nalitari, because non-disabled and disabled people dance together. Outside Nalitari, one of my relatives is a dancer and is interested in dancing together with me. Regardless of disability, there is willingness. But up until now, it’s only willingness, not action. I believe that in the future there will be action, but not in the near future.

Typically, the challenges are with the stage or performance venue, that it is too high or there is no ramp. As a wheelchair user, sometimes I become a bother for people who have to carry me and my wheelchair.

What is your preferred term for the field?

In Yogyakarta, we use “inclusive dance.” But we still have people who think “inclusive” means only people with disabilities. They also think it means we only include one type of disability, like Deaf. To be really inclusive, it has to be more than that. It has to mean everyone. Nalitari has people who have physical disabilities, Down syndrome, Deafness, autism, and cerebral palsy. We only haven’t worked with blind people and people with mental disorders. But if they want to join, they are welcome.

In your perspective, is the field improving with time?

Many people with disabilities are starting to come out and their voices are being heard. This is clear in the number of invitations Nalitari has received to perform. When Nalitari started, mostly just the part of the government who works with disabled people would invite us to perform. Now, non-disability related organizations are starting to invite us. Nalitari was invited to perform in a mainstream dance festival a few years ago between Indonesia, Japan, and Korea. We were the only inclusive company to perform. It was a big honor for us to bring inclusive dance to an international stage.

My dream is for my disability friends to access any type of dance and that we can be accepted as we are.