Danc­ing on Wheels

The Myanmar Times - Weekend - - Weeken | Art - NYO ME For fur­ther ques­tions or to of­fer as­sis­tance, con­tact with the group can be made on so­cial me­dia (MILI

MOST show dancers strut out onto the stage from either the left or right cur­tain, or climb up a set of stout stairs to get out in front of the au­di­ence. To­day, how­ever, it’s go­ing to be a ramp. The team pre­pare them­selves and soon as they are called, breaks are re­leased and the wheels of their chairs be­gin to turn. With a short run up they can all wheel out onto stage with some piz­zazz to greet the wait­ing au­di­ence.

It’s a just a small change that can make a world of dif­fer­ence for phys­i­cally dis­abled peo­ple who also hap­pen to love dance and the per­form­ing arts – and this def­i­nitely a group who likes to dance. The groups are telling a story to the au­di­ence about their ex­pe­ri­ences. The story starts out with a wheel-chair bound per­son try­ing to en­ter danc­ing lessons – but he is ig­nored. He tries to self train, but at first fails. It ap­pears that there will be no one who can help him just do the thing he loves. Then, a warm hand comes to touch him on the shoul­der. Other peo­ple in wheel­chairs ap­pear on­stage and be­gin their dances. Fi­nally, there is free­dom and joy.

Once the three minute dance is over, the per­form­ers hold plac­ards declar­ing “We are ables”, which elic­its a fan­tas­tic ap­plause from the crowd gath­ered at the Hlaing Thar­yar Pub­lic Park. The event was held to mark In­ter­na­tional Day of Per­sons with Dis­abil­i­ties on De­cem­ber 3. The per­form­ers that night are part of the only wheel­chair dance ground in Myan­mar, which was formed in 2014 as part of the ASEAN Dis­abled Art Fes­ti­val, led here by the Myan­mar In­de­pen­dent Liv­ing Ini­tia­tive (MILI).

Their work as per­form­ers puts them deeply at odds with the nor­mal adult out­comes for dis­abled Myan­mar peo­ple, which can in­clude me­nial, low paid work and a life spent de­pen­dent on fam­ily and char­ity. The per­for­mance ul­ti­mately serves as the ex­pres­sion of dig­nity and achieve­ment.

Let’s burn rub­ber Danc­ing was never con­sid­ered part of the life or cul­ture of dis­abled peo­ple in the past, said Pyae Phyo Aung, troupe mem­ber, so be­ing asked to work with a dance crew with wheel­chairs was a sur­prise. As a keen per­former, Pyae Phyo Aung was im­me­di­ately ex­cited at the op­por­tu­nity. Hanli Khaing Hnin, from Kachin, was an­other mem­ber who possessed a burn­ing de­sire to join the pro­gram. The im­por­tant thing was be­ing com­pet­i­tive with men and show­ing that she can turn and burn rub­ber with the best of them. With a pro­fes­sional Ja­panese trainer, things picked up steam af­ter the cre­ation of the crew and word started to get around.

Un­for­tu­nately, the in­ter­na­tional pro­fes­sional dance trainer was only there for a lim­ited time, and find­ing peo­ple with the ex­per­tise to take on wheel­chair danc­ing is tough, so the groups train un­der their own tech­niques with ev­ery­thing they have learned so far, and im­pro­vise their lessons. They say they are keen to find some­one to fill the role of leader trainer again.

Of the orig­i­nal core group, only three of seven re­main to­day, though over­all the troupe has gained new mem­bers. There are three male per­form­ers and three women rang­ing in age from 27 to 36. Ul­ti­mately, it’s the peo­ple close to Yan­gon where the crew is cen­tred who stay for the long haul and can come to join per­for­mances.

Pro­fes­sion­als don’t do it on the cheap The num­ber of stage in­vites the crew gets is ac­tu­ally very few, un­less it’s for spe­cific events such as the In­ter­na­tional Day of Per­sons with Dis­abil­i­ties where they’re front and cen­tre. Fund­ing is also an is­sue, hav­ing ba­si­cally dried up since 2014. MILI was pro­vid­ing fund­ing in those early years but now, the team is run­ning on the funds they can garner from the event deals they can make. A sin­gle wheel­chair build light and strong enough to per­form in costs around K2,000,000, and then there are re­pairs.

“Since our move­ment re­lies on qual­ity chairs and ease of move­ment, you’ve got to be care­ful when you’re per­form­ing. You fear harm­ing your­self and your equip­ment,” said Aung Ko Ko, who mis-bal­anced and fell when try­ing to per­form a hand­stand due to an un­even floor. He knows a thing or two about wheel­chair use, be­ing a for­mer bas­ket­ball player who com­peted at mul­ti­ple ASEAN Para Games.

The plan for the team is to keep work­ing on in­creas­ing their skills to at­tract ASEAN or in­ten­tional at­ten­tion and get in­vited to events, and gain enough money for reg­u­lar prac­tice and to bring back a pro­fes­sional trainer.

“Yes, I’m dis­abled, but I want to dance just like ev­ery­body else. So, I just make an ef­fort,” said troupe mem­ber Than Soe Aung.

Photos: Nyo Me

Wheel­chair dancer's per­for­mance on De­cem­ber 3 at Hlaing Thar Yar Pub­lic Park, Yan­gon.

Smiles and dance only.

Ready to per­form.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Myanmar

© PressReader. All rights reserved.