a meeting taking place in a spacious room. two Indonesian women sit on a sofa in conversation

Insights from an International Arts Project – Discovering Disabled Dancers in Indonesia

Worlds collided as Epic Arts’ Dancers from Cambodia touched down here in Indonesia to perform at the ASEAN Para Games in October 2022. The trip was incredibly timely as it lined up almost perfectly with our latest project in Indonesia.

If you don’t know our back story, Epic Arts inspired us to set up We Are Epic in 2016, and we’ve been running Inclusive Arts projects in Indonesia since 2018.

While watching the ceremony, we noticed that Epic Arts were the only dancers with visible disabilities. From a UK inclusive arts perspective, this may seem shocking. How could a regional disability event only have a few visibly disabled dancers in the ceremony? This limited representation of disabled artists wasn’t a surprise for us, but it was very uncanny.

It was uncanny because we were about to start a new international arts project, “Discovering Disabled Dance Talent Across Indonesia”, funded by the British Council, which would address this lack of inclusion and representation of disabled dancers.
a meeting taking place in a spacious room. two Indonesian women sit on a sofa in conversation

Discovering Disabled Dance Talent Across Indonesia

In the past year or so, we’ve been raring to find new opportunities and collaborations for international arts projects. Still, the limited information and networks here in Indonesia kept tripping us up. A sentiment that we’ve discussed at length with our Indonesian counterparts, Nalitari.

With this in mind, we sought to further understand the landscape of disabled dance in Indonesia. Essentially we wanted to find out where are the disabled dancers and what are they creating?

We were funded by the British Council via the Connections Through Culture grant to conduct a three-month research project.

As well as answering our questions, we were also focused on the future. We didn’t want the project’s only output to be a document. We wanted to build something living and breathing. Something, that could bring disabled dancers and organisations together.

When the project began, there were no active formal networks for disabled dancers in Indonesia. After discussions with two Indonesian dance partners, Nalitari and Ballet ID, we found out that there was an inclusive dance network before, but it was defunct. Developing and leading a new network as part of the project was exciting for our Indonesian partners.

So we go started.

We worked with Nalitri and Ballet ID to develop initial mapping and a survey. We piloted the survey in ‘the big four’ islands of Sumatra, Borneo (Kalimantan), Sulawesi and Java. We chose to collect information using online tools to reach remote communities.

Key Findings - What Did We Find Out About Disabled Dancers?

The research team discovered a total of 137 Disabled Dancers.

Over 75% of the disabled dancers reported that they practised dance as a hobby and didn’t consider themselves professionals as they hadn’t been paid for dancing.

Most Disabled Dancers practised traditional dance, followed by contemporary and hip hop. There were also disabled dancers practising ballet, jazz, theatre and visual vernacular.

Disabled Artists told us:

“Society in Indonesia still views disabled people as incapable and like outsiders.

Felt Isolated and rejected by mainstream society and regular platforms. They found they were not welcome at dance schools, in dance communities and even at their own friends and family events.

Our Approach

We’re really excited to have brought this information to light and to have brought partners together.

Having worked in the international development sector for over 15 years, we strongly believe in localisation and learning from both sides – we were not just about to fly around Indonesia looking for disabled artists alone!

“Discovering Disabled Dance Talent Across Indonesia” was inspired by a similar project we led in 2021, Count Me In. Using the learnings from that project to design the scoping project with but with an international arts project twist.

A crucial part of our international arts projects is respecting everyone fully, including all parts of each other’s identities and cultures. Having been in this space for over a decade. We’re acutely aware of the impacts of colonialism and how those attitudes can show up in our selves, partners and other stakeholders. If you’re interested in how we develop international partnerships, read our recent blog or shoot us an email.

What's Next - The Future of Disabled Dance in Indonesia

137 disabled dancers were discovered and connected to inclusive arts organisations through our research and British Council funding. We hope that the next time a high-profile disability event like the ASEAN Para Games comes to Indonesia, it will include more disabled artists. This is, of course, not the only barrier for disabled dancers. Still, it very well could be a catalyst that brings opportunities for disabled dancers to reach their potential.