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2018 in review: Diversity on the dance floor

Yuliasri Perdani

The Jakarta Post

Jakarta  /  Fri, January 4, 2019  /  10:09 am
2018 in review: Diversity on the dance floor

In line: More than 1,000 high school students steal the attention at the 2018 Asian Games opening ceremony in Jakarta with their perfectly synchronized Ratoh Jaroe dance performance. (Reuters/Issei Kato )

What defines a dancer in 2018? A teenager dancing to Drake’s “In My Feeling” in the street, a student performing an intricate routine alongside a thousand other students at the Asian Games, or a young choreographer trying to redefine traditional gender stereotypes in dance?

The year 2018 was a colorful one, presenting us with an eclectic mix of dancers from different backgrounds, genres and interests. We saw diversity not just in the dancers but also in the messages they conveyed: from culture preservation and freedom to empowerment of the disabled.

Dance Events

At Salihara International Performing Arts Festival (SIPFest) last September, young choreographer and dancer Otniel Tasman promised a brighter future for the often overlooked cross-dressing dance genre.

In his piece Cablaka, Otniel took inspiration from the traditional Javanese lengger dance, which is usually performed by a male dancer acting as a woman, complete with makeup and mannerisms. He took the dance to another level by mixing it with folk music genre dangdut koplo.

Meanwhile, the Indonesian Dance Festival (IDF) returned for its 14th edition with the weighty theme of personal freedoms and democracy of the body. Scores of international artists participated in the festival, including South Korean choreographer Eun-Me Ahn who pondered on the identity and social class of modern men and women through her piece, Let Me Change Your Name.

The year also marked the Indonesian debut of dance company Spellbound Contemporary Ballet, the brainchild of renowned Italian contemporary choreographer Mauro Astolfi. At An Evening with Spellbound last December, Mauro and his dancers presented a collection of elegant and humorous routines that received a standing ovation from the audience at the Haji Usmar Ismail Film Center in Jakarta.

Dance company Eksotika Karmawibhangga Indonesia (EKI) gave us possibly what we need the most in this challenging time.

Amid the country’s intensifying political tension that has divided families, ruined friendships and invaded the workplace, the dance company in its annual show EKI Update 4.0 reminded us that love is all we need.

It presents a series of dance performances centering on love stories, from Arjuna and Srikandi of the Mahabharata epic to a modern-day romance. There was also a tribute performance for Rudy Wowor, a Dutch-Indonesian dancer and actor who passed away in October.

Maria's New Milestone

The year was marvelous for Maria Darmaningsih, a prominent dancer and co-founder of the Indonesian Dance Festival (IDF). As the festival was coming to a close, Maria was awarded the medal of Chevalier dans l’Ordre des Arts et Lettres (Knight of the Order of Arts and Letters) by the French government. The honor recognizes Indonesians who have contributed to the world of art and played a role in strengthening relations between France and Indonesia.

In previous years, the award has been given to singer Anggun, actress Christine Hakim, scholar Adjie Damais, film director Garin Nugroho and artist Sunaryo.


An encouraging trend emerged in 2018, as dancers with disabilities took center stage.

The Bebas Batas Festival (Borderless Festival) in October put brilliant dancers with disabilities into the limelight. It was the first arts festival by disabled people in Indonesia. At the festival, a b-boy who lost his leg in an accident showed that he could still pull off cool moves. And a deaf dancer cast away the doubts when she danced to the beats with the help of a hearing aid.

In a similar spirit, the Jakarta Dance Carnival in May provided a dance floor for around 2,000 dancers across different ages, genres and levels of expertise.

The two events show inclusiveness at its best. And that very value is what the organizer of Solo Menari should have learned. The event celebrated World Dance Day, which fell on April 29, by holding a massive gambyong dance with 5,000 students in the streets of Surakarta, Central Java.

Some hijab-wearing students, who had practiced for the dance, were scrapped from the event as they could not wear the traditional off-the-shoulder costume. The ensuing protest from the students and their parents prompted the organizer to relax the rule, but the hijab-wearing students were apparently too broken-hearted to rejoin the event.

Dancing In The Street

We cannot talk about the dances of 2018 without mentioning viral dances. There were the dance challenges of DJ Snake’s “Taki Taki”, Ciara’s “Level Up” and BTS’s “Idol”. But it was the KiKi dance challenge that really took social media — and the streets — by storm.

The song “In My Feelings”, better known as “Kiki, do you love me?”, is Drake’s sweet ode to one of his first crushes. But the song instantly turned into a viral dance challenge after social media comedian Shiggy posted a video on Instagram of him dancing to the song in the road in June.

Indonesian Youtubers, celebrities and even serious-looking stunt master Limbad took on the KiKi challenge. The trend sparked safety concerns, prompting the police to issue a warning noting that dancing in the street was a violation of the law. Thankfully, the trend finally faded away.

Perhaps the kind of street dance that we should encourage more is that seen at the two-day Jogja International Street Performance (JISP) in September. Dancers from Yogyakarta and beyond took over the streets around Gadjah Mada University to entertain the public. JISP also featured Indonesian dancers’ collaborations with Japan’s DINYOS Dance Company and Amsterdam-based LeineRoebana.

Spectacular Asian Games Dance

If 2018 offers something we can learn about, it is that anyone can be a dancer with a strong will and dedication. Just take a look at 1,600 high school students who took part in the jaw-dropping, perfectly synchronized ratoh jaroe dance at the 2018 Asian Games opening ceremony.

Yes, they were led by renowned singer and dancer Denny Malik and wore an awesome chameleon-like costume. But it does not outweigh the fact that they had undergone four months of intensive training (and apparently did not get paid for it) to master the advanced routine and delivered a brilliant performance that was one of the highlights of the 2018 Asian Games in Jakarta.

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