An Unexpected Offer from Nalitari

Festival Kesenian Yogyakarta 2018

As a boy who was born and raised in a conservative, but family-oriented environment, I didn’t get a lot of choices in terms of selecting what I should value or how I should perceive things.  Especially, the masculinity standard (already defined by my society), created to be followed by anyone who biologically identifies as male. Growing up, I’ve always been told to avoid the social stigma—to not do things usually done by my opposite gender, as it would violate those masculine standards. Fast forward years later to the most nerve-wracking moment of my life. I recall sitting backstage of a prominent arts festival, wearing a skirt-like pants, and letting someone sweep lipstick across my lips 30 minutes before my very first, life-changing, dance performance.

It was all started during my enrollment as an intern in this organization. I was helping  Nalitari with workshop and publication with the sole purpose the reach wider audience, but then this offer popped out. I was a bit hesitant to take the offer, but thank god I was paired with a bundle of positivity–my internship partner from the U.S, Mimi. With her sophisticated charm, she assured me to let loose, open myself up to a new possibility, and bury away my skepticism. Members of Nalitari also played a big role in helping me kind of “hit the ground running” a bit faster by showing me (someone with zero dance experience) patience and compassion during every rehearsal.

At one point, I was about to complain, I felt terribly remorseful seeing the excitement of all the other members, especially the ones with different abilities.  Filled with enthusiasm and looking as if they didn’t want to be anywhere else.

It all happened almost unexpectedly; Nalitari got the invitation to perform at Festival Kesenian Yogyakarta (FKY) only a week before the show. And considering the other things on their agenda, as well as the personal schedules of each member, to be required to have two performances ready with only four meetings to practice was quite unsettling especially for a beginner like me.

But refusing to let this amazing opportunity pass, the Nalitari community decided to do dances inspired by Panca Kandha or the five Javanese elements; which are fire, wind, water, wood, and earth. The two choreographies performed were called, Agni and Kayu (fire and wood). Through the dances, we mimicked the characteristics of the two elements, respectively. However, we saved some parts to be improvised with the sole purpose of keeping the performance fresh and avant-garde.

And as I walked off the stage, I noticed I was feeling different; like something was added and taken away. Surprisingly, my performance was not as bad as I thought it would be. Nalitari gave me the chance to be my true self and express what I felt on stage, through dance. That chance added an emotionally rewarding feeling I hold dear to me. To top that, I realized that my bad assumption about this process just vanished the second I heard the crowd’s ovation. My negative thoughts were taken away. I learned that I am still a man because everything I did before, during, and after the performance, didn’t ruin my manhood. I made a promise to myself to embrace the unknown without being insecure about my identity, as long as I am confident with my masculinity. And all of this because of an unexpected request from Nalitari.

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