Meet Subastian Tan, 23, Programme Leader of DADC, a 14-member team of dancers, theatre practitioners and musicians that creates opportunities for persons with or without disabilities to dance on a semi-professional level. The Singapore Management University undergrad speaks to ISHAN SINGH about disability-led art practices and their significance in forging an inclusive society.
Please describe what DADC does in a nutshell.
DADC stands for Diverse Abilities Dance Collective. However, we are considering a name change since our focus isn’t so much on one’s “abilities”, but in creating opportunities for people passionate about dance. At the core, DADC is a dance collective offering a platform for persons with disabilities to dance semi-professionally. In addition, we set them up to be employed in different areas within the arts sector. For instance, DADC’s dancers are trained to handle arts administration, to become co-trainers in external classes, and in costume management. Equipped with these skills, they are empowered to seek employment in the arts industry.
How did you come to be involved in DADC?
The idea for DADC sprang from a discussion between Shahrin Johry and Kavitha Krishnan, respectively the principal dancer and artistic director of Maya Dance Theatre, where I myself am a dancer. In our teaching, we’d worked with individuals with special needs, and a few of them voiced their desire to pursue dancing more seriously. Since most dance programmes were recreational, they could not find a platform to further develop their abilities. DADC was therefore founded in June 2018 to address this gap in the market.
Our first batch of members consisted mostly of dancers with Down Syndrome. They previously danced at the Down Syndrome Association (DSA), where I used to facilitate some classes, sometimes performing with them, too. Kavitha herself has also known them for many years, having watched them grow and develop as dancers. Coming together again in DADC has strengthened our bond even further. Today, besides persons with Down Syndrome, our members also include independent artists and those who have been dancing since young.
As programme leader, what are some of your responsibilities?
My main role is to maintain the sustainability of the collective while looking after the growth of each member. Under the guidance of my mentor, Kavitha, I liaise with other companies, organisers and artists who may be interested to collaborate with us, or who wish engage us for performances. For my members, I help to organise their training—in the areas of dance and administration.
What is the most challenging aspect of your role? The need to consciously remind myself to find out what the members themselves want (out of DADC) instead of acting on my own expectations of them. When working with individuals with special needs, there can be a tendency to want to “help” them out of goodwill. I don’t mean to imply that they do not need help—everybody does—but by thinking along those lines, we focus on what others lack rather than what they have. When I plan the activities for each DADC member, I focus on their individual strengths, while also identifying any areas in which they may need support. It is extremely important that everyone feels a sense of autonomy over their choices—the dancers included.
Have there been moments when you realised your work at DADC was making a positive impact?
Yes, especially when I see the little ways in which each member has grown. There’s June, who has been co-facilitating children’s dance classes with me at The Artground. She’s demonstrated great improvement in terms of leading a segment of the class, projecting her voice more loudly, and commanding the kids’ attention. We also have Yuan Sheng, who’s shown greater focus and ownership over his dancing. Every time I observe such development, I communicate this positive feedback to the members. This in turn encourages them to keep up the good work.
DADC also regularly conducts improvisation jams, in which we invite other artists (musicians, visual artists or poets) in the field to provide stimuli for us to dance to. But it was the very first session that left the deepest impression on me. Some participants were shy by nature, but I saw how they found a safe space in such an activity—they were able to express themselves earnestly, initiate movements and even come up with creative movements of their own. It reminded me just how powerful dance can be as a tool for communication and self-empowerment. Plus, it was a really fun exercise that lasted half an hour with no breaks!
How did dance come to play such a prominent role in your life and what does dance mean to you?
I have always enjoyed dance and music since young, but only properly started getting into it at the age of 16. Hip-hop was my first contact with dance, after which I started exploring other genres like contemporary and jazz when I was a member of the National University of Singapore’s Dance Ensemble. Later, I found myself drawn to Southeast Asian forms such as traditional Malay or Balinese dance—this interest led me to join Maya Dance Theatre. From there, I began to understand Bharatanatyam applied in a dance theatre context. The arts reflect and tell us so much about our culture and everyday experiences—things that are more deeply interwoven into our lives than we even realise. I aspire to use the arts, such as dance, to connect communities, and I want to use my role in DADC to put this into practice.
Outside of DADC, you’re a dancer at Maya Dance Theatre and an undergrad at SMU. How do you juggle your many activities?
Whenever I do one thing, it’s like taking a breather from the other. For instance, when I manage DADC, I consider it a break from my studies. On the other hand, doing my revision helps to take my mind off dancing. But my studies complement my work as well. As a psychology major, I am able to use my theoretical backing to understand how to support any dancers with special needs. On the other hand, managing DADC has boosted my organisational and time-management skills.
Besides dancing, how do you like to unwind?
I like to explore vinyl bars/cafes and just take my time to discover new music. I might also go to the beach, or have a lazy day at home. I also enjoy reading: I recommend the book Sweet Bean Paste by Durian Sukegawa. It celebrates the simplicity of life while inviting the reader contemplate issues like rejection and acceptance in society.
What’s next for DADC? My dream is to see DADC become a truly diverse collective where all the members can pursue their passion for dance, regardless of ability. Additionally, I hope to see classes conducted by persons with disabilities, because it is so important for society to see examples of leadership by PWDs. I also envision a vibrant culture of collaboration, where artists within and outside DADC collaborate to try new things and create new works of expression. At present, we hold auditions every once in a while, for dancers of all abilities. But as we expand, we see ourselves also recruiting dancers from organisations like Pathlight School or SPD.
All images courtesy of Subastian Tan and DADC.
|Ishan Singh is a second-year undergraduate at the Singapore Management University’s Lee Kong Chian School of Business, and an Editorial Assistant at Social Space Magazine. He spends any spare time he has rapping or producing music, and hopes to pursue a career in music. Passionate about the arts and writing, Ishan hopes to write articles and make videos that shed light on the importance of the arts in our communities. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org|