In The Making: A bridge to the youths, for the youths

Posted: 27 September 2017

In The Making (ITM) is a 6 months long dance program, tailored by Distinct Creative Arts (DCA) – a social enterprise, where youths including those at-risk or under financial assistance receive the chance to train under the close guidance of dedicated instructors. At the end of the 6 months, the program culminates towards a celebrated production on a mega stage – which will not only showcase their talents and abilities but more importantly, their moulded characters.

On 23 September, DCA presented its 7th installment of ITM titled “Mess(age) – Turning every mess into a message”, where they took the audience on a journey following the voices of the youths as they navigate through the different challenges and battles faced in their daily lives.

Now, what makes this year’s ITM different from previous years is their efforts to include students with disabilities from Mountbatten Vocational School! We speak to DCA’s Creative Director, Mr Xue Yong Zhi, to find out more about his training process with them.

How many students from Mountbatten Vocational School are involved in ITM this year? What are some of the disabilities they have?
We included 16 students from Mountbatten Vocational School in this year’s ITM dance production, ranging from 18 to 21 years old. Some of the disabilities they have include autism, down syndrome, and deaf.

Why did you decide to involve students with disabilities in this year’s dance production?
ITM’s purpose has always been to provide a platform for youths to give back to the community and serve others with the talents that they have. In past years we have consistently been reaching out especially to the youths at-risk and those under financial assistance, but we thought – why don’t we include the youths with disabilities as well? This way, not only can we provide the youths with disabilities an opportunity to perform, we can also teach our youths without disabilities about inclusion.

What are some challenges you faced in the process of teaching these youths with disabilities together with the youths without disabilities?
Some challenges we faced in the process of teaching these youths with disabilities is how we can simplify the dance steps, how we can help them to focus during trainings and rehearsals, and how to motivate them to give their best. The students we had from Mountbatten Vocational School were all extremely excited to be a part of this dance production, and that made our 6 months journey together very enjoyable.

What inspired/encouraged you while working with youths with disabilities?
I’ve always had a heart for youths, regardless of whether they have disabilities or not. To me, dance is not just a skill but a tool that we can use to connect and instill value and character.

We understand that apart from including the students from Mountbatten Vocational School, you also included another youth with disability. Share with us a little more about her, and if any special accommodations were made for her?
Jun Huan, 19 years old, is deaf and studies in a mainstream school. The only accommodation we made for her was to have two girls take care of her and help her with her dance steps. Other than that, it was more of us finding ways to include her – For instance, we tried learning some sign language so we ca better communicate with her. We also organize weekly lunches together before trainings and rehearsals to build our friendship and get to know her better. Her growth and transformation through this 6 months is tremendous – From being unconfident and not daring to try, to dancing in the center of the stage and smiling confidently.

What is your one takeaway from working with youths with disabilities from this experience?
Just seeing them dancing and enjoying themselves in the process and on stage is more than enough for me. I want them to know that they are no different from others. I feel people without disabilities should take time to try and understand people with disabilities – They will find out for themselves that we are actually all the same, just trying and learning in this life’s journey.

DCA is largely defined by the professional coaching services they offer to schools and organisations in Singapore, where the art of dance is utilised as a platform to connect, impact and mould students’ lives. Reaching out to more than 900 youths weekly, DCA believes in contributing back to society by upholding excellence in all their services. One of which includes their huge involvement in youth development, as they seek to establish long-lasting relationships with governmental organisations such as Chen Su Lan Methodist Home, Singapore Girls’ and Boys’ Home, to touch the lives of youths-at-risk. Their team aims to motivate youths today to strive towards changing for the better, by guiding them in character-building skills communicated through the art of dance.