Audio Version Available
Three red strands of yarn ran around the three sides of the small exhibition.
Stepping into the space, bordered by three white walls plastered with photos linked with these continuous strands of yarn, I asked the person beside me what they symbolised.
Said Imran Manaff: “The middle strand represents the third copy of the 21st chromosome in people with Down syndrome.”
The creative producer of the exhibition, titled “Inner Reflections”, explained how most babies are born with 23 pairs of chromosomes – 46 in total – in each cell.
Chromosomes, which look like threads, carry all the genetic information that determines how a human body grows and reproduces.
Babies born with Down syndrome have an extra copy of the 21st chromosome – a third chromosome.
The idea behind the exhibition
Down syndrome is a genetic disorder that affects intellectual abilities and causes developmental delays.
Yet these dancers with Down syndrome don’t let their condition stop them from chasing their dreams.
Inner Reflections is a photo exhibition set up in Nov 2022 by Diverse Abilities Dance Collective (DADC) to showcase the achievements of their dancers.
Founded in 2018, the Diverse Abilities Dance Collective, a division of Maya Dance Theatre (MDT), aims to create a co-existing space for people with disabilities and artmakers.
“We really wanted to showcase the diverse abilities of these individuals as how we see them and what are the things they can do,” explained Imran.
Even the exhibition poster tells a story. On it, a girl stands in front of a mirror as her reflection dances.
“It conveys the message that though you see yourself in a certain way, you actually have more in you to achieve something,” Imran told The Pride.
The visual representation of three strands is a vibrant way to visually connect the lives of the different dancers.
“It also represents how even though these dancers are different, they are also similar to us,” Imran added.
Here are three profiles of the dancers featured at the exhibition.
Jaspreet Kaur: She speaks up for people with diverse abilities
A founding member of DADC, Jaspreet Kaur works at Apsara Asia – a social enterprise that harnesses the arts to impart life skills to youths and people with diverse abilities — as a costume manager and dancer instructor.
The photos at the exhibition showed how Jaspreet is not only someone with Down syndrome, but also a dancer, an actress, and a teacher, says Imran.
The 42-year-old started dancing 25 years ago, and never looked back — she was a kindergarten dance instructor for 16 years.
One of her most memorable moments was performing at the Saarang Festival 2020 at the India Institute of Technology-Madras in Chennai, India. The student-led festival attracts a crowd of around 80,000 people annually.
During her trip there, Jaspreet co-led an exchange program with the Down Syndrome Federation of India.
“I love acting and dancing because it makes me feel confident,” said Jaspreet.
She also acts in theatre performances with ART:DIS, a non-profit organisation that aims to help connect people with disabilities with art.
Other stories you might like
Jaspreet has also been advocating for the Down syndrome community in Singapore.
Since 2017, she has been a member of the self-advocacy initiative, Our Lives, Our Voices, started by the Down Syndrome Association (DSA) Singapore and Movement for the Intellectually Disabled of Singapore (MINDS).
In 2014, she delivered a keynote speech on “Health and Wellbeing – Access and Equality for all” at the United Nations’ World Down Syndrome Day Panel Discussion.
Joyce Lin: Activating public space with art
It’s clear from the photos that June Lin loves to dance.
The 38-year-old has been performing for years, from participating in The Substation’s 2020 Propose-A-Parklet competition to crafting a dance about Covid-19.
For SEEDs 2021, she performed a dance, titled Dusk till Dawn, choreographed by Jaspreet and Eva Tey from MDT. The dance explored the theme of seclusion, which references the isolation people feel about social distancing measures.
SEEDs is a production by MDT where dancers with disabilities collaborate with local professional choreographers.
“I really enjoy dancing because it means happiness to me,” said June.
She is currently mentoring a student with cerebral palsy in a dance for Project Watch Out World! (WOW) at Rainbow Centre, a non-profit that works with special needs children.
When I asked her how she feels about this exhibition, she replied with a cheeky grin: “I love it because there are pictures of me!”
Chen Wan Yi: Tackling body image issues
“This one was really inspiring,” Imran exclaimed as he pointed at one of Chen Wan Yi’s performances.
It’s a photo from her Puffing Bodies performance, an inter-disciplinary dance collaboration between Maya Dance Theatre and a German dance company, IPTanz.
The solo performance was especially personal to the 33-year-old because it allowed her to express how she sees herself and how others look at her.
“It was a fun and cool experience because they came all the way from Germany,” Wan Yi explained.
It’s not just dance that Wan Yi has a passion for. She worked with local designer Pazzion in 2017 to sell a tote bag with artwork inspired by her late dog.
In October 2022, she gave a speech for the Break the Ceiling, Touch the Sky Summit at Shangri-La Singapore. The summit brings in leaders from global organisations to help accelerate positive business impact of women in leadership.
During her speech, she shared about her story being a staff member with Down syndrome at Shangri-La Rasa Sentosa, where she has been working as a housekeeper for nine years as part of DSA’s Adult Enhancement Program.
“I love dancing and I hope to continue doing it for as long as I can,” said Wan Yi.