Jakarta. Nimble feet tap to energetic beats, eyebrows scrunch up to the melodies of the song. Controlled breaths contrast with pained facial expressions as eyes follow the movement of one woman gyrating through the room. Welcome to Ningrum's "dance for self-love" class.
Cousins Ningrum Syaukat and Kartika Jahja – of the indie band Tika & the Dissidents, now owner of SELATAN, a restaurant-cum-creative space in Kemang, South Jakarta – have joined forces to offer the dance class to promote "self-love" to Jakartans.
So far they offer two dance for self-love classes: "adults" on Wednesdays and "free motion" on Thursdays.
Ningrum Syaukat has been working as a professional dancer since 2000. She's an expert in Balinese and Betawi dances, modern dance and studied ballet at one of Jakarta's oldest ballet companies, Namarina.
"Dance was my main extracurricular activity in high school," Ningrum said.
Ningrum's family were always supportive of her dancing hobby, though they were more than a little surprised when she told them she wanted to pursue a career as a professional dancer instead of continuing her education.
"They wanted me to go to college in the US, but I was already earning my own money by dancing," Ningrum said.
Dancing on Egg Shells
Ningrum said she's had to struggle to establish her reputation in the local dance scene.
"There's a lot of bullying. I was always told that I was too fat," she said.
Years of verbal abuse broke down her confidence, but Ningrum remains defiant.
"I know I'm not the skinniest but at least I have skills," she said.
Ningrum's stubbornness is shown in her large tattoos, a taboo in the dance scene.
"I’ve had this tattoo since seven years ago, and I was the first dancer to have tattoos outside the boundary of my clothes," Ningrum said, proudly showing her half-sleeve.
Ningrum did not think her inked skin would stop her from getting a gig. She was wrong.
"I got less and less work. I was down in the pecking order as a backup dancer. If I did get a gig, I had to cover up my tattoos with foundation," Ningrum said.
My Body, My Authority
The self-love dance class has helped Ningrum to learn how to take better care of herself.
"Sometimes you care too much for other people that you forget to take care of yourself," Ningrum said.
Both Ningrum and Kartika have also been involved in women empowerment campaigns in Indonesia.
Kartika, better known as Tika, is the more well-known feminist activist between the two. She put out the single "Tubuhku Otoritasku" ("My Body My Authority") and organized a gender equality campaign of the same name in 2016.
"It started this conversation about self-love. I thought we could explore this idea through different mediums as well," Tika said.
In 2013, they were both involved in organizing the Indonesian chapter of the global movement "One Billion Rising," when Ningrum choreographed the flash mob for the street protest.
Tika said Indonesian culture often inhibits women from truly expressing themselves.
"It's a culture of patriarchy, women are expected to take care of other people first, before taking care of themselves. When a woman says I want to spend time just for me, she's considered selfish and looked down upon," Tika said.
The cousins did not realize dancing would be such a pivotal part of their journey to self-love.
"After 18 years in the world of dance, only now do I feel like I'm not useless," Ningrum said.
How to Self-Love
Wednesday's class, called "adults," is designed for people to explore their sensual sides.
"[In Indonesia] we are taught to hide our sexuality. But this is a place where there's no judgment, you can be as sexy as you want," Tika said.
Thursday's "free motion" is a collective free dance class.
"We call it free motion because it's a mix between free motion and emotion. We get inside our emotions and pour them out through movements, rolling on the floor or whatever you want," Tika said.
The class starts off with a standard warm-up routine. The big and tall mirrors in the room are there for the dancers to look at themselves, to help them get comfortable with their bodies.
Ningrum tells the dancers to close their eyes and feel the music, then the free interpretive dance starts.
Hips start swaying, arms start flapping, bodies unconsciously lower themselves to the ground – all movement, nothing is still.
Ningrum teaches her students that dancing is more than just movement, though, it's also about connecting with the environment around you.
Both dance classes at SELATAN have a minimum age requirement, at least 18 years old for Wednesday's "adults" class and at least 16 years old for Thursday's "free motion."
"Little kids love themselves more than adults, so they don't need these classes," Tika laughs.
Address: Jl. Benda No. 89, RT 5/RW 4, Kemang, South Jakarta