Hello. I want to personally thank Theresa and the entire Rotary Club of Thaitown for giving me an opportunity to share today about a community project that has been an integral part of my life for over 10 years.
It is so integral that during the toughest times of my life, I am able to use dance as a source of my leadership, a means to empower myself and remind myself who I am.
It all started with a man who personally had written off dance – he had traumatic experiences where people would continue to laugh at him & he called it quits. How many of you can relate to a time where you just gave up learning?
So we encouraged him to go through a series of exercises and smooth out his expression as a dancer. We didn’t teach him any “dance moves” – we focused on his ability to express himself and just let him be with a new level of expression.
So you can imagine to my surprise while dancing at a party, he comes up to me and says, “I can’t believe this! I can dance amongst 200 people!” – that is the defining moment when you’re clear you’ve been part of changing someone’s life. Who knows how many other areas of his life where he once felt stopped, he now thinks about how 10-15 minutes shifted his whole experience and is able to unblock himself in his career, his relationships, anywhere.
So that is why I am so passionate about this work. It is quite an honor to witness so many shifts in people and be part of a movement – a movement to get people out of their heads and in action!
in sept 2011, our thaitown community got together & distinguished 4 areas for us to work on:
– Thai-American identity
– youth outreach
– preserving our Thai culture [and American History]
I’d like to share with you how Dance Labs plays an important role in each of these 4 areas.
First, I’ll talk about my own Thai-American identity. I am born in NYC, raised on the east coast, a graduate in computer engineering from Carnegie Mellon university. I have worked professionally in California and had the privilege of volunteering for 4 years in Thailand – it was a great way to get to know my own culture.
I think the most challenging aspect to bridge is the day-to-day culture of Thailand – I remember hearing about the floods in Thailand and how someone got up one morning saw everything under water and just declared “I guess ill be just taking a boat to my friend’s house today!” and just simply had peace with reality and moved on. How many of you could see this kind of peace making a difference in your own life? I ask because in the states, we make big plans, we have the “American Dream,” we strive to be “successful” – when in fact, we are capable of accepting a simple life. To meditate for 10 days and realize your toothbrush really can be your most prized possession is a humbling experience & quite enlightening.
So when it comes to my identity as a Thai-American, im clear I’m peaceful with little to no possessions which goes contrary to what society calls “success” and the way this shows up most powerfully is as a dancer – a dancer has his/her clothes and a healthy body – that’s it. A dancer is able to derive joy whether there is music or not. A dancer can create value for a partner by “just dancing” and having fun. Of course, we are no longer hunter/gatherers so we do need a means of making money for food & shelter. That’s when I do feel fortunate to have an engineering background & do my best not to let it interfere with the pure joy of giving the gift of dance. I have no interest in being a dance teacher – I have interests that the different kinds of people in my life from engineers to lawyers to doctors have the opportunity to make a difference through dance.
This leads us to our 2nd area which is reaching out to our youth. One of the best ways to connect with children is to dance with them. I was invited to share the program we developed in the states with children in Thailand and it was amazing to witness the leadership that shows up – dance is a form of play and who doesn’t want to have fun in life? Who doesn’t want to play with others? We have a lot to learn from youth at times! A unique aspect of this experience is the increased capacity and desire for these children to want to learn – to speak English, art, even technology. The shift is so noticeable, Thai parents called our activities “Dance Chalat” – in other words, dance is an access to being smart!
Now to bridge to our 3rd area, dance has the opportunity to address the fragmentation of our community.
Dance spans across generations – dance spans across gender, race, class. In the case of what happened in Thailand, kids used dance as a means to bring their friends, parents, neighbors together. Dance became a fabric for community development – and a fun one to boot!
The important point here is you don’t need to be a “certain type” of person to dance – you aren’t just born with the ability. What probably happened is you were dancing along in life and you became self-conscious, others started judging you, others perhaps didn’t want to play with you when you wanted to dance. As we noted with the gentleman who was laughed at earlier, you just stopped – you stopped practicing how to dance – you may even have stopped playing!
We all come from different walks of life, with different backgrounds , we’ve all had our own set of experiences. Dance has that opportunity to bring our community together in a way that is fun – we are social creatures. There is a way to use dance as a means to learn how to collaborate and work together as a community.
Which leads us to our 4th point – the preservation of our Thai culture.
I am a technologist. I take pride and joy in discovering technologies to capture what we do. I just happen to have a context called dance. Volunteering in Thailand gave me the opportunity to play with a wide range of technologies. I have a passion to create a legacy – that all the hard work of my dance community lives for lifetimes to come.
The booklet I’ve passed around is an example of distilling 10 years of experience into a guide that teaches others how to produce our Dance Like Nobody’s Watching workshop. We have all kinds of documentation on the Internet – Thailand is a wonderful place to do R&D (research & development).
We’ve chosen to license our work under what is called the “Creative Commons” – a place where we allow others to modify, adapt our work for their communities. This allows our work to openly be out there and at the same time, should people be interested in profiting from our work, we do reserve the right to share this profit in support of the sustainability of our community.
We’ve essentially built a system to inspire people to capture what works as they experiment with their communities. We encourage people to share and preserve what works. We encourage people to build on people’s ideas.
As we gather Thai-Americans together over the next year, there is an opportunity to leverage tools out there to keep our community together and have new members get acquainted with what already has happened and share new ideas that keeps the growth of our community going generation after generation!
I hope this gives you a sense of how Dance Labs has come to life through a combination of western and eastern experiences. Our Thai culture was a demand to experiment with ideas with children & it resulted in dance as an effective community building tool. Such a tool is able to span across generations, class, even language barriers. And by the use of technology, we are able to preserve our ideas, our experiences, our ideas for future generations and most importantly, for other cultures outside of Thailand to leverage our wisdom.
Our goal has always been to make a difference in the world and I want to thank you for being a part of this revolution!