My journey began in September 2013 when I received a phone call from the British Council in Armenia inviting me to join a very inspiring initiative called the ‘Unlimited Project”. The purpose of the project was to establish an inclusive dance company like Candoco in Armenia, which would be the very first of its kind in the country.
Armenia is a place where disability is something of a silent language, an important social issue to be addressed in the country. It is neither spoken nor obvious; to some it may feel quasi non-existent. Yet it is very much present, and muted somehow; unacknowledged. I had a feeling from the start that this project could make a big difference in many people’s lives including my own. I would have never before considered myself to be a person who would be able to work in this field. I had no idea where all of this was going to take me but I decided to take a chance, thinking that it could initiate a meaningful transformation for people’s lives. This has become a venture that thus has provided me, as a choreographer, a means of understanding how to be sensitive to physically or mentally challenged individuals.
Initially, I joined a one-month intensive training course under Candoco with three of my colleagues in London. I was an ‘outsider’ when I entered this ‘new field’ at Candoco. I became another person as I gained knowledge about the concept of inclusiveness and equality. I learned a new language which would impart the opportunity to every participant to translate messages from movement, based on a range of unique and different abilities. I embarked unwittingly on a wave of happiness for myself and for many people in Armenia, as I became one of the first to begin to re-draw the boundaries of our society. Most importantly, I taught people to dance with their own, different and unique abilities.
I taught, trained, and choreographed for people with and without disability. As it has always been as challenge to invite people into this kind of advocacy, I realised that the change has to begin first within ourselves. This change within me went unnoticed until participants came to join the workshops, leaving behind feelings of shame and timidity. These young people rediscovered their abilities through movement; a new sense of identity emerged through the exploration of the fullest potential of being a person with disability. Like them, I was skeptical before but appreciate fully now that only our own selves can transform the idea of being ‘disable’ to ‘being abled’.
From the participants who entered our program, we selected twenty performers to join the intensive training in May 2014. Pedro Machado, the Artistic Co-Director of Candoco Dance Company and Victoria Malin, X company dancer together visited Armenia for two weeks. The next stage of work comprised another difficult selection process, as we had to choose participants with higher potential for working well within the inclusive company. After this final phase in October 2014, the dance company performed its first inclusive piece in a small theatre called ‘Ne Me Quitte Pas’ directed by Vahan Badalyan (Artistic Director of Yerevan’s Small Theatre) and choreographed by myself. The next steps for this project are about to be realized, as we aim to integrate even greater numbers of performers in this initiative.
When I began my MA in Dance Anthropology at the University of Roehampton in September 2014, as part of my course I had to choose a field for study that inspired me. In this period of my life, what could be more important for me than learning more about inclusive teaching and choreography? I chose to go to ‘Stopgap’ dance company,another leading inclusive dance company based in London and did what every anthropologist would do in the field; I took notes, did interviews (including one with Lucy Bennett, Artistic director of the company), made some video recordings, and observed and participated in their classes . In my six weeks with Stopgap, I added another layer to my “new becoming”, the manifestations of my new self as I learn and expand and evolve.
Since 2013, I have changed a great deal. I began a transformation and have been invited to share my journey of change with the first UNICEF active talks (styled like TEDx events) in Armenia in 2014. My teaching skills have improved, my choreographic vison has gained a different nuance and I have today become a new and very different Teni Matian. I promised myself that I would never let the process of “becoming” be fixed, static or stopped, as this is the best way I can lighten the lives of many isolated individuals back home in Armenia.