By September 17, 2010 0 Comments Read More →

Changing the world through dance

Photo by Di Zhang

Alaine Handa is a Third Culture Kid (TCK) who has become, in a sense, an ambassador for global nomads everywhere. She is a dancer and choreographer whose most recent show highlighted what life as a global nomad is like. It is a project she had been working on since her second year of college when she realized that Singapore, the place she had considered “home”, had become foreign to her.

Alaine was born in Singapore to parents who are also global nomads. Her mother grew up in Jakarta, Hong Kong, and Australia and her father lived in Jakarta, Singapore, London, and Boston. She spent her childhood divided between Indonesia and Singapore and traveled during school holidays around the Asia-Pacific region and to California.

She called her recent show the “Chameleon project because anyone who is cross cultural can identify with at least two cultures and can easily move in and out of them,” she said. “I was really lost when I realized that Singapore wasn’t my home anymore. I went back and everything was different. I didn’t recognize it anymore. I went to an international school, many of the friends I had before had left for college and were not there because their families had moved away already. The hawker stall with my favorite local dish had closed down, the smells were different, the sounds were different and I felt like a foreigner in my so-called homeland.”

When she returned to California, where she was studying dance, she was struck by a deep sense of loss and grief. She struggled to understand who she was and where she fit in. “I never felt like I completely fit in. It was a terrible time and it wasn’t until somebody gave me the life-changing book Third Culture Kids, by David Pollock & Ruth Van Reken that I understood that I wasn’t alone. That book changed my life.”

She began interviewing people about their experiences as a TCK and the Chameleon project was born. “I’d ask them questions like, ‘where is home,’ ‘how do you define home,’ ‘do you think your TCK experiences have influenced your career choice’ and ‘have you had trouble maintaining friendships because you are a TCK?’” She recorded their answers on camera and for her senior project she created a short documentary film and an interactive, interpretive dance performance.

“I dabbled with other things in between — I did a project on anatomy, pop culture, politics — but I always planned on coming back to expand Chameleon. I wanted to create a program on what bonds us together. I wanted people to learn what TCKs struggle with. I want people to learn what a global nomad is and what we go through.”

In 2008 she started her own dance company, the A.H. Dance Company, and revisited the idea of a show on TCKs.

“I went online and found dozens of sites on TCKs that weren’t there three years before,” she said. “It was amazing. I wanted to do something different, so I contacted some TCK photographers and asked them to send me pictures of something that was significant to them and to write a caption explaining why. Then I contacted some TCKs who were dancers and even the woman who did our props is a TCK. She lived in 30 different countries growing up and is resentful of all the moves. It was therapeutic for her to create the large sized ‘jewelry prop’ pieces for us. A TCK Actress, wrote a monologue based on her moves and her dreams that I used in the project.”

Chameleon premiered at University Settlement in New York City earlier this year as a performance and a gallery, featuring the work that Alaine Handa had created and curated from TCKs.

Most of Alaine’s work is based on some sociological observation or a desire to inform and enlighten through dance. In fact, she epitomizes the best traits of global nomads and is an excellent ambassador. She is creative, courageous and uses her talents to educate others about being compassionate, empathic and open minded.

During a Washington, D.C. performance of the show, she said “there were people in the audience who were TCKs and many were tearful and choked up at the end. So many repressed feelings surfaced in the middle of the show, it was almost like therapy. A lot of TCKs who are resentful of their parents shun their background and say things like ‘I’m from Kansas’ because they’ve got a grandparent living there. But you can’t bury it, it will surface and it’s important to think about it and try to resolve your grief.”

Alaine says her goal is to show people that physical appearance is secondary to who a person is and how they live their life. It’s something she says most TCKs learn as they travel around from place to place. “I think that most Third Culture Kids tend to look past the superficial physical attributes especially race because we have grown up not to “judge a book by its cover,” she said. “My dream is that someday people would see past the superficial physical attributes of a person such as race and realize the beauty behind the person through their character, my goal is to bridge the gap between people because we do live in a small world after all”.

She said she hopes to accomplish her dreams through her multimedia presentations.

“My goal is to tour the Chameleon project around the world presenting it at international schools, community centers, in addition to the world of theatres and festivals. I think its very important to share this project with as many international, global, and expatriate communities as possible.”

If you think your international school or expat organization would benefit from Alaine’s knowledge and talent, you can contact her through her website. You can learn more about the  Chameleon project here.

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