Manuk Saghatelyan, artist at Yerevan Small Theatre, tells his story how the British Council’s “Unlimited: Making the Right Moves” project provided an artistic platform to fulfill his potential and helped him become a professional dancer.
I am Manuk
I am a professional dancer who, up until the age of 19, wouldn’t even dance on his own birthday parties. Now, the audience applauds after my performance. They understand what I’m trying to communicate through dance, and they are moved by it. This is my story and it happened by pure chance.
I remember myself as always being timid, shy and without much confidence. Now, I preform on stage and enjoy every second of it. I love telling stories through dance and sharing my emotions with the audience. The first time I was told to come up on stage and rehearse, I was shocked and wanted to run home. Our choreographer took me by the hand and said she wanted me as her pair. I don’t know what it was, but I felt an urge to follow her and we started to dance. That’s how I ended up on stage and it changed my life.
That was five years ago. I have played in five different inclusive performances by now: “Don’t Leave me”, “Shakespeare”, “Other Dances” “Worn out Missing You” and “The Argonauts”. They have been staged over a hundred times for thousands of audiences in Armenia, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Ukraine and the UK. “Don’t leave me” was the most thrilling, since it was my first appearance on stage. “The Argonauts” was also a big challenge for me, since it was the first time I had to dance and speak during a performance. In previous plays, we would have our voices recorded and then played back during the performance. I feared I wouldn’t be able to speak, but I found my confidence when I went out in front of the audience.
It’s not my fault!
It’s not my fault that I was born like this. And because it’s not my fault, I'm not compelled to live a life of limited possibilities. I am able to do anything! It’s a myth that a person with disabilities has to stay at home and can’t do this or that. If you accept these boundaries, you will always remain unaware of all the things you can do. You need people around you who will show you how to believe in yourself. I have my Mom and my family, but I also have other people in my life who have empowered me. Mr. Vahan, for example, who has taught me not just how to act but also how to live and perceive the world in a new way.
You don’t need to feel sorry for me!
I don't need your pity. You don't need to feel sorry for a person with disability, that’s so wrong. Look at me – I am a dancer and people like my acting. What limited possibilities are we talking about?! We are capable of doing anything, only in a slightly different way while perhaps finding more creative ways of expressing ourselves. Besides, we can do things that are beyond the abilities of non-disabled people. Every person is in need of some help. But the reverse may be equally true – every person is in need of giving some help.
I’m not alone!
It’s not true that we are all alone and that everyone has to mind their own business. If you are somehow stronger or better established, you should use that to help others. If you're a wealthy businessman, why wouldn’t you help a beginner facing challenges? If you are a good dancer, you are also a reliable partner to your pair so it’s up to you to explain all the subtleties, even if it's hard for you to do so or it may provoke rivalry.
You need to be brave and face challenges heads-on, if you want to achieve progress and succeed. Had I been too scared to get up on the stage, I wouldn’t be a part of the Unlimited programme now. I wouldn’t have an opportunity to meet people coming from different backgrounds and religions, and we wouldn’t have had the chance to travel the world and become close friends.
I’m not easily offended!
I don’t get offended with those who, out of ignorance or malice, say wrong things about people with disabilities. I don’t feel the need to respond in kind. I’m disappointed by posts and comments I see on social media, but I don’t allow them to hurt me. I’m also not offended by the public transport drivers who don’t stop so that a person with physical disabilities can board. It's not that it doesn't affect me, I just understand that becoming an inclusive society takes time. We need to be patient. However, I have to say that I’ve almost never encountered unfair attitudes personally.
I have a dream!
I dream of Paris. I don't know French, but I would love to say je t'aime to my future beloved in that city. Dreams can come true if you wish hard enough. Maybe someday, this dream will also come true like the one I’m already living.