Dancer, writer and activist Amrita Hepi gave her first TEDx talk at Sydney Opera House at the 2016 TEDxYouth@Sydney event. In the talk, titled To be a Good Dancer, Don’t Give a F**k, she encourages us to be confident and comfortable in our bodies, and asserts that the shame associated with our bodies is a result of the gaze that is imposed on it. We chatted with Amrita to find out a bit more about her background and the ways that she works alongside the curatorial team to bring her talk to the stage.
It’s a daunting prospect. The Sydney Opera House packed with a crowd of some of the best and most creative thinkers in our city, all keen to learn more and gain new insights into the world we live in. Each speaker, given around 15 minutes to present their life’s work, all sharing the same audience. The lights go up, the audience erupts as you walk out onto the stage. You’ve watched this familiar start a hundred times before online, but now you’re the person who’s walking up to that big red circle. The applause dies down, and the room goes silent as you look up at them all, and open your mouth to speak.
This is the experience that Amrita Hepi recently undertook. Though she’s no stranger to the stage given her career as a professional dancer and choreographer, there is still something special about sharing your idea with such a diverse group of people. Part of what makes TEDxSydney so special is its ability to bring ideas that are not necessarily appreciated outside the industry into the public domain. Normally, you would only hear about these ideas by working closely with a particular network or with people from that line of work, and yet at TEDxSydney there is a chance to share your idea with the world, with all walks of life.
You may have even come across Amrita before – she has quite the following both on stage and off stage online and holds dance classes in Sydney via her company, Hollaback, which aims to provide a safe, supportive, and judgement-free place to learn dance. We asked Amrita whether she thought giving a talk would be an easier experience given her stage experience.
“Giving a talk is a totally different type of performance – it’s more concise in some way and I feel it’s less controlled. From the process so far I have learned that simplifying things helps. My coach, Nerida Ross, is absolutely brilliant. She gives feedback that is direct and to the point, and I can feel that she only wants what’s best. Plus I inherently trust her and don’t mind making a fool of myself in front of her.”
Many who have great ideas may feel they’re not worthy or good enough to go up on stage and present them – self-doubt can be a common trait across all fields – and we wondered how Amrita felt when approached to give a TEDxSydney Talk.
“I’m a performer at heart and also incredibly stubborn…. or let’s call it driven. I advocate for the voices of others to be heard, for stories to be told and actively listened to – so if you present me with an opportunity to communicate with others on a topic that I am passionate about, I tend to just quash the doubts and get on with it.”
As a dancer, the physical movement and discipline needed to perfect a routine, while remaining fluid and adaptable in the moment are skills that you develop over a lifetime. And yet to verbalise these experiences and communicate them in a completely different medium can be a challenge. Here, the coaching from the TEDx team can be invaluable. From constant read-throughs and feedback, Amrita admits her talk changed completely from how she first envisioned it. Luckily she was used to taking on feedback and editing her own work with dancing, so she welcomed the experience. Unsurprisingly given the TEDx format of succinct talks with a time-limit, one of the main skills Amrita has learned is ‘time-management’.
Amrita hopes that people who watch the talk will feel “that you as a person are physically able to commit to action and inspire others to do the same” and notes that the talk will also give you “hot tips for long nights on a dance floor near you.”
As someone who needs all the tips I can get on the dance floor, I couldn’t wait to watch.
A big thank you to everyone from the TEDx curatorial team and to Amrita Hepi for sharing their insights and giving us a sneak peek behind the scenes at TEDx Sydney. To learn more about Amrita Hepi and her dance company, Hollaback, visit hollaback.com.au
Original artwork for TEDxSydney by Julian May