Break the Stereo

Defining Masculinity With Indonesian Ballet Dancer Siko Setyanto

For Siko, all the criticism and teasing just made his love stronger.
April 26, 2017, 9:11am

Siko Setyanto heard it all as a kid. "Boys don't dance." "There's something wrong with you." "You're not a real man."

He took it all and funneled it into his art, moving from Solo, Central Java, to a modest house in Pondok Pinang, South Jakarta, to focus on his true passion: dance. Siko received a grant after Yayasan Kelola staff saw his piece "Nol"—a dance performance that mixed ballet and modern jazz with a touch of Javanese flavor. He now teaches future dancers at the Sanggar Maniratari dance studio.

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VICE Indonesia caught up with Siko to talk about masculinity, dance, and how there is no one definition of manhood. This is the first in a joint series with AXE body spray about the many shades of masculinity titled "Break the Stereo."

VICE Indonesia: When did you first feel the urge to dive into dancing?
Siko Setyanto: I love dancing. I never decided to pursue it as a conscious decision. I started to learn how to dance when I was 9 and back then I just followed whatever every one else was doing. The first time I was taken to see Sanggar Maniratari [the dance company], my 9-year-old self was mesmerized by the brilliant dance performance I was seeing right before my eyes. I still remember the song. It was 'Lady of Dreams' by Kitaro. My seniors, Mas Kanto and Mbak Ayu, performed a duet on the stage.

I thought, 'this is beautiful.' Dance is beautiful. My heart never really left that place. I kept thinking about dancing for months. I was in fourth grade and it was all I could think about. It was amazing I just kept telling myself that.

The other kids used to make fun of you when you started to take dance class, right?
Yeah, I was really embarrassed by it. I got caught up in the stigma, the idea that dance is a woman's world, not a man's. Men play football. They do manly things.

In middle school, I had an identity crisis. All of my friends were questioning my new passion. Most middle school boys were playing guitar, being in a band, playing with Tamiya [model cars], Sega, or whatever. They weren't dancing. Especially not ballet.

What made you keep going? A lot of kids would give in to peer pressure.
Once I got into dancing, gradually a sense of peace came over me. I wasn't sure at the time, but I told myself that it wasn't going to be easy. Now, I can look back and analyze what I did. But back then, I just did it because it was difficult. Doing something difficult is cool.

How important is ballet dancing for you?
Dancing, either ballet or contemporary or whatever, is my way of worship and praying to God. I always tell this to my students, friends, whoever is close to me. So, when I dance, there's like this huge element standing before me, giving me power That's when my positive ego shows up. There's a lot of dancers and all of them are pleasant to watch, but we have to be special because that's what we were meant to be in this world.

My life is on stage. Off stage, I am just a regular human being. There is no need for some superstar syndrome. That's a virus. I always say, 'dancing is like praying! If you don't do it with sincerity, then your life is over!'

What do you think of the people who said 'men shouldn't dance'? 
I challenge myself to fight the stereotypes. I stick with my work, keep my dancing alive. In a sense, I keep developing myself. I expand my work environment and embrace people who want to work with me.