When I first met Deanna Dzulkifli in the year of 2010, my family had just moved into the house next to hers. She was much older than me; I was just starting my first year in primary school and she was doing her Primary School Leaving Examinations, also known as PSLE. Being very much like an older sibling to me, I often referred her to Kakak and had weekly playdates at the park with our brothers, and writing letters to each other despite staying just a few meters away.
I remembered the first time going into Kakak’s room; it was filled with countless of dancing posters, achievements and pictures. Seeing the numerous dance pictures blanketing the walls of her bedroom, I was stunned by the passion and love Kakak had for dance. Kakak’s passion for performing arts blossomed when she started school at St. Anthony Primary. Her mother often described her as a “rather quiet girl.” Hence, Kakak found dance to be a platform where she could use her body to express herself without the use of speech and described it as “almost like an etiquette class.” Finding the structural way one controls and expresses their body while dancing appealing, Kakak felt a deep connection with the performing arts. By the age of nine, Kakak decided to bring this passion to the next level, leading her to attend the audition for the School Of The Arts.
When Kakak went through a medical check up at the age of eleven, her dream of being a dancer was shattered when she was diagnosed with double curve scoliosis. She explained that it prevented her from doing vigorous dance moves and she had to wear a back brace for twenty hours daily, which she joked about it preventing her from wearing ‘cute clothes’ in her teenage years. Besides wearing a back brace frequently, I would often see her going for regular hospital visits which in her opinion was her main challenge. The reason being that doctors give her fluctuating feedback and that some days her condition could be improving; some days it could have gotten worse. Kakak described it as a “constant play on my emotions”
To halt the progression of her scoliosis, Kakak underwent a major operation to insert three metal rods into her body in order to straighten her spine. However, the surgery meant that Kakak could not dance for the next five to six months. While recovering, my mother and I would often drop by Kakak’s house to deliver cookies and cake, in the hopes of lifting her spirits. Even though I saw pain in her eyes, I could still see her longing and passion for dance. Part of the recovery period meant that Kakak had to relearn how to do the most basic of things such as learning how to properly sit up without feeling a lot of pain and described the process to me as “very systematic” as she had to do things she was able to do before the operation step by step. When she managed to sit down and walk a little with minimum pain, she realised that she was able to do things one step at a time and because of this, the idea of being able to achieve things in pain continued to fuel her determination to go back to dance.
Her determination to go back to dance goes a long way, to the extend of arguing with her doctor to reduce her medical certificate and just a few weeks after her operation, she went back to school. I was both shocked and amazed at the same time how strong her love and determination for dance was. She told me that she had not let go of her dream to pursue dance professionally and that the determination that was fueled by this dream had actually gave her a positive. However, she would often complain to me that her teachers were adamant about taking her time to recover and prevented her from dancing.
Despite not being able to pursue dance as a career option, Kakak says that even though she had not fully let go of her dream, she was going to use her determination in a positive way to fuel her passion in whatever she does. She also added “even if the whole dance thing did not work out as I imagined, it still turned out to be something I feel like I am meant to do.”
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