The NAILA Experience – Jane Ahlstrand (2015 Wild Card Winner)
One day as I was trawling the depths of cyberspace, I came across an advert for the National Australia
Indonesia Language Awards and clicked on the link out of curiosity. I was so excited by what I discovered next. Finally, after having studied and practiced the language for so many years, there was a chance to put my Bahasa Indonesia skills to the test at a national-level speech contest, with the added possibility of winning a sweet prize in the process. After perusing the different categories, I jumped for joy when I came across the Wild Card section where I had the opportunity to talk about my number one passion in life, Balinese dance! You see, while I had studied Indonesian at school and university, my language skills (and my soul) only really ‘came alive’ when I put them to practical use by learning the art of Balinese dance, in situ at a sanggar and a university in Bali.
By selecting a topic that appealed to both my heart and mind, I became intensely motivated to produce something that reflected that passion. I penned a speech that not only introduced the basics of Balinese dance, but one that told a story of its history, evolution and contemporary relevance. What’s more, I told the story from the perspective of someone living in two worlds, appreciating the meaning of Balinese dance to the local people as well as how the dance can enchant and entice outsiders to cross borders and work together through learning a new art form.
The process of memorising my speech came next, and I spent every spare moment reading and rehearsing; on the bus, on my bicycle and even on the plane! I was so determined to do my beloved dance justice, I just had to get it right and that meant memorising the speech so I could deliver it with confidence and expression. I recall one dark and stormy night flying into Canberra and hitting some really nasty turbulence. Honestly, I had never been so terrified on a plane in my life! I literally floated up out of my seat. Thankfully, I was held in place by
my seat belt. After passing through the turbulence, with my heart still racing, I returned to what I had been doing before: reading that speech!
When I felt I was prepared, I then recorded my speech. I added costume, hair and makeup which was all very cumbersome. By getting dressed up, I became more motivated to get it right because I was not about to try again another day. I did several takes and by the end was completely exhausted! I edited the video of my speech, adding music, a title and visual aids. Actually, I didn’t have to do that but I just wanted to make a strong impression and showcase the story of Balinese dance as best I could.
After submitting my entry, I played the waiting game. While I started out feeling confident, somehow as time passed, this confidence disappeared; replaced by self-doubt and uncertainty. But that moment when I received a phone call from Sally Hill, the founder of NAILA telling me I had won, I jumped out of my skin! I spent the rest of the day on an adrenaline high with smiles and tears coming spontaneously. I also made my mum very proud which was a really satisfying feeling for anyone. My Indonesian friends congratulated me and then asked the next ‘logical’ question, ‘Kapan traktir?’
The next stage in joining the awards ceremony in Melbourne was the biggest whirlwind experience of my life. Thankfully, the buzz of winning carried me through the whole process from start to finish. I flew from Brisbane to Melbourne on a Friday and that same night delivered my speech before a captive audience at a swanky law firm in the city centre. I met the other prize-winners as well as some key stakeholders (and future stakeholders) in the Australia-Indonesia partnership. There were canapes and sparkling wine but I really didn’t have the stomach for any of it. I had to deliver that speech! When I received the trophy, I cried. It was a very emotional experience. The next day, I had the chance to perform a dance at the Indonesian Consulate General and deliver a ‘pop-up’ dance workshop. I slept very lightly for the whole weekend and when I finally made it back to Brisbane and placed the trophy on the mantelpiece, I fell into a deep, 12-hour sleep.
If anyone is thinking of joining the NAILA contest this year, I strongly suggest you take the chance, but prepare early so that you can deliver your speech with confidence and full expression. Also, if you can, select a topic that appeals to your interests as you will not only have more knowledge, but also greater motivation to produce a high-quality speech. I have the feeling that based on the success of last year’s NAILA, the number of entrants will be much higher this year, making for some fierce competition. Even if you don’t win, you will still have the chance to refine your language skills. I found that by focusing on my written expression and then on my oral expression, my actual language skills improved. Even if you think you are ‘too busy,’ I believe that you can find the time. It’s just a matter of managing your spare time well and committing yourself to a goal. Believe me, you won’t regret it!
Jane grew up in a small bush town called Toogoolawah in Southeast Queensland. Her love of Indonesia blossomed when she took her first trip abroad to Bali in 1998. Upon her return, she was inspired to study Indonesian. With books she borrowed from the school library, she taught herself in her final year of high school which led to her majoring in Indonesian at Griffith University.
More than a decade on, Jane is now in her second year of her PhD candidature at the University of Queensland. Her research focuses on the representation of leading female political figures in the Indonesian online media from the SBY – Jokowi presidency. Through the lens of gender and Critical Discourse Analysis, Jane seeks to examine the construction and contestation of Indonesia’s collective national identity through mediated representations of female politicians.
Beyond the harsh world of politics and gender, Jane has a passion for the art of Balinese dance. After quitting her office job, she spent time in Bali as a Darmasiswa Scholarship recipient and gradually learned to dance. Four years later, she now teaches and performs Balinese dance here in Australia. For Jane, strong friendships are formed through a shared love of the dynamic movements and romance of Balinese dance. Jane believes that the collective pursuit of the art of Balinese dance in Australia creates meaningful ties between Australians and Indonesians at the crucial grassroots, community level.