Dancer – YANTI

Hello and welcome to the Wise Not Withered Character Showcase! It’s Week 15, and I’m super excited to present Yanti, whose description was originally “Dancing Martial Artist”, but has been changed simply to “Dancer”. Her story actually went through a lot of changes just in my own initial creative process before she was finalized to what she is today.

The dancer character is 50 years old, and her name is Ya-Ting, or Yanti. My very first idea for this character is that she would own a studio that taught dancing by day, and martial arts by night. Conflict would arise when the front desk attendant was murdered one night, and some valuable treasure was stolen from the studio. That’s as far as I got.

When I interviewed my former Japanese teacher, she mentioned meeting her current husband in a ballroom dance class, and I thought instead maybe it would be nice if this character owns a ballroom dance studio, and meets a potential love interest there. A very, very different story!

Her description then became the following:

  • quiet and reserved, a woman of few words but many talents
  • owns a studio that teaches ballroom dance by day and martial arts by night; leads and teaches by example and action
  • The Dancer has spent her life honing her skills and strengthening the few remaining friendships she has. Takes her job very seriously, doesn’t normally let herself become close with any of her students. One day, a new student shows up in her ballroom dance class, who happens to be an attractive middle-aged man…

When I found the writer and illustrator for this character, we decided she would be a ballroom dance and Tai Chi instructor.

The writer I found for this character was Christina. She was actually the very first person whom I recruited onto the project! I honestly cannot remember how I found her. It was probably something like searching “freelance writer” on google. At that point, back in November of 2018, I was feeling ready to start the project, but I was so terrified to do so. I was afraid that even though I had this idea that I felt was great, maybe no one else would think it was great, let alone want to join me. I was overjoyed when Christina got back to me, with lots of detailed questions. We were able to video chat before getting started with the project, from California to Jakarta, Indonesia. She was such a joy to work with! Christina will be introducing herself and talking about her experience with the project later in the episode.

The illustrator I found was Leda. I also found her early on, and cannot remember how or where I first discovered her. Leda’s illustrations are so adorable and lively. I really love every piece I’ve seen by her…

…and her illustrations of Yanti are no exception! I was also able to chat in real time with Leda before we got started on the project together. Leda told Christina and me that Yanti’s character reminds her of her own mom, so I was really happy that she had a personal connection to the character.

Christina got to work quickly with Yanti’s story, and we completed it in just a couple weeks. Only a select few characters in the project included romance, and from the start I was not allowing any of them to get married at the end. It was and still is important to me that we showcase older women’s adventures in life, and by the time a woman is in her middle-aged years, she has a full enough life that if a man (or woman) does come in to fill a romantic role, that person is not the most important aspect of her life. It shouldn’t be the most important aspect anyway when you’re younger, either, but more so the older you get. I didn’t want any fairy tale endings with a marriage and “Happily Ever After”. It could be implied that some of the characters may get married later on, but it was important to me that none of them had a marriage as the focal point, or as a final culmination: this is how it ends, and who cares what happens after.

Christina wrote a beautiful, heart-warming story for Yanti, adding in parts of her own Indonesian culture that really made the story come to life. She did a really great job of capturing the character of Yanti as well, the entire time staying true to my original description of her as quiet and reserved, and writing in a couple of side characters who were Yanti’s close friends.

I did some writing myself in a few of the stories, and this was one of them! I really wanted to include a couple of dance scenes in Yanti’s story, so I added one of her dancing alone after the first day of classes, which Leda illustrated in this absolutely gorgeous shot.

Yanti - Studio Dance.png
Illustration by Leda Chung

I added in another scene toward the end of the story, of Yanti and Galih (her love interest) dancing together. I have not done much ballroom dancing myself, so I looked up quite a few videos on YouTube, and tried to write about the types of movements that I was seeing in different dance competitions, as well as the type of music that was playing. I also did not realize that ballroom dance competitions were so popular! I definitely spent a while going down that rabbit hole.

Now, here is Christina, introducing herself and talking about her experience writing about Yanti, the Dancer:

Hi there, I’m Christina, from Jakarta, Indonesia. I began writing since elementary school. In the Indonesian language exams, we were required to write very short stories. I’m proud to say that I always got good grades for that part of the exams. I joined the Wise Not Withered project because I feel for Juliana’s motives behind it. It was a learning experience, as I usually write young characters.

I was glad I got Ya-Ting as my part in Wise Not Withered. I gave her the Indonesian name ‘Yanti’ because Chinese-Indonesians were required to register an Indonesian name under the reign of Soeharto back in the day. It would usually be something similar to their given Chinese name, thus, Yanti for Ya-Ting. Coincidentally, my favorite aunt is also named Yanti!

Anyway, I’ve written romance stories since I was in my teens, even though I feel only embarrassment if I remember them now. So the story of Yanti was well within my comfort zone. I was also glad when Juliana told me she didn’t want the story to end in marriage, because then I could write a story about a guarded woman letting her walls down. It was based on my experiences with my now ex-boyfriend, so it was based on my personal experiences too. Personal experiences and preferences helped a lot in shaping the story. Aside from the political-cultural thing I mentioned earlier, I also added a scene where Yanti and her love interest ate nasi uduk together—it is one of my favorite meals!

As for the technical aspects, I took a creative writing course in Coursera a few years back, and that helped a lot in the process of writing Yanti’s story. I used the ABDCE format—A for Action, B for Background, D for Development, C for Climax, and E for Ending. I planned it out and then started writing—thankfully, it went very smoothly. Juliana added some wonderful bits and pieces after I sent her the first draft, and I have to say she’s also a talented writer.

Okay, now it’s time for shameless self-promotion. My proudest pieces are the ones I wrote as side stories and character exploration for my personal project, Inertia. You can find them, and some other stories, on keytapsandcoffeebreaks.wordpress.com. Please come visit and share your comments!

Last but not least, Juliana asked me if I have words of wisdom or encouragement for other women. I want to say that for all strong women out there—either you are a career woman or a stay-at-home mom—that you are awesome! I hope we can all embrace our femininity, as we can be strong in our own ways. I also want to thank my mom and her elder sister, my favorite aunt, for being such inspiring figures in my life. They showed me the meaning of being strong as a woman.

That’s it from me! I hope through this project, you—the listeners—may be encouraged to pursue your dreams, regardless of your age.

Stay tuned for more Wise Not Withered Character Showcases, releasing every other week now until late 2020.

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