As breakdancer Jimbo Thinlegz, Labour’s newest MP hails from a new mould of politician

With hip-hop and breakdancing, a disability rights activist who challenged national perceptions could be Malta’s newest MP

CRPD commissioner Oliver Scicluna (left), and in his salad days, as a breakdancer (right)
CRPD commissioner Oliver Scicluna (left), and in his salad days, as a breakdancer (right)

Prime Minister Robert Abela is shattering preconceptions of who gets to be in parliament with his intention to co-opt commissioner for the rights of disabled people Oliver Scicluna to the House.

It is a politically risky move for Abela: Labour voters expect that Gavin Gulia’s shock resignation as MP after winning a casual election should pave the way for someone with some political claim on the seventh district seat vacated by Edward Scicluna.

But there is no doubt that father-of-three Scicluna, 34, now touted to become a Labour MP, is a defining moment in Maltese politics for other reasons.

At 25, Oliver Scicluna was making headlines with his freestyle b-boy dance routine on stage and in skateparks. Born with spina bifida, Scicluna broke common disability misconceptions as Jimbo Thinlegz, taking on children and young people with a disability with his breakdancing project, called Breaking Limits. He taught breakdancing to young performers.

Scicluna said hip hop culture had changed his life: making him adapt to his own body and feel comfortable with his own disability.

His move into parliament, if approved by the Labour executive, will bring to the fore one of his earlier implorations to the public: in 2019, Scicluna called for more politicians with a disability to be represented in the House. Like Labour’s move to have gender quotas push forward female representation in the House, Abela has apparently answered the call by installing Malta’s disability rights czar in parliament.

“Our voice is best directly represented by persons with a disability themselves; we fight not only for our own impairments but for those of others,” Scicluna had said in 2019. “I would like to see persons with a disability in parliament and leading party structures; then we will see a change in mentality in the sector and society at large.”

Years before his appointment, Jimbo Thinglegz was a star in his own right, changing the way people looked at disability with his breakdancing routine. “Every person on this planet has the right to live comfortably. These workshops will show that everybody has an artist within himself. They just need to activate it. Breakdancing is a type of free dance, and the most important aspect of it is to be original... so it’s not restrictive in any way,” he had said.

From a very young age Scicluna had done drama, walked and swam his way through marathons, and at 17 started teaching himself breakdancing. He had told The Times his main goal in life was to live for the “fun of it”.

“I wanted to dance because I’ve seen friends doing it, because I wanted to impress at the time and because I loved the style. When I went into the scene I started meeting new people, firstly bboys and a few girls, then Graffiti Artists the likes of [graffitti artist Twitch] James Micallef Grimaud and rappers the likes of Dave Leguesse, Rumbull and Jon Mallia.”

Scicluna was one of the founders of breakdancing crew Underground Shadows, going abroad to compete in Germany. “Hip Hop is not just an art form but a way of living… We are here to create and fight for peace, we are here on this earth to share the love for each other through our actions and we are here living our daily lives to enjoy it and wish the same to others around us,” he had said.

But it was his view of Maltese society and disability rights that put him squarely on the route to activism. He complained that Malta lagged behind other countries when it comes to changing disability perceptions, focusing only on enhancing mobility and not on psychological aspects that would make disabled people “feel comfortable in a more wel­coming mentality”.

Today, as a future MP Scicluna could be on his way to carry out a new revolution in the way Malta’s ‘ableist society’ treats disabilty.  “One thing that disappoints me is the way disabled people are promoted: as if they are always in need and unable to do anything. Disability needs to be understood and promoted in a more colourful way. The feeling of overcoming ­disability, once you understand it better, is incredible.”

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