Traditional Balinese dances are the oldest form of performing arts in Bali. Traditional dances can be divided into two types, sacred dance called Wali and entertainment dance called Bebalihan. Wali (sacred dance) is usually performed in ritual ceremonies because it has strong magical powers and only can be performed by specific dancers. Bebalihan are usually performed in social events.
When I was last in Bali, I was invited to learn and participate in one of their traditional welcoming dance.
I had no idea what I was getting myself into but since they assured me that no pior experience was needed and having two left feet was totally acceptable. I gamely accepted their offer to learn and perform with the dancers after dinner with the village heads’ family.
The dancers were nimble with their hands and feet and I tried my best to follow to their rhythm. What I was lacking, however, was the subtle movements that gave the dance life by making it a lot more dynamic and complex. Beneath the flowing Balinese dance movements was an undercurrent of dance-drama through the whole bodily gestures. The fingers, hands and body gestures worked hand-in-hand with the head and eyes movements of the dancers.
I was rather embarrassed by my awkward movements until I learnt that Bali dancers learn the craft as children from their mothers as soon as they are born. In the womb they are played the Balinese music and are taught to dance with their hands before they can walk. Official training as a Balinese dancer starts as young as 7. In Balinese dance the movement is closely associated with the rhythms produced by the gamelan, a musical ensemble specific to Java and Bali. Multiple levels of articulations in the face, eyes, hands, arms, hips, and feet are coordinated to reflect layers of percussive sounds.
I was also very fascinated with the unique bamboo based instruments of the gamelan music that is so intrinsically attached to the Indonesian and Balinese culture. A gamelan is a set of instruments as a distinct entity, built and tuned to stay together – instruments from different gamelan are generally not interchangeable.
The talented musicians that night were so friendly and kept cheering and encouraging me as I immersed myself to the dance. I never cease to get amazed by the warmth of the Balinese villagers and I’m appreciative of the opportunity they have given me to appreciate their dances better.