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Can you Balinese Dance?

April 27, 2006       This journal entry was too random an experience for me not to comment on.  Well...at least it would be considered random for most people.  (For a theatre major, it's not that unusual.)
    The workshop was pretty casual, and only had a handful of students present.  But it was just the right size class to have enough room to awkwardly bend our legs and our elbows in all different directions, struggling to keep up with the percussive Balinese music.  Our professor (Craig Latrell) and the lecturer (Dr. Mark Hobart, an anthropologist) looked on as dancer Ni Madé Pujawati (who we called "Madé," pronounced mah-dey) demonstrated how to do the basic movements of Balinese dance: male, female, and cross-gender. 
    At first, the music and the movements themselves might seem strange to a Westerner.  But to watch this type of dance was really entrancing-- especially because Madé not only danced with her body, but used very strong facial expressions as well.  Her elbows were at an angle, and her hands were pointed straight up.  Her fingers were constantly moving, and she'd open her eyes wide and glance from one side to other, tilting her head.  Looking at it, at first, it seems so simple: it's not like she was doing any crazy spins or lifting her leg above her head.  But when we tried it, it was very hard!  At the beginning of the workshop, Dr. Hobart put it this way: you will be sore the next day, and your elbows will move in ways you never thought possible.  Thankfully, I wasn't very sore.  (Maybe I'm not doing it right?)  But the movements did feel very different.
    Later that night, Dr. Hobart explained his research during the lecture in the chapel.  It was titled, "How Creative Are the Balinese Performing Arts?" and explored how European influences have contributed (or in some ways, detracted from) Balinese dance, music, and theatre.  At various points during the lecture, Madé demonstrated the different types of dances.  And at the very end, she performed a piece that she created for a benefit for the victims of the Tsunami.  It was incredibly moving, and incorporated a song in Kawi, or Old Javanese, about a 14 year-old girl who lost her family to the Tsunami.
    Altogether, it was very cool to be exposed to something so different, and to get the chance to try my hand at it, too!  And although it was a bit unusual, it was also very typical of Hamilton.  In my four years as a theatre major, I've been able to participate in workshops by internationally-acclaimed artists, right here on the hill.  Madé is no exception, and is well-known not only in her native Bali, but internationally, as well.
    But I have to say, although I was taught by one of the best, I can't say I'm the greatest Balinese dancer.  In fact, I can't say I'm great at all.  But it was very cool to try-- when else would I get this kind of experience?