So far Semawang Stories has been a little light on the actual stories and events so this week I thought I’d share an evening from a couple weeks back.
Bali is famous for its dances. Most are performed as part of rituals with deep spiritual and symbolic meaning and others are for entertainment. There have been dozens of ethnographies detailing their meaning and purpose. This is not one those.
A few weeks ago, Semawang hosted its own evening of dances. Actually there were several evenings of events but I only attended the one. The (for lack of a better term) festival, surrounded a purnama ketiga or ‘third full moon’. I won’t pretend to know the significance of this or why it was being feted but it was clearly important enough to block the main intersection with a substantial tent and force a traffic diversion.
In the tent there was a stage with a none-too-authentic Styrofoam set that belied the true localness of the atmosphere. The Semawang banjar of Sanur is a pocket of Balinese more or less surrounded by hotels, villas, and restaurants but locals have more or less held a large swath of real estate a couple hundred meters from the resort-lined beach.
The whole banjar, decked out in traditional garb, gathered for the evening’s entertainment. The men in white shirts, sarongs, and udeng (a folded cloth headpiece) stood or sat at the back, while the colorfully dressed women took up the 20-or-so rows of chairs.
By the time I arrived around 9, the dancing had already begun with kids, seemingly under the age of five, decked out in the elaborate gold and making the smoothly sharp and intensely choreographed movements that define Balinese dance.
The reason for my attendance on this particular evening was the promised performance of friend and neighbor. As dance followed dance, I starting noticing tourists creeping closer with smiles of awe and good fortune until they were literally against the stage, filming and photographing what they were lucky enough to have stumbled across. One (I think) Japanese guy almost tripped onto the stage with enthusiasm. But despite this secondary entertainment, there was still no Ibu Wayan (That’s my neighbor’s name, also my landlady’s name. The name means “first born” so there are a lot of Wayans around).
After a quick run back to the house, I was told that the ibus were up next. It seemed that the program was scheduled according to age and with an older troupe on stage when I returned (the stage was abotu a two-minute walk away) it seemed logical. An ibu did come out but it wasn’t Ibu Wayan (well, maybe it was, but not our Wayan) and she didn’t perform the high-choreography of the early performances. Instead, a man from the crowd joined her on stage and they pantomimed a sort of quasi-sexual pursuit for which the man mockingly apologized to his wife and the crowd on several occasions to great laughter.
The first woman ‘hosted’ three men in the same fashion and another danced with two before our Ibu Wayan finally took the stage with the audience well warmed-up and full of laughter. As Ibu Wayan’s second date was leaving the stage, I was asked if I wanted to join in. Now my hesitance at performing on stage goes back to early childhood when I hid under the table at Epcot Morocco rather than even chance an encounter with the in-house belly dancer. Once again it ruled the day and I politely refused participation with only minor pangs of regret.
All told it was an enjoyable and marginally educational evening. I didn’t learn much about the dances themselves but the fact that Balinese society has an easy sense of humor, even when it comes to one of their most storied traditions, was certainly on show. And I realized that I’m still afraid of dancing on stage with women.