On our first day of official holiday we wanted to leave the beach behind and explore culture. This led us to Ubud where we visited a traditional dance. The dance is built up in 5 parts and tells a story of the gods good and evil. It is very compelling to watch as no instruments are used; 100 men are sitting in a circle and use their voices to make rhythmic sounds. First, two women, dressed in traditional clothes, enter the circle and dance in traditional moves. Then a man in a monkey suit comes on stage and later a bigger man in a larger monkey suit enters and jumps around.
I do not understand the meaning of the dance nor can I follow the story. But I feel being pulled in a trance watching the dance. The men sitting in a circle make different noises, use their hands and sway their bodies. It is very trance-like to watch, almost like watching a fire. Sometimes I feel like I am witnessing a ceremony but then I hear my neighbours talking. They are Dutch and joking around when the coffee is being brought. I am annoyed that they pulled me out of my trance-like state and I look at the audience. Then I notice that every single chair that is occupied is seated with western tourists, and I realise that I am exactly witnessing a phenomenon we have discussed in class, staged authenticity.
As soon as I realise this I feel less connected to the dance in front of me and I start looking around, there, I see two young children also dressed in traditional clothes taking pictures with western children. We stay a few more minutes and then try to leave. However, at the entrance we are held back. The man is saying that this is the last part of the story and then the fire dance starts. A fire dance sounds interesting so we decide to stay a little bit longer.
Finally, the fire dance starts, they start building a relative large fire with dried coconut skin. I become curious again about what they would do with the fire. Will it be a traditional dance around the fire, perhaps thanking a fire god for this invention? Or maybe there will be a person walking through the fire? As I start feeling the heat of the fire and watch it slowly consume all the coconut skins a man steps forward. He is dressed in a type of horse suit and starts dancing around the fire, mimicking horse steps. Oooh! He kicked the fire towards the public and keeps kicking the fire until all the flames are gone and only smouldering coconut skins are left. Then he starts dancing on that.
Two other men approach with brooms and bring the smouldering coconut skins back together in a pile. The horse man repeats his kicking and dancing. Suddenly, a kind of priest shows up, all dressed in white and the horse man is ceremonially captured. He takes off his costume and now as a normal young man he kneels before the priest. The priest dips his finger in oil and touches the young man’s forehead. Then the priest also sprays the older men with the same oil. The dance is finished.
Later on I read that the ‘horse men’ was a young man that proved himself as an adult through dancing on the fire and the priest blessed him with holy water. So now I am wondering whether this performance, completely observed by western tourists, was staged authenticity or whether it was a real ceremony.
Anyhow, I enjoyed it and think I experienced some real Balinese culture.
Written by: Anna Buter