I had my first Balinese Dance lesson yesterday at Puja’s place where she lives with her husband in North London. Their home really reminds me of being back in Kuala Lumpur, where houses on hillsides of Kenny Hill and Damansara were upside-down, with the public spaces being on top and the family spaces downstairs, because you entered from the upstairs. This is one such a home.
She has a dark wood balcony which looks out to the long garden below and the french windows are framed with broad-leaved plants and climbers. I could be back in South-East Asia somewhere. Inside it’s fully carpeted with the occasional carved Balinese mask and statue. There are also some carved wooden banana plants, ripe with bananas. I am in a kampung house on stilts. I want to go back there.
We talk about Unbroken Line and what it means to me and what I need Puja to do as she’s on board as choreographer – and dance teacher. If you have seen Puja dance, she is like that in real life, mercurial and cheeky, with ideas firing from her brain like the quickfire dance moves. I’m going to have a lot of work cut out for me.
She first teaches me the different forms of dance – male dancers wear trousers and consequently have a wide stance which can be low. Female dancers wear sarongs which can constrict movements, consequently their dances are concentrated in the upper body, with more intricate movements in the hands and head. Then there is a dance form danced by either male or female where the character is both male and female while being neither male nor female. It is a wide-stanced dance with intricate upper body gestures and mudras, to use Hindi phraseology. She teaches me the seledet which is the eye movement. High for male dancers, to the side for female and somewhere in between for cross gender characters. Then comes the stance. Then moving from one stance to another, in the Baris, there are steps in between and seledet in between those. But first, you have to stand before you can walk. Here I’m trying to get that right.
This is meant to be ‘right standing, low’. Watching this video I can hear in my mind’s ears Puja saying “Open your legs more!” I don’t get that instruction very often.
In this video, I’m trying to walk. It’s the hardest thing to do right. It’s more of a swing of the ankles than anything. This is going to take me a long time. I’m glad that I have the time to learn and perfect this stuff. All of these are basic moves.
It makes me wonder how far I’ve got to go with my learning. I know some of her girls have been dancing with Puja for 7 years to get to performance level. I’m trying to do this in 5 months. Am I brave for showing these early first steps to the world? Who knows. I know that I have to start somewhere.