After completing my 200-hour Yoga Teacher Training in Bali, Indonesia, I still had two weeks to explore the many wonders of the beautiful island. In the months before Indonesia, I traveled to first world countries and I had seen inspiring movement projects with children and educators. Wondering if a religious and spiritual place with a different educational system like Bali would offer dance or yoga classes in their schools, I decided to continue my research in Ubud, the cultural center of Bali.
On a Balinese adventure
First of all, contacting schools in Indonesia is not the same as calling a school in, for example, the United States. For some schools I was able to locate a phone number or email, but there was either no response or the number was disconnected. So I decided to take my chances and show up unannounced. The school I chose to go to, the Suta Dharma elementary school, was a 30-minute walk from my homestay, which included passing beautiful rice fields, local houses and temples. People in Bali are super friendly and even though they do stare at strangers walking in a non-tourist area, they always remain friendly and welcoming.
When I arrived at the school I carefully entered the gate, not knowing if I would be welcome or not. When I passed the first school building I stumbled upon a beautiful display. I couldn’t believe my eyes: about 25 girls around the age of 8 were dancing beautifully on a little platform in the middle of the schoolyard. Their movements were extremely delicate. Hands, fingers, arms, heads, every body part was moving separately. Their feet were making small steps either forward or on the spot and together they moved in perfect lines and circles. Their faces so sweet and lovely, with gorgeous smiles. I had never seen anything like it.
It took me a while to notice the teacher. Seeing him you might not have expected him to be a dance teacher. He looked like a regular, Balinese man you would see on the streets of Ubud. Well, I couldn’t have been more wrong. During class, he would mostly use his voice to give directions to the children, but occasionally he would participate and when he did, his movement was more delicate, more precise and more beautiful than I’d ever seen a man do before. I was in awe.
Not everything is as it seems
I don’t remember how long I just stood there, not able to move or talk, but after what I think were a few minutes the teacher pulled out a chair, put it in front of the class and waved at me. So here I was, a foreigner in paradise, watching these gorgeous girls dance. To me, it was nothing short of a miracle. In fact, Iputa Arya, the English speaking teacher at Suta Dharma that joined me during the second class, informed me how lucky I was to experience this moment. He explained how proud they were of having this particular dance teacher, named Nyoman Sukama, at the school. He told me Sukama was one of the most famous dancers in Bali. Sukama himself couldn’t be more excited to have someone from abroad watching the class and when I asked where I could see him perform, he proudly showed me a picture of himself on his phone. I was in awe again. Because what I saw was absolutely not the man that I was seeing today. I saw a gorgeous woman, with an extravagant costume and traditional Balinese make-up. How people can surprise you!
The children at Suta Dharma practice dance and yoga classes every week. A regulation made by the school principal, because it helps children ‘express themselves and concentrate while studying other subjects’. When dancing they usually practice traditional Balinese dances to honor the Hindu gods. At the time of this class, the girls were learning to dance the Rejang, a traditional Balinese dance where the girls represent angels, and the boys learned the Wirayuda, a powerful warrior dance. All children were practicing for the so-called Knowledge Day. On this day they would honor the Hindu goddess of knowledge, art, music, wisdom and learning: Saraswati.
What I saw were young children, practicing movement, enjoy themselves, while honoring what they believe in. The Balinese have this serenity that I noticed in the children too. They know why they are dancing, take it seriously, but also have a lot of fun doing it. There is so much wisdom and maturity already at such a young age, without them losing their playfulness. It was such a different experience than the ones I’ve had before this and I’m very grateful to (by chance) have stumbled upon it. Another beautiful example of the power of dance.