This week I had the fabulous opportunity to learn how to do Indonesian Dancing. The class was taught by dancers from ‘Soeryo Soemirat’, who are an Indonesian dance troupe based at the Mangkunegaran Royal Palace in Surakarta. The class was part of a UK tour for the troupe who are promoting their artistic heritage and culture through a series of events called “Discover Indonesia”.
There were eight students, including myself, from varying dance backgrounds from a complete beginner to a ballerina. But we were all new to this style of dance and the enthusiasm of the teachers created a brilliant atmosphere over the two hour short course. Their laughter, cheerful smiles and abundance of encouragement provided us with the confidence to give each move and stance a try. Especially when we had to hold a pose which included what I can only describe as a combination of a power squat, a ballet plié, flexed wrists and head rolls.
We began with a basic warm up, in which we learnt two hand positions whilst performing the ‘squat plié’ with a banana curved back (please excuse my description of the poses). It was quite tricky to sustain but the professionals looked elegant and poised.
We then learnt the traditional woman’s dance which started in a seated position. The teachers were very strict since we were an intimate class. It was marvellous to receive immediate intricate feedback into the positions and how each one moulds into the next.
The biggest difference I found from other dance styles was that their head movements lead with the chin and consist of diagonal positions rather than vertical ones. Arm movements aren’t harsh but they are straight and precise and often originate from the back of the wrist with the fingers flowing to create shapes and transitions between movements. Feet are often in a turned out position but more horizontal than ballet and can be flexed from the toe joints.
Their youngest students begin learning this traditional dance from the age of five. They breakdown the basics to allow students to build up their muscular strength so they can progress to harder movements.
Another aspect of the dance style is that you can wear masks. These masks are not held on with elastic or other fastenings, instead the dancer has to bite on to them to keep them in place. This forces them to breathe through their noses which is extremely difficult in fast dances as the mask is in close proximity and requires finese to control. It is also tricky and the dancer needs great spacial awareness as these masks only have very small slits to see through which restricts their vision during each performance.
It was an incredible experience and I’m so glad to have been able to get involved. The troupe will be performing some of their signature dances accompanied by the entrancing Royal Gamelan Orchestra on Friday 11th September at 7:30 pm at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland and I hope to go to see the performance.