Saturday, January 31, 2009

Young Dancers of Ubud

It is a slow drive up to Ubud from the steamy shores of the Bali coast. From the wide sandy beaches the narrow road winds up into the hills to the magical town nestled amidst the rich green rice paddies. It is a journey that takes you from the practical world of man by the sea to an almost fantastical realm of enchantment in the hills above.

True enough man is here as he is almost everywhere on this small island, but it is in Ubud that the mystical spirit that is uniquely Balinese seems to permeate every aspect of the landscape. It is almost as though God is not just remotely viewing his creation here but in some way the creator himself exists consciously in the rich fragrance and resplendent beauty of nature itself in and around Ubud.

And it is not just the land. It is also in the sweet smile and disposition of its people. In the crafts, in the music, and the dance which you find everywhere here. Stages and stores full of richness and spirit have sprouted up on almost every small road and lane. You can easily envision that this place is a Heaven on earth.

I came one day to watch some young dancers learn the intricacies of Balinese dance. These little girls had giggled and snacked on treats waiting for the teacher to come. Yet once the class started the kids were transformed. One moment carefree children at play and in the next they became bright flower buds. Ones who would one day, in time, blossom into the dancing mystical Goddesses they would become on stage.

No music played and yet they moved with poise and charm. The teachers were patient and attentive to their students and the long artistic and inner journey that lay before them. It was one they themselves had taken long ago. One whose destination was not self expression but to become one with Balinese dance unchanged in centuries of tradition.

Before the youngest dancers the teachers demonstrated intricate moves and steps. Every bit of their bodies was engaged. Fingers, eyes, and feet moved precisely. If you looked at one small bit it appeared awkward, but from a distance the beauty became apparent, even though the meaning of each separate portion of the gesture, step and move, remained a mystery.

From behind the teacher corrected the older dancers. A tilt of the head just so, an errant finger returned to perfect symmetry, a correct bend of the waist, and eyes, that moved with the same precision as the feet.

The teacher shares lessons unchanged for generations. She looks to no book or diagram to teach. Her own deep memories are her source and her inspiration. She calls upon tradition, upon history, upon the very spirit of the mystical Balinese dance.

There is little chance for either fame or fortune for these young dancers of Ubud. Perhaps it is a parents insistent voice that draws them out at first to practice. Or perhaps it is the spirit of dance itself which may be impossible to escape from here, and they must allow it to enrich and fill their spirit. So that one day when their blossoming beauty starts to fade they will help other young bright flowers to unfold.

No music plays and yet they dance. No audience watches and yet they are seen by many eyes. A story is told that bypasses the mind and is embraced by the heart. God watches and God dances within.



I danced with Life.

Life does not know how to dance well.


I am dancing with Death.

Death is a hopeless dancer.


I shall dance with God.

We both will be able

To teach each other.

Excerpt from Sound Becomes, Silence Is by Sri Chinmoy.

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