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Bali Blog - Article About Bali Holiday Island

Balinese Dance and Culture

1 March 2008

Balinese society has no reason to worry about the future of its arts and culture because, nowadays, many Balinese children like to learn the performing arts; particularly dance, traditional gamelan music, literary chanting, Balinese pop songs, and shadow puppetry. Rather than a method of opening the way to become professional artists, this learning process is more focused on how arts and Balinese culture are maintained and passed from one generation to the next.

Concern about the extinction of Balinese arts because of the influence of Western culture brought about by television, tourism, and other means in this modern world is not as serious as previously thought. In the last two decades, Balinese children have shown great enthusiasm in learning and mastering various forms of performing arts.

A combination of the following factors has encouraged Balinese children to learn their traditional arts. The first is that the success of the annual Bali arts Festival to promote Balinese arts includes the younger generation. Every year, there is an exhibition, carnival and competitions that involve children. There are festivals of dancing, literary chanting, Balinese pop songs, Balinese attire and many others. Childrenís gamelan groups are also invited to give performances.

The second is the growing attentiveness of Balinese people to deepening their ethnic or regional identity; based mainly on local culture and arts as well as the Hindu religion. Being Balinese means being a Hindu who can master at least one or two Balinese dances. It becomes a question of pride for children to be able to chance making performance in the Bali Arts Festival; representing either their village or school.

The third factor is that Balinese traditional arts are of functional significance to Balinese religion and tradition. Almost no religious ritual can be performed without gamelan, dance and literary chanting. Learning to dance is not only a process for the young generation to construct their identity but it also enables them to the dedicated their skills in socio-cultural and religious activities. More and more dancing courses, or sanggar tari in Indonesia, have opened in towns and villages throughout Bali; tourists are welcome to watch the activities.

Parents are also happy to have their children doing something culturally significant; despite the cost of between 25,000 and 50,000 Rupiah per month, depending upon the number of students a sanggar tari has. Other Parents like to have dance teachers come to their house for private dancing-courses, for which they have to pay between Rp.75.000 and Rp.125.000 per hour. It usually takes less than three months for children to learn one basic dance such as a welcome dance (Panyembrama). When they want to be more professional, they can always take more time to learn with accomplished teachers.

However, there is always a benefit in joining sanggar tari, rather than learning privately. Sanggar tari organize regular inaugural performances, which can be during school holidays, on Saraswati day (day of knowledge) or at the end of the year. This gives every student a chance to make an appearance before the public and to be marked by accredited dance teachers. These teachers donít just give masks for a certificate but also provide constructive comments for improvement. Inauguration performances are always crowded because they are watched by the public and the dancersí parents. Funny things can happen when dancers, caught by stage-fright, are unable to master some movements of the dance they are performing.

Sometimes, sanggar tari arrange for their students to make appearances in temple festival or other ritual and social activities. In the context of performing in temple festival, there is a belief that dancers could receive a gift from God (or taksu in Balinese) to make them become talented and charismatic dancers. It also could mean that performing in a ritual or temple festival is simply away of dedicating their skill socially (ngayah); one of the typical function of Balinese arts.

Modern institutions such as television have also provided encouragement for children to learn the arts. Bali TV, for example, regularly holds competitions for children in the performing arts and these contribute to the development and maintenance of Balinese traditional skills. While it is rare that the dancer in Bali could earn her which Balinese arts and cultures are naturally kept alive.

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