January 24, 2014
What I've Learned from Dancing with Two Left Feet

She has no rhythm, but loves to watch people dance. So she took up traditional dancing. See what happens when a person goes against all odds to pursue a passion she professes to never have the talent for.

by Eyi Puspita
Culture
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“Your body is not cut out for dancing.”
 
I’ve hold on to that adage nearly my entire life, because it’s true: I have two left feet.
 
Like most people, I first danced during the kindergarten’s graduation ceremony some decades ago. Nothing embarrassing happened at the time, so when I was in elementary school, I took ballet with my younger sister. I stopped after a few lessons, taking a hint from our teacher who told my mother that one of her daughters was talented. Of course, he meant my sister.
 
I stayed away from dancing for years after. And then one day, I went – with my flexible sister again – to an aerobic class. It was a one-time thing and a total failure, to say the least. I moved to the left when the rest of the class went to the right, and the beat of the music conspired to elude my movements the whole time. At least my sister and I had a good laugh afterwards.
 
But even as I could not dance, I’ve always been fond of watching dance performances. I enjoy movies with dancing theme/scenes like Fame, Shall We Dance, Step Up, and Chicago. Seeing people dance makes me happy. It lights up something in me. Once in college, a lecturer asked the class, “When do you feel most alive?” (in Mandarin, as I majored in Chinese Literature ); and a friend replied, “When I dance.” The answer sounded so beautiful in my ears.
 



About five years ago, I interviewed Dr. Amaranila Lalita Drijono, a dermatologist who founded Puan Clinic, for an article. Apparently, she is a trained classical Javanese dancer. She said there are so many benefits from dancing classical numbers. It is a form of meditation, but it is also a physical exercise and a way to preserve national culture, she said.
 
I was mesmerized by her explanations and made a mental note to take a traditional dance lesson.

It was not until three years later, in 2011, that I had the time to take the class. I had just resigned from my job and become a freelance writer. My baby had grown into a toddler, so she no longer needed as much attention as when she was an infant. So, I signed up for a Balinese dance lesson at Sanggar Saraswati at Ismail Marzuki Arts Center (TIM), Central Jakarta.

In my very first class I found that I was strikingly older than the rest of the students! I was 32 and a mother of one, while my classmates were in elementary school, or even kindergarten. (Thankfully, in the second class, other grown ups – at least senior high schoolers and college students – showed up).

As if I wasn’t insecure enough about my age, I also had to face the reality that my body was indeed not cut out for dancing. The first dance that we learned was Pendet, and I had to master ngegol – basically walking while swaying my hips and head left and right. Whenever my hips sway to the right, my head should also go to the same direction, and vice versa. Sounds simple enough, but my stiff body was having difficulties to follow the order. My head kept moving in the opposite direction of my hips.

Seeing me helpless, the teacher approached me and held my head with her two hands. She then asked me to sway my hips, and move my head accordingly. Intrigued, my classmates (who were practically infants) stopped practicing and gathered around to watch us. One of them even corrected my hand position. It was hilarious.
 
Needless to say, I had troubles following the more complicated movements. I was sure something was wrong with my brains. Or could it be that I thought too much?

Another realization dawned on me: dancing is exhausting! Not a fan of any exercise – thinking that I didn’t need it because I was on the skinny side already – I was sweating profusely during the two-hour class and my stiff muscles were really worked up. During every break, I would hobbled my way to the corner of the room, sitting with my legs splayed in front of me and fanning my self with the aluminum bowl used in the rehearsal. My fellow dance classmates? They were running around, laughing and telling jokes with their endless energy.

Within the first weeks, I always came home black and blue, exhausted, my thighs, my knees and my shins in pain. Getting off the public minivan was a struggle as I could barely fold my legs. The class was once a week every Friday, and my soreness persisted until the next Thursday. The following day I felt better, and then I went to class, and came home aching all over again.

But, guess what? I stayed. I never once thought to quit. Not that I am a determined and a strong-minded person. I just felt that the lesson was so much fun. It was also liberating.

Since taking the dance lesson, I could concentrate better, which is a big deal for someone who is easily distracted. When I’m at the dance class, there are only me and the movement. Everything else dissolved into insignificance.

And how exhilarating it was that I made progress week after week. Sure, it was slower than anybody else, but I finally got the grasp on the movements, the music and the rhythms.
 
I went back every week because I wanted to. I had no target, let alone wanted to become a professional dancer. I didn’t rehearse to be able to perform on stage, nor did I go into this with the noble intention to preserve the local culture. All of the benefits were just bonus. I attended the class because I wanted to dance. Period. This was something that I’d wanted to do for a long time, but didn’t believe my body could do it. I’m doing it simply for the sake of doing it.

After several months of rehearsing, I took the exam for Pendet dance. There were nine of us, and with me, of course, being the oldest. Being on the stage in front of the audience and the jury was completely terrifying and nerve wrecking. But I did my best to enjoy the dance, while not tripping on anything and making mistakes.

And I did it! It was not perfect but good enough to pass the exam and went to the next level. As of December 2013, I had passed the exams for four classical Indonesian dance numbers, and I’m learning the fifth number at the moment.
 
So I’ve learned two things from this:

1. That I really, really, REALLY don’t have the talent in dancing; and,
2. That it doesn’t matter.
 
I love to dance. That is what matters the most.
 
About Eyi Puspita
Previously a journalist in a lifestyle magazine, Eyi is now a freelance writer and a full time mother. She is working to achieve another dream: publishing a novel or a short story collection.