This is not belly dance.
Everything said in the post about Dusty Paik’s group performance, also applies to Zoe Jakes’ new Balinese inspired performance. It’s just so wrong, in my opinion. From what I’ve learned, Balinese dances are religious in nature and dancers are trained since childhood. Zoe Jakes using those same movements completely strips them of the meaning and context. To me, her performance was nothing but a shallow copy.
-Corinne, I Love Belly Dance Mod
I am finding it really hard to identify the emotion I’m feeling right now, but thank you for sharing this with me.
I’ve actually studied Balinese dance from a Balinese teacher for three years at my university, been in Balinese music ensembles, taken graduate-level classes on the music and dance of Indonesia … and I’m really at a loss for words.
Balinese classical dance is religious in nature, and often are scenes from Hindu epics like the Ramayana and Mahabharata. Starting in the 70’s and 80’s there was a resurgence of composers and a new music style, but even these dances have religious undertones and often represent welcoming deities onto Earth or are from Hindu epics. Some examples are Tari Manuk Rawa, and Tari Sekar Jagat. An example of an older style dance would be Teruna Jaya. All the dances tell some sort of story, and gestures, eye movements all have symbolic meaning (much like Indian classical dance).
I love Zoe Jakes and have been to Beats Antique concerts and really enjoy their music. This, however, just feels like a cheap copy. Not to mention it’s not even a good imitation.
As a lifelong Balinese dancer who helped Zoe choreograph this piece and teaches her Balinese dance, I feel compelled to jump in here. Balinese dance is a living, breathing form, and while I understand the impulse to “protect” it as a sacred art, doing so puts it into an exotic box that makes it into a limited stereotype and shows a lack of understanding of the vast range of styles and contexts of Balinese dance as practiced and performed in Bali. This attitude is also highly detrimental to the vitality of Balinese dance both on the island and in the US. I think this is a good discussion to have as dancers that are in “non-Western” forms, but I think we all have to be very careful in our assumptions and judgements. And if there’s any question of authenticity, you can direct it at me, not Zoe. I think the most important thing to note is that Zoe has an incredible amount of respect, understanding and resonance with Balinese arts. I have been around plenty of Western dancers who just want to learn how to “wiggle their fingers” and “do crazy eye stuff,” and then use it for some random fusion piece. Zoe’s approach was the total opposite of this kind of surface-level interest. She studies very intensely, understands the incredible scope of the form, and is continually working to embody the core fundamentals that make Balinese dance so unique. And in fact, I feel her style of performance and musical interpretation has many crossovers with Balinese dance already which make it naturally fit with her power as a dancer. I showed Zoe’s performance to some of the most respected, master artists in Bali (including Ni Ketut Arini, considered a “cultural treasure” for her work in Balinese dance) and they were very excited to see a fresh approach to the form. Yes, Balinese dance originally came out of religious ceremony and some styles still should only be performed in a temple but Bali also has a thriving performing arts university known for experimentation and Balinese dance is not a stagnate, non-living entity. Every summer in Denpasar there is a festival called the Bali Arts Festival (PKB) where thousands of people come to see an incredible range of new and traditional works in a loud, stadium style setting. I could go on about this—I don’t want to make this post too long, but if anyone would like to continue the conversation, it is certainly something I’m passionate about, and I was so sad to see these comments, especially considering Zoe’s incredible respect, honor and talent for Balinese arts. When she performed at Tribal Fest, it was so apparent at how much she embodied both the technique and energy of the form— even the audience had a stillness and focus that was reflecting her performance.
Just to give a little background of my involvement— I have been around Balinese performing arts my entire life- my mom was a founding dancer and musician in one of the first Balinese gamelan groups outside of Bali, Gamelan Sekar Jaya. We have been invited by the Indonesian government many times to perform in Bali— I performed for the first time at the Bali Arts Festival in Denpasar at the age of 8. Growing up, I had the wonderful opportunity to study with many master dancers from Bali, and perform in both temple ceremonies and theatrical settings around Bali and the US. My position as a non-Balinese person has definitely lead me to spend a lot of time thinking about cross-cultural issues and identity in dance— I’m happy to continue the conversation with other dancers out there thinking about these issues!
Thank you for taking the time to respond and to share your knowledge of Balinese dance culture and your own experience.
As the person who originally posted commentary, I want to retract my own comments about this performance. My own statements were harsh and it did not take into consideration the possibility that Zoe took the time to learn about this dance as she has with belly dance. I apologize to Zoe and to you. I had good intentions but they were misguided. -Corinne