Antibiotics and Balinese Dance, A Winning Combination


By the time we got to Banjar, my then-boyfriend (and still dear friend) Jesse and I had been in Indonesia for a couple of weeks. His Uncle and Aunt live there, in Banjar, on the northern coast of Bali. After spending those first few weeks in hostel bunks and eating more food stall fried noodles than could possibly be healthy, I was relishing the fresh market vegetables and steaming hot shower on offer. We had our own room with a big comfortable double bed, a pool out front, and in Jesse’s uncle Keith, a guide for the village and surrounding areas.

The luxury was also perfect timing. We were both sick. Like, head-is-a-lead-weight sick. To the point of seeing the local doctor and being diagnosed with ear, sinus, and throat infections. We began a regiment of ear drops and double antibiotics and mustered as much energy as possible for exploration. Luckily we had a solid home base, access to a car, and plenty to do and see in the area.

Uncle Keith had connections throughout the village, and one of the first things we did (or, at least, I think it was one of the first things…my memories of that stretch are a bit hazy) was drop in on a local dance class to watch young girls practice traditional Balinese dance. The experience started similar to what we’d become used to in Indo: people scurried around to procure chairs and sat the hesitant white tourists front and center. Once everyone was settled, the practice resumed. After asking permission via translation, I snapped photos and took some short videos while the girls performed.

Dance performances were on offer just about everywhere in Bali, it seemed, but being on a budget we’d skipped all the tourist-style shows. Instead, we’d been scootering around to food stalls, swimming, hiking, and visiting various temples and shrines. In the travel brochures and posters, we’d seen dancers dressed in ornate costumes of vivid colors and gold accents. Their eyes were brightly made up with colored shadow and thick black liner, the background an adorned stage, often in a hotel venue.

At the practice in Banjar, the girls were maybe 10-13, wearing traditional sarongs

with scarves wrapped tightly around their waists, but on top they wore t-shirts or polos. The room was small and open at the front; it had concrete walls and a tiled floor, a fan and a basic stereo system. They did a dance in two rows wielding golden bows (I’m assuming arrows would be part of the real performance).

The dance itself seems to be in the details. The music is tonal, without much of a melody. With bare feet, the bodies are all angles, the movements sharp with emphasis on the head, hands, and face. There always seemed to be a flicker of fingers, or a darting of wide eyes back and forth (even some well-timed blinking). It was fascinating and almost unnerving to watch these young girls be so rigid and serious.

Balinese dancing has been around for a long time. According to BaliSpirit.com:

In the early 15th century the art culture of Bali changed when artists fled from Java. At this time cultural beliefs of the Balinese and Hindu came together through dance. Balinese traditional dance culture has a unique history that includes various types of dance. Part of the history includes understanding historical events that inspired many forms of dance practiced in Bali today. Before Bali adopted various forms of dance people identify with the culture today and before the adoption of Hindu religion, people used dance as a way to fend off evil spirits through dance rituals.</