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Ailyn Agonia
As a form of art, dance conveys and interprets social message. More so, cultural dances were made to tell the tale of a nation.
With every hand and body movement, facial expression, costume worn, rituals and traditions portrayed, folk dancers can take their audience places, introduce them to new cultures and let them experience a nation’s unique identity.
“Indonesia has 17,000 islands, consisting of hundreds of different native ethnicity and linguistics. Not only is our culture rich, but most of the culture is also very different from each other in many aspects, such as in how it looks, rules, and traditional meanings. For instance, a welcoming dance in Central Java portrays respect by performing long hours of sacred dance in the ceremony. While, in Betawi (Jakarta), the Sirih Kuning dance is festive and playful with more people, music and colours,” Margi Listi Wirasani, current principal of the Indonesian dance community in Doha called Puspa Qinarya, told
Qatar Tribune.
The independent organisation supported by the Indonesian Embassy in Doha is at the forefront of telling the story of the Southeast Asian country to Qataris and expat communities since 2012. What started as a vision of an Indonesian housewife named Siti Alami Betayanti to gather the ladies in her community with the same love of traditional art, become a well-recognised group in Doha proudly representing Indonesia in diplomatic and international events.
“We had our first performance in the Indonesian Ambassador’s residence on May 2012. At first, we practiced only to pass time in a positive way. We did not realise that it would grow bigger and even represent our country in many major local events. We have performed during ASEAN Festival, International Coffee Exhibition, and Cultural Diversity, all of which were held in Katara Cultural Village. The group also performed at a charity event, A Night for Nepal, the opening of the Emir Cup Finals, the Asian football tournament, as well as other community and corporate events. We regularly made appearances during International Day in many international schools all over Qatar to promote Indonesia. During the pandemic, we have also made a virtual performance in the Virtual Festival Indonesia Perth 2020,” Margi said.
Sharing more about the intricacies and uniqueness of Indonesian traditional dances, Margi said each dance tells a different story about the cultures of difference islands comprising the archipelagic country of Indonesia.
She said, “Indonesian local culture is strongly influenced by religions, beliefs and foreign influences, especially in the big cities. Most of the dances are usually part of an ethnic ritual like harvesting, wedding ceremonies or welcoming an important guest. For instance, Balinese dance has different type of dances in its every village. The traditional dances that we represent usually showcase our friendly nature, welcoming our guests with beautiful colourful attires, traditional movements and warm smiles.”
Aside from providing non-nationals a peek into the colourful and diverse Indonesian culture, Puspa Qinarya has also effectively serves as a platform for Indonesians based abroad to be reminded of their roots and for Indonesian children born and raised outside their home country to get to learn about the history of their race.
Margi said, “Knowing your roots is as important as education. Our roots distinguish us as citizens of the world. It’s not only about the art and culture. It is your identity. As Indonesians who live abroad, we have few chances to immerse ourselves in our culture. Especially for children, who only know a fraction about their country thanks to summer holidays. Other than that, they’ve only ever known international education. That’s where Puspa Qinarya comes in. It’s a place for us to experience Indonesian heritage and promote it to an international audience.”
The group gathers its members once a week, more often if there’s an upcoming performance. In the absence of an actual school campus, Puspa Qinarya conducts it practice sessions for housewives’ class, most of the time, in a member’s house or clubhouse. While children and teenagers’ classes are held at the Embassy premises.
“We try to introduce the dance through contemporary and more playful dance pieces for children so it will be easier to learn. For adult classes, we are learning both contemporary and full traditional. For any performance, we usually modify a dance depending on the audience. Because it might be hard for us to do full traditional dance since the original dance can be 15 to 20 minutes long. After performances, usually people who are interested will contact us to join. They only pay for petty cash since we are not a commercial group. It will be used later for costumes and benefits for the members,” Margi detailed.
As to whether Puspa Qinarya has been willing to train even non-nationals, Margi pointed out that the group has always been welcoming to foreigners who are keen to learn Indonesian traditional dances. However, she added, non-nationals who have tried at some point to learn Indonesian dances were not able to sustain their trainings.
“Traditional dance is not easy to learn, even for Indonesians. We need time, patience, commitment and love to dance beautifully. We always welcome non-Indonesian students, if they want to learn. So far they have only come and gone,” she remarked.
During this time of pandemic, Puspa Qinarya has resorted to doing practices via zoom which has proved to be challenging, especially for children, in terms of properly learning the uniqueness of the body positions, fingers and head movements. Margi said they took a long hiatus during the peak of pandemic in the country and only resume practicing in January. However, with the recently introduced restrictions, the group once again put a halt in the classes they hold. The teachers, she stressed, are still trying to practice so they can further hone their knowledge and skills.
Margi has been teaching in Puspa Qinarya since 2016. She had learned some Balinese, Javanese and Melayu dances back in her elementary school years. Most of her performing background is from her high school and university dance teams and learning more about backstage when she was working.
On her deep love of dance and vision for Puspa Qinarya, Margi said, “Dancing is a form of expression using your body. I love the never ending journey to perfection. There’s always something you can correct. As for the vision of the organisation, we want to make Indonesian dance more popular like ballet dance that people all over the world are eager to learn!”
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