“Tahun lalu,” I said, “Waktu aku masih baru, aku selalu takut. Selalu bingung.” I shrugged.
It’s strange to think that it’s been a year since I started attending UKJGS’s practices. Thinking back on it, I remember how scared I was—clearly an outsider, clearly unable to dance, clearly confused about everything that was going on. I’d hover around the edges of things, trying and failing to use my simple Indonesian.
I remember trying to tell one girl that I liked her shirt and mixing up the words for mine and yours. She frowned at me and I felt like an idiot, especially because I didn’t figure out my mistake for at least another thirty seconds.
I remember getting out of the bus to Prambanan and following everyone into the Open Air Theatre. I stood there, looking at people setting up in the gamelan, looking at girls getting ready to dance. I didn’t know where to go. I didn’t know where to put my backpack. I took my shoes off and felt like the floor was burning my feet.
I remember sitting by myself behind the dressing rooms. There’s a fence and on the other side a strip of grass. I’d sit there, eat dinner off of brown paper, and stare at the pointy tops of Prambanan’s temples as night fell.
I spent at least my first three months in UKJGS gritting my teeth and pushing through all the awkwardness and confusion. By December, things started becoming normal. I’d integrated into the group, even if I still didn’t understand much of what was said, even if most of the text messages sent around still bypassed me. By June, I’d really become a part of the group. I looked forward to hanging out in the dance room as opposed to dreading the unknown factor that was always involved.
Fitting in was a long, often lonely process, so when my friend asked if he thought they should mix international students in with the group or give the international students their own rehearsal time, I wasn’t sure what to say. On one hand, I would have been much more comfortable, much happier, if I’d joined a dance class filled with other foreigners. On the other hand, having to stumble around in the metaphorical dark, day after day, week after week, gave me a much deeper understanding of the group, of the language, and even—to a certain extent—of Indonesian culture. I would never trade what I have now for an easier introduction to the group.
I told my friend this. I was scared, really scared, and so maybe that’s reason to put the international students together, but I now I love being part of the group.
That afternoon, we had rehearsal. The group performs at Prambanan next month, and for most of the people who joined last year, this will be their first performance. I’m lucky to have already performed twice, right at the end of our season last year. Before summer started, I had one dance memorized. Now, I have both dances that I need to know memorized. In rehearsals, I don’t have to focus on what comes next; I can instead think about technique, about how I’m picking up my scarf, about where my shoulders are positioned in relation to my hips.
These days, I spend five or six hours in the dance room. Sometimes, when it’s around nine o’clock and the gamelan is playing through a part of the Ramayana that I don’t immediately recognize and I’ve been sitting for a while, I’ll think back to a year ago, to those first few weeks. I sympathize with any international students who might join. It’s not easy to come into a group when you don’t speak a lot of Indonesian. It’s not easy to come into a group when you have no idea how it’s run or organized, when rehearsal times are only guidelines, when text messages are sent and you don’t receive them.
The group doesn’t know yet how we’re going to handle international students this year. Usually, they’re just mixed in, but things could always change, especially if there are a lot of them.
“Well,” I told my friend, “If we keep things the same, I can at least help with translating.”