Notes from the first two weeks of classes, part 4

Girl dance classes have so far been somewhat unpleasant. The good rapport with the teachers that happens in the boys’ classes? Sort of missing in the girls’ classes. Case in point:

It was the first day of class in which we’d be wearing dance sarongs—the ones with the piece of fabric that drags behind you. It’s been two years, and I’m still not very good at getting the sarong put on properly. After every single performance at Prambanan I always seem to come up with some new problem—the front was falling down, the side was too high, I couldn’t sit properly. So I wasn’t particularly looking forward to wrestling with it in front of people who’ve made a career out of wearing dance sarongs with long tails.

But, remember, it was the first day. And here’s something else you should know: a surprising amount of my fellow classmates have never done Javanese dance before. For every kid who graduated from an arts high school, there’s one who grew up outside of Java.

Not that I was thinking about any of this while I wrestled with my sarong. I was mainly congratulating myself on the fact that I’d gotten the tail part of the fabric long enough. The sarong bagged around my hips, as it does more often than not when I put it on by myself. Still, overall it wasn’t half bad.

Somewhat satisfied with myself, I shuffled out into the center of the practice space with the rest of my classmates. It was at this point that the teacher started going off at us. The sarongs were messy. They bagged, or the tails weren’t long enough, or the strip of fabric used to secure the top part didn’t go up high enough. We looked at her furtively as she doled out critiques.

“Not long enough,” she said of mine, and then she put her foot on the end of the tail and pulled, revealing that it actually was quite long, it had just been folded up on itself when I sat down. She walked away without further elaboration, leaving me with a large amount of uncertainty. The length was the one thing I’d felt really good about. Was it really still too short?

I had little time to think, though, because she continued her lecture, moving on to critiquing the fact that she’d seen us helping each other put the sarongs on. You have to be able to put your costume on and do your makeup by yourself. We were going to have to take everything back off and put it all back on again—without any help.

And so we did. My sarong, by the way, turned out worse than the last time. I stood there fussing with it, wondering if there was any possible way to make the dragging bit any shorter, until one of the other teachers—the one who likes me—came over to help. Which sort of defeated the purpose of the whole thing.

Now, on one hand, I understand. These are eighteen year olds. They need to learn discipline. I, myself, was trying to teach eighteen year olds discipline just last semester. And having to be able to put your costume on by yourself is a serious thing. One of our most spectacularly bad Ramayana performances headed in that direction because not everyone was able to put on their own costume. And maybe there was good cop/bad cop stuff going on. And maybe there’s gender stuff going on and female teachers feel like they have to be stricter to maintain order—I can relate. Still. I can’t say I wake up excited to hear another lecture at 7:30 in the morning.


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