As you know, I’ve performed Javanese dance a few times in Indonesia, mostly with a group that dances at Prambanan. The performances outside of this have, at their root, only occurred because I’m a foreigner. It’s interesting to have a foreigner performing traditional dance and makes your event seem slightly cooler.
I’ll admit that I have mixed feelings about this. On the one hand, I want to be asked to perform because I’m good at dancing, not because I’m a novelty. On the other hand, I know that there are much better dancers than me and so there’s no reason for me to be asked to dance unless I’m a novelty. So mostly I just try to ignore all the issues tied up in the foreigner thing and just dance.
In the US, it’s completely different. In February I performed with the gamelan group at University of Michigan. For me this was a privilege, as it always is when I get to perform. Even more, I got to dance with a live gamelan and work with a great drummer. I treated the performance like I did performances in Indonesia, employing a good dose of the fear of shame in order to encourage myself to practice.
While I definitely needed all the practicing to deliver the kind of performance I wanted, the responses I received were very unexpected. As it turns out, in the US I’m still a novelty, but now there are no spectacular dancers to compare me to. I am very aware that I still need to work on my dancing, but I will admit that the change is nice–at least for now.
Here’s the performance, if you’d like to watch it: