Dancer at Sanya





I squirm in my seat, convinced I know
exactly what to expect: the show starts
with a man blowing folk-tunes on a leaf.
In her pink, sequinned costume
she could have lost heart
in this troupe forced on tourists.
Not so. I’m forced
to sit up in my seat at once
by the awareness she projects
to the ends of her human body.
Not a cell seems to sleep,
and when she orbits away from my gaze
I still feel the concentration of her face
staring at me in her hands, in her feet,
in the effortless torsion of her spine:

     Watch me if you can thoroughly, she dares.
     Match me this aliveness with your own!


Even the dismal clapping of the crowd
cannot drown her dancing from my nerves.

_____________________________________________________________________________________________________

Recently, I’ve been enjoying Elizabeth Gilbert’s book Big Magic, an inspiring book for anyone who finds most of their happiness in living comes from trying every day just to make something a little bit beautiful. Her emphasis on discipline and the importance of making art for love rather than money are two aspects that certainly struck a true chord with me . . .

She ends the book with a section entitled “Divinity”, comprising a single anecdote about the sacred temple dances of Bali. The following paragraphs helped me make sense of the incident described in Dancer at Sanya”, in which profane and sacred collide disconcertingly:

They decided that they would make up some new dances that were not sacred, and they would perform only these certified “divinity-free” dances for the tourists at the resorts. The sacred dances would be returned to the temples and would be reserved for religious ceremonies only.

And that is exactly what they did. They did it easily, too, with no drama and no trauma. Adapting gestures and steps from the old sacred dances, they devised what were essentially gibberish dances, and commenced performing these nonsense gyrations at the tourist resorts for money . . .

The thing is, over the next few years, those silly new meaningless dances became increasingly refined. The young boys and girls grew into them, and, working with a new sense of freedom and innovation, they gradually transformed the performances into something quite magnificent. In fact, the dances were becoming rather transcendent. In another example of an inadvertent séance, it appeared that those Balinese dancers — despite all their best efforts to be unspiritual — were unwittingly calling down Big Magic from the heavens, anyhow. Right there by the swimming pool.

There’s actually quite a good deal of material on-line about Balinese dancing. If you’re curious, you can take a look here. And here’s some Gilbert on Big Magic.

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