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Arts, Crafts, Food and Fascinating Bali-Hindu Dance

By: Stephen Carr

Date Posted: 2000-08-25

The Bali Fair at the Plaza House Shopping Center offers something special for lovers of Balinese dance. The dance style comes from Hindu religious traditions. Bali, a small island off the east coast of Java, is the last remaining bastion of Hinduism in the Indonesian archipelago. Its dance tradition is alive and well and the performers at the Fair are all students at the Indonesia State College of Arts in the Balinese capital, Denpasar.

Hinduism was the dominant religion in the Indonesian islands for thousands of years before the arrival some three hundred years ago of Arab traders on ships, who brought Islam to its shores. Now the majority religion in Indonesia is Islam.

The surviving Hindu traditions that pervade almost all aspects of daily life in Bali have developed their own forms on the island. They have been cut off from their roots in India so long that some customs are now radically different from Hindu ones on the sub-continent. One such involves eating habits. The killing of cows is totally taboo among Hindu Indians, yet for the Balinese, beef eating is normal.

Balinese dance has some elements common to Indian styles: the rapid head, eye, foot and arm movements. At the same time anyone who has seen other Southeast Asian dance styles in countries like Thailand and Cambodia can recognize the body writhes and finger bends characteristic of those countries. They are Buddhist now but were also once ruled by Hindu kings.

This fascinating convergence of cultures is on show every evening at the Plaza House. The dance shows, which go on for 30-40 minutes are on the second floor. There are also gamelan (a large xylophone) performances are on the ground and third floors. Instrumental performances begin on weekdays at 6:00 pm. Dance shows start at 6:30, continue at 7:45 and the final performance is at 9:00 pm. On weekends instrumentals begin at 4:30, dances start at 5:30 and then at 6:45, half hour instrumentals start at 8:00 and dances at 8:45.

The second floor has a beer garden where Balinese specialties can be sampled while watching the dance. The food costs 500 a plate and is cooked under the fronds of a row of Balinese stalls set up for the occasion. The selection includes rice and noodles and a variety of beef pork, chicken and goat dishes. Beer, including Indonesian Bintang, is 500 a cup. Sets of tickets can be bought for 2500 at show time or 2200 before the shows. Various Balinese arts and crafts are also available during the festival, which continues until September 1.

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