West Africa meets Bali
The beauty and power of dance has been undoubtedly linked to most cultures throughout the world. There is an energy which emanates from the dancer as she undulates her body to the music, finding a natural rhythm which allows the dancer to come into graceful alignment with herself and her environment.
Today I explored the rhythms of West African dance presented by Ojeya Cruz Banks — a truly talented and mesmerizing dancer that has explored the roots of New Guinea dance from both an anthropological perspective (she holds a doctorate in Cultural Anthropology) and through her own experiences traveling throughout Africa.
“It’s been a purifying and healing path,” said Ojeya about her ongoing love affair with dance. “What I’ve found is that dance is also empowering for others.”
In 1998 she went to Kenya and studied many forms of cultural dances. Two of the dances we practiced during the workshop: ‘Kassa’ and ‘Kuku’ are representative of the working class people in Africa. Kassa comes from the Malinke people and is a dance traditionally done by farmers during their peak farming season. Kuku is from the Bela region which borders the Ivory Coast and New Guinea. The movements represent how the fishermen bring in and cast out their fishing nets.
“Dance is the primary ingredient of ritual — it’s a way to bring people together and celebrate life,” said Ojeya.
As we all danced to the fantastic drumming by Hanuman, there was definitely a feeling celebration. The energy continued to climb as the beat became faster and faster until we were spinning from left to right, right to left in absolute freedom. Our egos slipped away as many of us fell into a gentle trance allowing the healing we all needed to naturally occur within us.
Later in the day I joined the Kecak Experience with Shiva Rea & Cudamani. I’d heard about Shiva Rea who is a yogi goddess in her own right, but I wondered how yoga would be blended with Kecak? We all sat down cross legged in a large circle surrounding the Kecak performers and Shiva Rea who began to lead us into slow stretches. We warmed up loosening our tight muscles in our shoulders and backs in preparation for Kecak — a syncopated chanting. I’ve lived on Bali for eight years now, so I’ve seen numerous kecak performances, but this was the first time that I would actually participate. It was exciting. The leader of Cudamani began to teach us the kecak chant which sounds like: ‘Chak, chak, chak chak’. We all started repeating ‘chak, chak chak, chak’, getting louder and more excited, sometimes turning to people sitting near us as we frantically waved our hands in the air and made exaggerated faces at one another. It was totally exhilarating and so much fun. Everyone was smiling ear to ear which according to our leader, is what Kecak is all about — having fun! As we became skilled at basic Kecak chanting, we were introduced to more complex rhythms which created a wonderful singsong effect. Our teacher was truly a master who embodied the deep understanding of the mystery and sacredness of kecak.
Time seemed to fly by and before we knew it the workshop had come to an end. Shiva Rea led us into a beautiful OM Shanti Shanti OM, which vibrated through my entire being. The high energy that we had raised was now returning back into Mother Earth. Today I truly understood at a heart level, the amazing healing power of dance, yoga & music. What a gift it has been to be able to experience all of these artistic forms at the Balispirit Festival.
Written by : Michele Cempaka