I found myself at the Kraton, or Sultan’s Palace, in Yogyakarta. It was an unplanned visit for me; I’d tagged along with another woman staying at the Alamanda who said she didn’t know much about the palace, but heard that there was a traditional dance performed there and she wanted to see it. I was certainly game for that.
Four beautifully-costumed young women approached the pavilion and we began snapping pictures. They looked so exotic and impassive; their faces masks of anonymity as the four moved in unison.
They began their slow-motion cultural dance as men banged drums and gongs behind them and chanted a slow, sing-song melody. Every move they made seemed significant. Every slow twist of the wrist, curling of the toes, sway to the side, and stretch of their fingers undoubtedly had meaning. I watched with close attention, admiring each gesture, trying to decipher what this dance meant. All the while the men chanted, and the young women inched along in their story progression. It became hypnotic. Soon I felt lulled into the warm afternoon and lost focus. I didn’t know the story. It didn’t really matter. My mind and attention became as melted as their movements. I felt myself falling into a trance.
Then suddenly, the dancers were holding guns!
Just as I saw it, the dreadlocked Aussie next to me popped out of his chair and voiced what all of us were thinking, “Does she have a gun?!”
She did. They all did! And because I hadn’t been paying attention, and because I come from a place where guns are in the news everyday, I didn’t know for a moment whether they were real. It could have been something straight out of an American news story: Dancers Pull Guns on Hapless Tourists, or some such thing. The writer in me thought the juxtaposition of a slow, hypnotic cultural dance and sudden gun violence seemed like a plot twist right out of a bestselling thriller. I sat up a little straighter in my seat, my heart pulsing faster than it had for hours. Sadly, now we were all paying attention.
The dancers shot their cap guns into the air and continued on with a slow, slow demise that lasted another 15 minutes. Again, I’m sure it had cultural significance and portrayed fighting, revolution, or war. I am embarrassed to admit that I spent most of that time wondering where they’d been hiding their guns during the first part of the dance. I wish that the beginning of the dance had made more of an impact on me than the post-gun parts. It seems that a cultural dance shouldn’t have to rely on sex or violence to get someone’s attention. The guns stole the show.
By the time they finished, I needed a change of scenery. A dancer donned in blue came on stage for the next performance and I almost stayed because I couldn’t imagine what might happen next. But I wasn’t sure anymore that I wanted to know.
Has violence (even imagined violence) gotten your attention even when you wished it hadn’t?
Indonesia definitely has its paradoxes. Nice post.
Thanks. You’re right; it certainly did.
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Gosh, you wouldn’t expect that.You got your money’s worth anyway. To me that brought to mind one big contrast. You’ll recall Torvill & Dean’s all-10s ‘Bolero’ in Sarajevo in the 1984 Winter Olympics, considered the greatest ice dance performance of all times. Within years that city was under siege and in ruins at the centre of the awful Bosnian conflict. How quickly can beauty turn ugly.
I do remember Torvill & Dean and those winter Olympics. Years later I met a woman at a battered women’s shelter who was from Bosnia and described circumstances so horrific that I could not even imagine how she survived them.
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Wow! I think I would have been scared that they suddenly decided they were sick of tourists. 🙂 That’s really interesting and I love how you described it all. Maybe the guns were needed to wake everyone up after they hypnotized them. Now I wonder what they could have hypnotized you to do….you’re right, it sounds like a novel. I always close my eyes during any violent scenes in a movie but for some reason the aftermath of a car crash can be interesting and will wake me right up from a highway trance.
See! Your mind went where mine did. Sadly, I guess I wouldn’t be surprised to find someone turning a gun on tourists. Odder still was the image of them dancing slowly with guns in hand. Very distracting to me.
Great job telling the story! Fascinating! Did you get any pictures of the palace while you were there?
That’s a good question. I did, but it’s not as grand as you’d imagine and I didn’t get to go inside. Apparently, the latest sultan still lives there? Don’t quote me on that. I started getting confused when they started talking about family trees.
What an interesting place!
Fascinating. Will have to Google to find out what the guns and dance represented.
If you find out, feel free to share. 🙂
hmmmmmm….I am not sure I would have stayed–good pics though
You know, it never occurred to me to get up. I was enjoying the dance and really, just being there.
That definitely would have given me a shock! And yes, a very cinematic plot twist…
If you do decide to go here during your trip to Yogyakarta, I hope I didn’t ruin this for you!
Haha! No, actually I was thinking it looks nice but the kids probably wouldn’t sit through all that slow, intricate dancing – so don’t worry!
I love the way you told this story – I was entranced. I agree, the thought of the dancers turning the guns on tourists after hypnotizing them is haunting. So glad it all worked out and that you left before the guy in blue brought out his bazooka. 😉
Shortly after 9-11, husband, son, and I were shopping at a mall. The lights flickered and alarms sounded. We made a beeline to the nearest exit while everyone else stood around. I don’t know what happened that day, but I wasn’t waiting to find out. Curiosity didn’t kill the cat for nothing.
Oh gosh. Post- 9/11 was a scary time, for sure. I had a few instances like you described. I’ll never forget it. Luckily, the guns and dancers were never scary; just surprising.
Wow – what a sudden turn of events! Glad that they were just for show! While many cultural dances do depict violence and battle, I’ve never seen it done with props like this before! At least it’s now an interesting story you can tell 🙂
That’s it exactly. The use of props seemed so out-of-the-blue. I love to watch ballet and see how the dancers express turmoil and death with their bodies. I wasn’t getting that from this dance. I had no idea what they were portraying so the guns came as even more of a surprise.
One summer evening we took a stroll down our High street to the local ‘fake’ French bistro the Cafe Rouge (they are a UK chain owned by one of the big brewery groups, foods not bad) On the way we passed a horrid pub called The Dry Bar (the sort of place that is all gilt and flash, but has to search its customers for weapons and drugs as the go in, fortunately its now closed)
A fellow was sitting outside bragging to some girls. We thought typical obnnoxious Essex man and walked on, Then as we were settling into our pavement table a police van screeched to a halt, blocking the traffic a saloon car brakes hard to avoid crashing into the cop wagon and a patrol car stops behind it, Cops armed with carbines and handguns (as you probably know UK cops are not routinly armed) pour out of the vehicles and from unmaked cars parked by the road. Thesame guy we saw a the Dry Bar is dragged out of the car and forced onto the tarmac with multiple weapons pointing at him.
Never did find out who he was or why the cops turned out in such numbers.
Wow! What an experience! That would have been so alarming. I think I would have been petrified to be so near a situation like that.
It was pretty scary, we just don’t see people with guns very often (outside of horrible4 places like airports) over here. the cops were not messing with that guys so he must have been a real bad one.
Wow, not sure how I would feel about that either. I’ve seen and studied traditional Indonesian (is that Javanese by any chance?) dance and seeing any sort of modern icon/prop just feels a little weird, let alone guns. I think I would’ve tried not freaking out in public while also slowing inching my way towards the exit.
This was a Javanese dance! So interesting that you’ve studied that. Perhaps you would have followed the story better. Out of curiosity, do you know whether they typically use props like that?
My gut instinct is to say no, just because in all the performances I’ve seen (and had to analyze), there were barely, if any, props that were used. Of course, in a case like this, maybe they took artistic liberties for a more dramatic effect? I still think its so interesting (and slightly bizarre) they chose to use those!
It was definitely bizarre.
Interesting… I’m Javanese from Java and I’ve never heard about the gun toting dancers… Maybe someone was bored and said “Hey, let’s shock the tourists?”
Oh, go see it! I’d love to hear your impression of it.
I’d really love to know the significance of that dance! How interesting!
I’m sure it chronicles their history, but I rarely absorb the history I’ve learned about. I’m terrible about that.
I think I would have panicked initially, knowing my wild imagination! What a way to really get everyone’s attention, although I’m sure they could have thought of other ways to do so besides something that portrays pure violence. You’re right Jules, coming from our country where kids pull out guns and shoot other children in schools, it’s nerve-racking watching these dancers unravel guns from God knows where.
Yes! That was part of what made it so suddenly alarming. We didn’t even know where the guns had come from.
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They must have raided the Sultan’s armoury!!! Did someone explain the significance of the gun toting dancers? A most unexpected interpretation of this weeks challenge Juliann 😀
Unfortunately, we didn’t get any explanation of the dance at all. We were taken there by a college student and he spent time telling us about the family trees, but waited outside while we watched the dance. (Which could have been even more suspicious, now that I think about it! 🙂 )
Wow, what a story! It’s great that you were able to get these great photos in your surprise!
I had PLENTY of time for photos. Their guns were no quick-draw. 😉
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Hmm…interesting use of props. I would have loved to see it, naturally.
Once I choreographed a solo with my hands tied behind my back with rope. After some thought, I decided to perform without the rope and keep my hands in the position without the prop. It was obviously a pain to dance with and at one point I had someone backstage cut them for the freedom vibe of the choreography at the end.
Think this particular case would have been stronger without the guns, maybe the less alarming hand version with the pointer finger out. Just a thought. : )
I have no doubt that your dance was provocative and dramatic. I can’t imagine dancing with your hands bound (literally or figuratively) behind your back. Seems like that would be so constraining and hard to balance. Then to have someone cut the bondage. Wow! I would love to see that dance.
I think this Javanese dance could have done without the guns, though it did get our attention, and I needed something to revive me at that point. But the guns were a distraction from the dance. It was all I could focus on.
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