Wednesday, February 19, 2014

What I Learned in Dance Class

Traditional Jaipong Dance
Four years of dance instruction. Six years of competitive cheerleading. Seven years of living in Montana hiking and skiing. With those experiences in my back pocket, I thought that my first traditional, Indonesian dance class would be a breeze. Boy was I mistaken. I entered the room to find a delightful, petite woman who I presumed to be the teacher. I introduced myself with the phrase I had practiced in my head ten times over. “Halo, Ibu! Nama saya Mallory dan saya mau belajar tari Jaipong.” Without any introduction from herself and with a smiling face, (smiling is a stretch, I’m pretty sure she was smirking) she commanded me in Sundanese to start doing bizarre squat motions. It’s funny, really. The second I start thinking about how much my Bahasa Indonesia has improved, someone starts yelling in Sundanese. As my awkward American stature performed my uncomfortable squats in front of this menacing woman, I knew it was going to be a long two hours.

Strange hand movements that resembled flailing butterflies. Uncomfortable squatting positions that went against the laws of gravity. Ominous stares and scoldings from the petite master. Repetitive toe taps. Countless chest thrusts. And plenty of puzzled faces from myself. Two hours of this nonsense had passed at a glacial pace, and as my legs were uncontrollably quivering, I was feeling defeated and worn. When the clock struck six, my new teacher finally gave in and spoke normal Bahasa Indonesia. “Kamu bisa belajar tari jaipong dan kamu sudah jago! Semangat!” (You can learn jaipong and you are already very good.) With the biggest smile I was capable of giving, my confidence went soaring the roof.

I’ve returned to dance class three times since that first day. In the six hours I’ve spent with the pint-sized woman,  I’ve been taught lessons that cannot be sought elsewhere. Her language of choice, I’ve realized, is not Bahasa Sundanese. Her language of choice is the way her body moves- The way her high eyebrows skyrocket, and her face tightens when I’m just not understanding. The way her eyes beam when I finally do. The way her body glides across the floor as she relishes in the fact that she’s alive and well. The way her compact frame pulls me into a bear hug with the conclusion of each class, expressing her satisfaction with the unexpected bule. I may not know the complex language of Sundanese, but I do know the language of human interaction. And when you’re an exchange student, that can make all of the difference.