You Want Go Dance?

I was about due for another Ketut Surprise, and yesterday I got it. “You want go dance?” he asked. That was a bold move for Ketut and it posed a serious threat to my perception of our relationship. But I’ve learned not to jump to conclusions.

“Where?” I ask. He tells me Jembawan Street, “You know Jazz Café?” he looks at me, his eyebrows raised, questioning. Now I’m really confused. There are places where local Balinese go and hang out with the tourist crowd but Jazz Café is not one of them. I am about to seek further clarification when he continues. “Ceremony for cemetery.” he says. “Dance many-many.”


According to Ketut there are two cremation sites in Ubud with a road running between them. Evidently the road wreaks havoc with the supernatural, so every six months a ‘balancing’ ceremony must take place to pacify the restless spirits. The ceremonial dances act out the battle between good and evil and bring them symbolically to a draw. Neither side wins, they simply depart peacefully.

He has already been to Jembawan Street to scope out the site. He tells me it starts at 8 p.m. and lasts until 2 a.m. I don’t doubt it. At 7:50 my phone signals an incoming text. “Pergi sekarang?” (Go now?) I shoot back a quick, “OK,” and I’m out the door. The night air is delicious on the back of a motorbike. As we approach, men in black and white checked sarongs are directing traffic. Finding a spot, Ketut parks and we head toward the sound of gamelan.

Suddenly there are people everywhere, close to 500 would be my guess. As usual, I am stunned with the magnitude of the event. A high-tech sound system has been set up at one end of a long structure. Palm decorations that look like fish skeletons with giant fresh marigolds woven into the design hang from the ceiling beams. It’s beautiful. And there are Balinese families everywhere. Babies that have passed their 3-month birthday are held. Until they are 3 months they cannot leave the family compound. Toddlers sit, well behaved and mesmerized. Teens do what teens do, they roam about. I glance around for other foreign folk like myself. I see one. By the time we leave at midnight there are 5. Although this event is in the middle of a familiar street and is an amazing peek into authentic Balinese ritual, the tourists don’t know about it.


The gamelan orchestra is stunning in white uniforms with red and gold head gear. Their music is the foundation of every dance. It is non-stop, sometimes a bright sound, light and tinkly, sometimes a crashing cacophony as the dancers reach the climactic point of the performance.


The Barong comes on first. He seems almost shy. His long body drips with shaggy hair reminiscent of an Afghan Hound. The luxurious tail usually has a bell attached. His face wears a frightening mask with a mouth that opens and shuts making a dreadful clacking noise. It’s hard to know whether to watch the head with it’s snapping jaws or the twitching, hypnotizing tail. I’m told the black beard holds strong magic.


When the evil Rangda makes her appearance the energy ramps up. She is a powerful witch. Every time I see her she is almost completely enveloped by her own dreadlocks. They reach nearly to the floor. The babuten, in a trance state, challenge her with their spiraled kris swords. Naked to the waist and dressed for combat, their sarongs are drawn up between their legs and tucked in back. When Rangda waves her white cloth at them they turn their swords on themselves. For way too long they gyrate wildly, bending forward and backward, trying to pierce their sweat drenched chests with the wicked instruments. Finally, all at once, they fall to the ground. Holy water is rushed onto the stage and they are sprinkled and prayed over. Some have to be carried away.


In Bali there’s a ritual for everything, literally. When a woman is pregnant but won’t reveal the name of the baby’s father, a ceremony ensues. Offerings are made and a surrogate husband is found for her. It may be an animal, a stick figure, or any number of other possibilities depending upon the village. Once these steps have been taken, the matter is settled. The woman is considered married.

We left the dancers at midnight, still going strong. The dancers were going strong…I was exhausted. The combination of four hours of gamelan and the intense battling in the spirit realm is a bit of a drain. “Go home?” Ketut says as we pull away from the curb. “Go home.” I reply, then add, “Thanks for the dance.”

5 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Barb Garland
    Apr 22, 2013 @ 09:10:28

    What a blessing to experience that, do you feel cleansed now? lots of love



  2. Sharon
    Apr 22, 2013 @ 09:54:58

    Another adventure…..I love the barong. More interesting information re. babies staying in compound first 3 months (why?) and dance for woman who doesn’t name father. Love it…….



  3. healingpilgrim
    Apr 27, 2013 @ 04:25:00

    Ahhh, I missed it this year, the Calonarang performance & trance dance. At the end of my street! Glad you went dancing with Ketut 😉



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