I Hope You Dance

No bad dreams this time. Sleep is sweet and morning is a known routine. Ketut’s face appears along with coffee. “Busy today?” I ask.

“Oh no,” he says in a way that always sounds surprised that I would suspect such a thing.  “Finish.”

“But ceremony and dance?” I ask, thinking he means everything is finished.

“Later,” he says.

“Later today?” I ask. Clarification is necessary. I have begun to long for my own bed and a bit of privacy.

“Ya,” he says. We sit, enjoying the steamy warmth. He tells me that all the offerings and food are ready. Now it’s just a matter of the afternoon ceremony for his brother’s little girl and the night-time dance. I tell him I need to write for awhile today, alone in my room.

“No problem,” he says. He will tell his family to leave me alone. That concept simply doesn’t exist here. If you want to be alone surely you must be sick. In this loving, extended family, nobody should ever have to be alone. Groan!

After breakfast I closet myself away with my computer. I close the door but leave the curtain pulled back so anyone who needs to know what I’m doing in the confines of my solitary space, can peek in. Five minutes pass. A tiny face appears with nose smudged up against the glass. Another head, and another. The door opens a crack then three giggling girls pile beside me on the bed and stare at the hundreds of gray words marching across the screen. I suppress the urge to entertain them and continue to type. They watch in silent awe. Maybe twenty minutes later, one by one, they scoot off the bed and run away. Ahh.

A few more minutes pass. There’s a shadow at the window. It’s grandpa. A quick glance in and he proceeds past. A little later it’s grandma. She stops, grins. I grin back and wave. She leaves. How much more time can I take without appearing gauche, ungrateful, inconsiderate, and strange? Scratch strange. I’ll always be strange. I eke out another forty-five minutes, close the laptop, and venture forth.

My timing is perfect. Nita, with her mom and dad, are at the street in front of the compound making offerings. The white clothed priest and his bell have returned. A bit of scrambling ensues and someone locates a chair. It’s brushed off and offered to me, a throne for the queen of everything. I sit, am granted permission to take photos, and the ceremony begins. It’s clear that baby has new shoes!

When the outside ritual is finished the priest moves inside. He chants blessings for the family, for the offerings, for auspicious days, for the ancestors. Grandpa’s sister, old as dirt, sits though it all with me. She tells me she wants a copy of this photo to post on her cremation tower when she dies. It’s a customary practice but often the only photo a Balinese person has is the one the government takes for I.D. purposes. It’s a one-time event and hers was a long time ago. When blown up the grainy reproductions resemble a bowl of Grape-Nuts. I assure her she will have her picture.

The ceremony ends with a meal of course. All the mouth-watering satays, kues, spicy vegetables, soups, and rice appear once again in abundance.

As dusk wraps us all in the soft haze of approaching night, Wayan strolls in with a red drum.

On his heels the heavy gamelan instruments, each one carried by two strapping Bali boys, line up on the mats spread out for the occasion. Children that are too shy to look at me, run for them and are allowed their moment of glory as they pound away. After impressing everyone, they’re shooed to their parents as the men take their seats. Gamelan. Metal on metal softened by drum-thumping rhythm and melodious flute. My heart hammers the same cadence. I peer into the darkness knowing that soon the stunning dancers will captivate my senses.

But what’s this? I don’t think there’s a Balinese woman anywhere that is taller than I am and that’s 5’2″. These willowy wonders are well over six feet! I stare at the beautiful faces, bright red lips, haunting eyes. One apparition is swaying with undulating grace right in front of me. The sister-in-law sitting beside me makes a comment and even though I don’t know the words, I’m familiar enough with bawdy Balinese humor to know she’s not looking at the feet! I discreetly jab her ribs with my elbow and she roars with laughter. The dancer is unruffled.

They’re men. The last dance like this I attended the performers were nubile young girls. Although the guys do a spectacular job it isn’t the same.  I ask Ketut.

“Long time ago,” he begins, “All like this. Only men not married can dance. No girl.”

“Why?” I ask.

“Oh, because all like this. Married no can.” Cryptic Ketut. His answers multiply my questions. But I refrain. Another time.

The mother/daughter dance is next. When little Nengah, Ketut’s baby, had her dance it was with Ketut. I want to ask why this time the child’s mother is dancing instead of her father. But before I can plague him with yet another question, a sweet young female dancer waves a fan in my face. Where did she come from? The fan is an invitation for me to join the dance.

It’s time to leave my body again! I hover in the blue light near the peak of the tarp roof and observe. All eyes fasten on my attempts to move my feet, my fan, my head, my fingers, in unison with my partner’s. Twirl. Repeat. Move to the right. The left. My gaze sweeps over the crowd. I’m getting thumbs-up from Grandma. The gamelan players are amused. The sweet dancer who has to endure my fumble-stumble attempt maintains her deadpan, professional face. Then it’s over.

“Ya good,” says Ketut.

The music ends, the dancers become normal people, and food and coffee makes the rounds. It’s a time warp and for a moment I feel like I’ve always been here, that nothing else exists. It’s that familiar. Gratitude floods over me with goose bumps.

I’m reminded of a song on a CD, a gift from my daughter many years ago. The words encapsulated her wish for me at that difficult time in our lives. Neither of us dreamed of the way it would manifest.

“I Hope You Dance”

By Lee Ann Womack

I hope you never lose your sense of wonder,
You get your fill to eat but always keep that hunger,
May you never take one single breath for granted,
God forbid love ever leave you empty handed,
I hope you still feel small when you stand beside the ocean,
Whenever one door closes I hope one more opens,
Promise me that you’ll give faith a fighting chance,
And when you get the choice to sit it out or dance.I hope you dance….I hope you dance.
I hope you never fear those mountains in the distance,
Never settle for the path of least resistance
Livin’ might mean takin’ chances but they’re worth takin’,
Lovin’ might be a mistake but it’s worth makin’,
Don’t let some hell bent heart leave you bitter,
When you come close to sellin’ out reconsider,
Give the heavens above more than just a passing glance,
And when you get the choice to sit it out or dance.I hope you dance….I hope you dance.
I hope you dance….I hope you dance.
Time is a wheel in constant motion always rolling us along,
Tell me who wants to look back on their years and wonder where those years have gone.

6 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Lottie Nevin
    May 13, 2014 @ 01:36:11

    You done good, Lady. Real good. I bet they loved having you to stay, but I can imagine that by this stage you would have been craving your own bed and privacy. What a lovely bunch of friends you have and what wonderful memories you are making for yourself in Bali 😀



    • writingforselfdiscovery
      May 13, 2014 @ 03:08:33

      I do have a lovely bunch of friends. And the fact that I can’t carry on more than the most basic conversation irks me no end! But it’s great motivation to focus more time and energy to learning the language.



  2. Diane Struble
    May 13, 2014 @ 01:52:19

    I know that you know how to follow dance steps and movement so I bet you were just great. I wish that Lee Ann Womack had ended with “I hope you will dance” rather than leaving the wheel going round and round as that feels like a whole new tale. But then, perhaps it was so intended.



  3. Shane McRae
    May 13, 2014 @ 03:00:10

    Sherry, you danced and you’re an inspiration to me. I love your courage.



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