Tiny Dancer

Does Dewi have an 18 year old sister!?! Grabbing my camera, I make no pretense of a polite, “May I please…!” I dash across the lawn my finger clicking shots as I go. Barely acknowledging the presence of her mother and grandfather, who are watching her in stunned silence, I ask the tiny dancer to pose. She cooperates with the poise and practiced perfection of a seasoned veteran.

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This child is five years old. She is learning the traditional Balinese dances and this is her first full regalia performance. She has already spent hours with makeup and hair, and as soon as I have the courtesy to go home, they will be off.

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Her mom tells me that Dewi sat absolutely still through it all. This child who is perpetual motion embodied, sat still? For hours? I try to visualize a Dewi at rest and it’s a stretch. But as I ask for pose after pose, she complies without protest. Here is a star in the making, a true lover of the art of dance.

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Extracting a promise that I will be invited to any such future events, I grudgingly let them go. The next day I’m given a blow-by-blow of the evening’s wild success. Dewi shows me photos on her mother’s camera. Her hands form the precise mudras that accompany complex footwork. She twirls and her beaded scarf blurs in the photo. She is a vision! And she’s only five…years…old…!!!

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Here Comes the Balinese Bride!

A traditional Balinese wedding takes three days. It goes something like this:

Day 1: The groom goes to the home of the bride and informs the family that he wants to marry her. This of course has been planned for years so it comes as no surprise to anyone. The family and friends of the groom begin to prepare his family compound for the wedding.

Day 2: The groom returns to the bride’s home, gathers her and her belongings, and takes her to his home which is with his family. Family and friends continue with the decoration and preparations. Three pigs are slaughtered in the morning and two in the afternoon to make bbq’d pork satays for the 1500 guests that have been invited.

Day 3: The bride awakens at 3:00 a.m. and meets with her makeup team. Both the bride and groom are painted and polished until they absolutely glow. There is an abundance of gold in the headdresses, the fabrics, and the jewelry that they both wear. The groom has a sword tucked in the back of his cummerbund, similar to Prince Rama from Hindu lore.  The guests begin arriving early, about 9:00 a.m., although there is an order that is loosely followed, relatives first, then close friends start coming a little later, and finally the third tier of relationship. In this case he is a dentist and she is a professor teaching nursing students.  Their co-workers are invited and other business related acquaintances of the families.

Guests enter from the street through an elaborate arch of woven palm fronds and flowers. There is a long table with the guest book at one end and chafing dishes holding an array of delicacies. Each guest is given a small woven bamboo leaf plate and we help ourselves.

This is a picture looking back at the reception table.

As I arrive the Holy Man is blessing the couple and performing a wedding ritual in this highly decorated pavilion.

They are just completing the first ritual. There are many more to follow as the different groups arrive.

The bride and groom move to these elaborate thrones for family photos.

A very handsome family indeed!


The couple then moves to the Western equivalent of a receiving line. Note the exotic headdresses worn by both.

The bride is exquisite and the groom is so handsome.

I sat by this guest later and complimented her on her hand. “Tatoo,” she said. I murmured, “Beautiful.” and quietly thought, Ouch!

From the receiving line we move into another area of the compound that has been tented and a huge buffet awaits. As an uninvited guest I do not presume to help myself to the food but find a chair in the shade and watch, enjoying the colors, the people, the happiness. In a matter of moments a Balinese woman approaches me and in the universal language of hand signals and head nods invites me to partake. I smile and delightedly accept.

The tables are arranged in a horseshoe shape. They hold Indonesian delights: tuna tempura with sambal, curried tofu and vegetables, chicken rolls, pork satay, tempe, batter fried green beans, of course rice, and pistachio ice cream for dessert.

Guests mostly sit at tables and on chairs that have been draped with white fabric and red accents, talking, laughing, eating.

On the left is the tented buffet. This is a small section of the seated guests. I must say a word about the attire of the female guests. I take the opportunity to really scrutinize the outfits in their various forms. Most of the ladies are wearing a sheer lace blouse like the one front and center. But upon close inspection, underneath that lace is a tight CORSET!! The corset is sometimes the same color as the lace, sometimes flesh colored, and sometimes a bright contrasting color. The lace blouse extends down to mid-thigh but is usually secured at the waist by a cummerbund or scarf often of the same pattern as the sarong.

The lace plunges to a ‘V’ in the front sometimes secured by a lovely pin as you can see on the woman in brown at the left of the photo above. The Balinese are not shy about mixing patterns and color! I see every imaginable combination and it is all simply spectacular.

When I purchased my sarong for the event I had no idea if I would be appropriately dressed. Putu informed me that I should wear a T-shirt, not a sleeveless top. So here’s what my attempt at a wedding outfit looks like. Next time I’ll have my tight corset and lace shirt!

About now you’re probably asking, “How does Sherry know about Balinese weddings?” Let me say again, the Balinese people are incredibly kind and hospitable. At one point the lovely young woman in the next photo, Desak is her name, approached me to make certain I had eaten. She spoke beautiful English and was kind enough to explain what was happening. She is a cousin of the groom, a Kindergarten teacher, and is eagerly anticipating her own wedding in about six months.

She tells me she wants four children, then adds that the Balinese government is suggesting that couples have just two. “It’s for the population, so it doesn’t get too large for the island.” I think I must have looked shocked. “But it’s still okay to have four,” she explains with a huge smile.

Back in my room I am suddenly overwhelmed with intense gratitude for the people I’ve met, my precious time here in Bali, and the opportunity to learn first-hand about their customs and time-honored traditions. It is a privilege that feels sacred. It feeds my soul.

Hanoman Street in Ubud

I love the surprises each day brings. After another superb meal at Atman Cafe I head north on Hanoman Street.

Hanoman is one of the two main arteries running north and south through Ubud. I set off, camera in hand, to capture some images that are representative of the flavor of the village. This carved, painted door with a soaring crown and gargoyle is typical Balinese architecture. It is inserted into a high brick wall that surrounds a family compound or perhaps a temple.

There are always steps up to the doorway so you can’t quite see what’s in there. Today curiosity triumphed. I climbed the stairs and took a peek  through the partially open door. There was a large open space bordered by several buildings that I assume are dwellings. The ornate facades of these homes are protected by statues of gods or fierce creatures.

My mission for the afternoon is to visit the new CoCo Supermarket and pick up a few snacks for evening munching. I hadn’t realized until now what a snacker I am! Not having a kitchen with stocked cupboards handy is definitely a lifestyle change. I comb the gleaming isles of the large store. There are thousands of varieties of chips, cookies, and candies. My search is successful and I leave with two apples and a bag of spicy Thai peanuts. There is a somber look to the sky as I head home so I pick up the pace hoping to reach cover before a downpour.

I am approaching my turn when Hanoman Street becomes suddenly quiet. No traffic. That can only mean one thing. Looking up the street I see them coming. A ceremonial procession is making its way toward me.

The black and white plaid fabric is seen everywhere in Bali. I was told that it represents balance.

They pass directly in front of me on their way to the temple to make the offerings that the women are carrying on their heads.  I don’t want to be the obnoxious tourist who intrudes upon their traditional rituals with camera flashing, so I try to be discreet and probably miss the best shots as a result.

The parade continues on and I head down the walled corridor that will take me home. As I turn the corner at the top of the steps, there beside my door is a canang sari, a small basket woven of palm fronds containing an offering to the gods. The Balinese present these offerings three times a day. Sometimes I wonder how the women get anything else done. They seem to sit for hours every day making literally dozens of these small gifts.

Finally back on my balcony I watch the threatening clouds approach.

There’s a stiff breeze and…ahhh yes! Here comes the rain!

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