Ceremony & Ritual

Bali: The Dance of the Golden Deer

Article 7: Marguerite Barnette
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Photo by dwij © 2001
The subject tonight is love
and for tomorrow night as well.
As a matter of fact,
I know of no better topic
for us to discuss
until we all die


BALI: The Dance of the Golden Deer

If Dancing Turns You On, Go Dance! Every time you dance, it is your first dance! Unbind your body, unfetter your will, release your soul. In this spirited moment feel as if you are rejuvenated by the refreshing embrace of a gentle ocean breeze; hear the sound of the big band proclaiming the feast of the present. Brave cosmic drums are heartbeating and magic flutes inhaling the wind, breathing out songs of continuity. The trumpet is calling: Come along, all and every one; behold the now, the only fragment of life you and I have. Let us dance, each making his or her own dance, capturing the subtle rhythms of life, smiling, rejoicing, and praising the goodness of day. Shake loose our individual "character armor" that has shackled us for so long; shake it loose, let it break, let it shatter.

Heavenly tunes are dancing all around, permit them to come through. Let them revive parts of the body and soul gone numb and dry. Music's magical power will soon take command and effortlessly you are dancing gaily, softly gliding around and around, merrily hopping up and down like the sprightly happy child that is in you, or like that certain transient butterfly that one beautiful day held your attention and earned your lavish praise. To self-appreciation to egocentricity, wave goodbye-not au revior, nor auf wiedersehen. Instead: Don't come back. Now under the sky of Universe you are not dancing alone; you are dancing the circle, the music, and the dance. In a memorable rhapsody of that kind, a dervish once exclaimed, "this is not my body, this is the temple of God". You see, for the mortal human body it is most immortal to dance and import into your world an air of elegant joy.

—Introduction by Moneim A Fadali, M.D. from his book "Coping and Beyond."  
DeVorss & Company, publisher.

y Cerritomni segment introduces you to a dance from the island of Bali, a lush island in a group of thirteen thousand islands, strung in an arc between the Indian and Pacific Oceans, that comprise the Indonesian archipelago. Indonesian writer Mochtar calls his country "The Land Under the Rainbow" as it is a colorful profusion of cultures, customs, dialects, religions, and geographical features.

Bali, a predominately Hindu culture, is a pear-shaped garden of beauty floating on an emerald sea; it is known as the Garden of the Gods and is renowned for the richness of its artisans, crafts persons, musicians and dancers.

My interest in the dances of many cultures has been a rich experience. In the photograph above I am performing the very poingnant Dance of The Golden Deer. This dance originated in Bali and is usually performed by an odd number of seven- to nine-year-old girls. I loved this dance so much that I insisted on cramming myself into this delicate and brilliantly arrayed costume and dedicating long hours to learning the movements.

The dance tells a story that has its roots in Hindu tradition but, as is typical of the Balinese, has a twist that is unique to the storytelling customs of this culture. The original story comes from the ancient sacred text of the Ramayana. In this historic epic, Sita, the wife of the great king Rama, is lured away from her home and kidnapped by the evil demon Rawana. The lure that attracted Sita was a beautiful golden deer which led Sita deeper and deeper into the forest until the demon could safely snatch her. Like many Hindu stories, the end is curiously convoluted. Rama rescues Sita with the help of Hanuman the monkey king but the ending is not as happy as we in the west would prefer. The typical Balinesian twist is that the story has become so mutated that now the Golden Deer, which was originally a device of evil, has become a thing of beauty; it is now a positive icon in contemporary enactments with no shadows or negative sides.

Like so many stories in Bali, the villain is the hero, the hero may be the villain, or the two archetypes may coexist in the same character. It is so joyously confused and complex that I feel like I am in real life!

What I love dearly about Indonesian sacred dance is the profound concept of the dancer becoming the God/Goddess she/he is dancing. This concept is found in many traditions of sacred dance among disparate cultures such as the Voudun of Africa that was brought, via slave trade, to the West Indies.

When performing the Dance of The Golden Deer, I experienced the lucid and deeply moving sensation of no longer being myself. I hear the music and the surroundings shift suddenly. I am dancing yet not dancing; I am being danced. I am transported beyond my surroundings while entering into a realm of hyperawareness of that place and all that is within the space.

I try to envelope myself with the experience that this dance brings to these Balinese youngsters, who learn it at such a young age, and to understand how the ritualistic setting and cultural story of it impacts on their life and on those who witness this dance. There is that level that one can touch in all dance modalities that is healing and, perhaps, a deeper level at which all dance is transformative.

The gift given to me by the young performers in Bali was akin to a lamplight that warmed my heart and resonated so very deeply with the nine-year-old dancer in me who is always ready to soar into the ecstasy of the movement. Here the waves in the ocean or flocks of flying birds seem to move in synchronicity with my breath and motion. In such a state I once danced, barefooted, on hot concrete and never felt pain until blistering on the soles of my feet, a short time later, echoed my discomfort. Normally when dancing under conditions that might cause harm I suffer no ill effect. I would like to explain this state with more understanding as I believe it to be real. Many who have observed me dance at times like this have noted this transformation. For me, the joy of the dance is to go beyond thought and still my mind. I dance this dance of the Golden Deer; I frolic in the forest with my friends; I stretch my hooves; I lap sweet water from a tropical stream; I nibble on ferns; I step out of the mists looking so exotic and beautiful that one cannot help but follow me into unknown lands. Come dance with me, wildly and joyfully!

Marguerite Barnette, M.D.

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Editors note:

The Cerritomni segment promises to be exciting and informative as you are introduced to the Rituals and Ceremonies of many cultures as well as contemporary Rituals as designed, created and scored by those on a quest for an expression of spirit that is personally fulfilling, meaningful and enlightening.

This quest is often a long and multifaceted journey. We will endeavor to bring you articles that are of the highest quality and credibility and look forward to your suggestions and encouragement.
 © dwij 2001
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