Being married to an Indian, especially one who is a huge Carnatic music fan, I had seen my share of Indian classical dancing. Precise movements, vivid facial expressions, and elaborate costumes. From what I researched on line, Balinese dancing was similar. But I was in for a surprise and treat when we were taken to a Kecak fire dance performance.
Done at a temple, only at night, with just a stand with torches in the middle as the only light, Kecak dancing are performances to an acapella choir of over 100 men. The name comes from the sound they make “Kecak Kecak Kecak” which forms the underlying beat to the dancers. The choir moves around, swaying and singing, and not only provide the music but are also a big part of the performance.
The story we watched was part of the Hindu epic Ramayana. It’s the story of Prince Rama, his love Sita, and the evil demon Rahwana who tricks the two and tries to kidnap Sita for his own. The dancers come out in elaborate costumes of traditional Indonesian dress. But the demons, fawn and god Hanoman have the dancers performing with big masks. I can’t imagine the skill it takes to do the precise movements, with masks and still avoid the flaming torches while being so close.
After the story is told through music and dance, a man comes out to do the God-inspired trance dance on the fire. The torches are brought down to make a bonfire in the middle, and men stand around the sides with brooms. Then a man comes in and walks on the bonfire kicking around the kindling. The men on the sides quickly brush it back in the center. At first, I thought he must not be actually walking on the burning coconut shells. But as I looked more closely, I saw yes, yes he really is! At some points he was right in the middle. It was insane! I had never seen anything like that.
After the performance, the dancers were all available for pictures and to meet with the audience. I had wanted to walk up to the fire dancer and see how he did it (his bare feet were covered in black ash and he was sitting on the ground, off his feet right after) but my daughter wanted to meet the other dancers. So we made our way over to the temple gates, got in line, and were able to take a picture with the beautiful Sita, and other characters in the show. My dancing daughter was in awe.
Afterward, we went to eat, which proved difficult for my tired little souls. But they were excited about the dance, and even asked their father to help them learn the story of Ramayana. He started a 13 chapter story series on the Hindu epic he told at lunch’s and dinners the rest of the trip. The kids fell in love with the beautiful epic, and remembered fondly the night of dance and fire.
*All photos taken by Atma Photography