While some traditions are fading in the era of globalization, there is a group of women in Jakarta keeping traditional Indonesian dance alive. They actively upload videos of their practice sessions onto platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube. They even recently started using TikTok to showcase their love for traditional Indonesian dance to the younger generation; 70% of them are aged 45 to 60, and they hope to hand on the torch. The community is named Perempuan Menari. Perempuan means “woman,” and menari means “dancing” in Indonesian.
“We started with only seven people in 2018. Then, within a year, our members grew to around 60 members, and now we have 96 members. Some [heard of the group] through word of mouth from our members. But the majority actually know us from social media. The profiles are varied, from teenagers to people in their 60s—students, housewives, or career women. Not all of us have the experience of being a dancer, so everyone can learn from scratch here. Our mission is simple: we want to keep traditional Indonesian dance alive,” said Pritha Nandini, the founder of Perempuan Menari.
The name Perempuan Menari embodies hope for women, especially mothers, to become real role models for the next generation and inspire younger people to preserve Indonesian culture, especially traditional dance. Each year, the group organizes a performance that follows a theme. The first show in 2018 was titled “Seloka Swarnadwipa” (“Energy of the Golden Island, Sumatra”) and featured various Sumatran movements that mingled with Malay variations. The following year, “The Charm of Eastern Indonesia” featured choreography like the Tifa dance from East Nusa Tenggara and the Saureka-reka dance from Maluku. The most recent show was “Genderang Swargabhumi” (“The Sound of Heaven on Earth”) in 2020, where they performed 12 dances originating from west to east Indonesia. In particular, the group featured traditional musical collaborations.
Perempuan Menari’s show last year was a totally new experience for the whole crew as it was presented virtually. Just like other sectors that have been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, performing arts have also been heavily affected. From April to December 2020, sports and cultural activities were restricted by the local government to reduce the chance of spreading the coronavirus. People were not allowed to hold live, in-person shows or host communal activities. Instead of pushing the stop button, however, they turned to YouTube to host the annual event and used platforms like Zoom to keep their weekly practice on schedule. Some of them needed to take small steps and learn how to use the communication tool because it was their first encounter with a video platform of its kind.
“Most of the group said that online practicing is more difficult as the coach can’t check and correct our posture directly, or because some moves should be done in a group of two or more. The worst case is an unstable internet connection that causes delayed or frozen screens. However, virtual practice is still better than nothing at all,” said Nandini.
In December 2020, “Genderang Swargabhumi” involved 50 dancers and 30 musicians who performed for more than 5,000 simultaneous viewers. “For us, the traffic exceeded our expectation. In our two previous annual shows, we gathered around 500 audience members at best. In fact, this time we got some international crowd during the live show. Beyond that, we are humbled and grateful to be able to support musicians and event management workers during this difficult season,” said Yuneri Chandra, one of the members of Perempuan Menari that organized the event.
Currently, with vaccinations taking place in Indonesia, policies regarding communal activities are no longer as strict as last year. The dancing women of Perempuan Menari have returned to practicing as a group in the same space, but with strict health protocols. Even so, they may continue to hold virtual performances this year, as they seek to replicate the success they had four months ago.