Balinese Dance in Philly – Preserving and Passing Down Culture (by Lydia Nolt)

About halfway through our time in Philly, in the third week of February, Modero Dance Company began their weekly Balinese Dance classes open to the public. Sinta is the woman who teaches this and a variety of other dance classes in the evenings, along with her work as a leader among the Indonesian community. She has just launched another organization called Gapura which will work to help connect the many voices of the Indonesian community, advocate on behalf of the community in the city, provide aid wherever needed, and establish a central meeting location for various other groups. Courtney and I worked with Sinta and Gapura as our service assignment while in Philly. Our main roles consisted of generating community engagement through social media and collecting statements from board members to use for future promotion of Gapura. However, while learning the mission and telling the story of an important piece of the Indonesian community was certainly rewarding, the most fun part of our time with Sinta was participating in the dance classes through Modero! On Wednesday nights I would board bus 79 and ride it a few stops before Courtney joined me. We rode two bus lines before arriving at the Fleisher Art Memorial where the classes are held. Taking public transportation can be unpredictable, and it’s nice to be with a friend when the connecting bus is late in the evenings. This opportunity to join the class not only allowed us to grow closer with the South Philly community but also connect as peers within the SST group through conversation, as well as the shared experience of diving into something together that was outside of our comfort zones. Of course, there was no need to be nervous. Sinta is a wonderful teacher who intentionally makes her space a welcoming place for all, including those who have never danced before. Sinta herself is professionally trained in several traditional dances of Indonesia and is using her gift to keep this art form and mode of cultural expression alive in South Philly. Many dancers have been with Modero Dance Company for years, and a second-generation is rising as there is a special class for younger children and youth. Dance is not just a physical experience, it also conveys stories and connects the dancer to the spiritual worlds, as it is often an important part of religious ceremonies. Courtney and I would always arrive a few minutes early to watch the younger class finish their practice. These dancers were learning a dance about warrior angels coming down to fight and protect. Not only does this dance connect these girls to their traditional culture, it also is a tool of empowerment by teaching them this story of strength. While some of these kids looked so cool and professional, Courtney and I bumbled our way through and butchered the step on our first attempts at a welcoming and blessing dance. However, we were not the only new faces at the class and not the only non-Indonesian participants. The other women were so kind and patient in working with us to master the movements. The community there truly reflects the hospitality that we felt in the interactions we experienced in South Philly. Sinta was also pleased that people from outside the community want to become involved with Modero to show the younger students that their culture should be shared and that “outsiders” do have an interest in Indonesian culture. This experience allowed me to observe another way in which the vibrant Indonesian community we were hosted by is flourishing and fostering connections among its members and building connections with the wider Philadelphia community. By the end of the three weeks that I was able to attend before leaving for Indonesia, I was proud of myself for trying something that stretched me both physically and mentally as I had to take a step into a space I was unfamiliar with and be prepared to make mistakes, plus I had a whole lot of fun nd met some incredible people!