My gift of dancing comes from the Ancients. The Lengger dance is an old Javanese ritual dance. As a symbol of fertility, male dancers dressed up as women. When the Lengger dance was born, men were considered more powerful and purer than women were – this fortunately has changed!
Back then, dance practice was a ritual rather than entertainment. It was about verticality, about spirituality. Dancing was a way to connect with the Gods. In this traditional dance form, we sing along while we are dancing.
(PC Choy Ka Fai)
I was born in 1981 in a village on the Indonesian island of Java, in a family of farmers. We were poor. I was living with my parents and my five siblings in a house made of bamboo.
I was born with a birthmark. My mother was worried about that mark and the bad fortune it could bring. When I was two weeks old, a dance performance took place in our village. My mother asked one of the dancers to bless me, so that this blue mark would disappear. The dancer used a bit of make up to mark my face.
Growing up, I was always dancing and singing in the streets. The neighbours knew me as the dancer, the kid who dances and sings in the streets. They still call me that when I go back home.
I trained myself as a child and started to formally learn to dance when I was 15 years old.
First, I went to a technical school. Secretly, I also handed in applications to enter a dance institute. I hid this from parents. When they finally found out that I wanted to join a dance institute; they refused to pay the one euro/month school fees – they did not consider dancing to be a profession.
In spite of their scepticism, I managed to fund my dance studies myself. I performed at weddings to earn my own money.
At school, I was the only male student in my class, among 16 girls! I have become a motivator for the young people who now study there. My success gives them hope.
Today I live in Japan and I have been performing all over the world, dancing my own creations and working for the Akram Khan Company.
I go back to my village every year. We celebrate, we eat and we dance. The form of dancing I practice has been slowly disappearing, like much of the culture of my community, against the tides of conservative Islamic culture. To give a place for our cultural forms and attract people to dance Lengger, I have developed a community festival with the village leaders. It gives young people a sense of belonging and children the motivation to learn. It is also important for the old people of the community to see their tradition is kept alive.
PC Photo front page Hiroyasu Daido