Indonesian Solitude and Ecstatic Dance

So, after coming up with a million different overzealous itineraries for the 6 weeks I had allotted myself in Southeast Asia, I got to Indonesia and decided instead to just relax and see what experiences might come my way (as opposed to chasing after them like a chicken with my head cut off). I used up my allotted one month for the initial visitor visa, and now I’m en-route to Thailand where I will headless chicken my way around northern Thailand and northern Laos before making my way home in time for Christmas.

I want you to feel like you’re right there with me when I tell my stories though, so firstly I need to feel like I’m still there too and not trapped in this glass cage of emotion (read: airport).

<<Exaggerated knuckle crack>>

Ok, close your eyes.

Um, no wait that’s not going to work. I may have been able to channel my last name to Clint (previous post: Channeling Elizabeth Gilbert in Ubud) but I’m pretty sure I can’t read this to you with my mind so you are probably going to need your eyes.

Let’s try this: No, that’s not carpet patterned with various sized blobs of primary colors, it’s the golden glow of a seemingly endless field of rice as it sways in harmony with an early morning breeze. That’s not the white fluorescence of artificial lighting making people’s skin look like corpses, it’s the soft warmth of 4pm sun playing hide and seek with shadows as it disappears and remerges between temples, trees, and terraces. And no, that is most certainly not Christmas muzac playing incessantly over the loudspeakers between announcements of boarding gates and delays, it’s the soothing sound of water trickling down into a koi pond through the mouth of a stone frog as you make your way into the spa for a Balinese massage.

Mastapa Garden

Ok, are we all there?

For me, Indonesia was a good place to relax and enjoy some time alone.  Most people travel on vacation or holiday, but when you make a lifestyle of it things can get pretty chaotic. I need space to retreat into my own head, reflect and regroup every once in a while. In the same way a camel stores up on water before trips through the desert, it was as though I had stocked up on enough social interaction through three weeks of constant (and awesome, don’t get me wrong) company in my camper van trip in Australia and therefore didn’t mind the solitude I found in Ubud. It’s all about balance though, so I’d supplement my days of mind and trail wandering with various classes at Yoga Barn, as otherwise I would often go entire days uttering hardly more words than a handful of “no, thank you“s to the constant solicitations for transport (“Motorbike? Yes? Vroom vroom! Miss! You need transport? Yes? Where you stay?“).

Ubud is a great place to spend some time learning new skills, be it cooking, weaving, or even Thai boxing. I kept myself entertained with various yoga classes, chakra meditation, and even tried an African dance class (I learned that I am white. Oh so very white). Then one Friday night I decided hell, why not go ecstatic dancing??

You may be thinking “What exactly is ecstatic dance?” or “How does one dance ecstatically?” Well, I am certainly no expert, but I will try to explain. Essentially, you just dance. But not well, you dance hard. This happens to be my favorite variety of dance. I had asked a friend who had been to the class before what it was all about, and she explained that everybody just lets go of all their inhibitions and dances as freely and wildly as they feel in an environment free from judgment. People jump off the walls and crawl on the floor and do whatever the hell the music moves them to do. My natural response was “So is everyone just tripping out on drugs?” She laughed and assured me it is a completely sober environment, so I decided this was something I needed to see for myself.

At first I was a bit surprised by the turn-out. There were probably 50 people of all varieties. You had the people you’d expect to be there (like the long-haired shirtless guy from South America with the flowy linen pants, or the 70 year old woman with silver hair in a transparent white pants/shirt combo sans undergarments whose body was immortalized at 25, presumably due to strict yogic practice), and all the people you wouldn’t (like a 35 yr old couple that clearly live in the suburbs and desperately want to prove that they are not as boring as they know they have become, and the 60 year old man in khakis who most likely left his New Balance orthopedic trainers out front with everyone else’s sandals).

Next I was concerned about the lighting. I had assumed this would be a dark environment. If I were to spontaneously start “popping and locking” as I have been known to do it would be best if the lights were off. Unfortunately, the music started and the lights remained on. There was no instruction, and everyone just began moving, some more freely than others. Some people got into it straight away, jumping around and contorting their bodies to music that appeared to be different than that that was being played to the rest of us. After a few minutes, a woman began instructing us to “let go of your judgments, let go of your pride, forget about your concerns of how you look and release yourself in the music.”

I immediately had to get myself in check as I realized it wasn’t so much worrying about being judged that I needed to focus on releasing, but it was my own judgments that I needed to stop. I didn’t want to judge, and I certainly didn’t want to laugh, but it was hard. One guy was spinning himself in circles on the floor while someone else  kept screaming out animal noises. I tried at first to keep my eyes closed to avoid distraction, but then I kept bumping into (or tripping over) people so I decided to face out and stare at the rice paddies instead. After a little while I noticed everyone in the class had started to loosen up, myself included. Dance is a beautiful form of expression, and I had to keep reminding myself of that as I watched people squirm and spasm, jump jive and wail, roll, crawl, karate chop, ninja kick, and mambo # 5 their way around the room, encouraging myself to follow suit.

I had started the class tired and hungry as I had come straight from a long yoga class and hadn’t had a chance to eat dinner. Next thing I knew I was jumping higher in the air than I thought myself capable as though it were the only way to release the explosion of energy surging through me. All of the sudden I became aware of my body and realized I had no idea how long it had been since I last paid attention to what it was up to. The music began to slow, the lights dimmed, and people took to the floor as the energy continued to dance in air long after our bodies had stopped.

I no longer felt it but remembered my hunger and took myself to dinner in a daze after class, where I first looked at a clock and saw that I had been “ecstatic dancing” for over two hours. I stared out at the view in a bit of a daze as I started to eat my curry (no matter how many times I got sick I always made sure to reiterate in my order that I did indeed want my spicy such and such dish to be spicy) .

View from my post-Ecstatic Dance dinner

I knew I might be eating slowly, but I was getting a bit annoyed by the fifth time someone came over to clear my plate when I had hardly taken a few bites. When I finally did finish, I looked at my watch again and realized why; the 5 or 10 minutes I thought I had been sitting there was actually an hour and a half. Well look at you Ecstatic Dance, you dance-tranced me you sneaky little rascal.

Aside from a peasant skirt phase somewhere around my freshman year of college, I never fancied myself as much of a hippie, but here I was meditating and trance dancing like it’s 1964. That’s the power of a place like Ubud I guess, I wouldn’t recommend it to people who don’t like to, yanno, feel things, and, think and stuff.

Now, a camel can’t survive in the desert without water forever, so after another week or so I decided I was getting bored of my own company and headed to an Indonesian Island near Lombok called Gili Trawangan.

Longboat on Gili Trawangan Shore

It’s so small you can walk around the whole thing in just over two hours (I didn’t actually test this myself I just took Lonely Planet‘s word for it). It is one of three islands commonly referred to as The Gili’s, with Trawangan being the most social of the bunch. They don’t have any cars or motorbikes on the island, so people use the old school horse-drawn cart to get around.

Horse Cart in Gili, or “Cidomo”

Knowing it would be a while before I was near a beach again, I used these last few days in Indonesia to sit in the sand

Tough Life

Enjoy the crystal clear water that defies logic

As Clear and Warm as Bath Water

and drink to the sunset with new friends

Gili Specialty “Vodka Jus”

You don’t know what a hangover feels like until you spend a night drinking petrol (or, “lokal liquor” as they called it) then have to spend the next day on boats and buses in 100 degree heat en route to the airport. As always, I survived to tell the tale. No rest for the wicked, so I’m off to Thailand and Laos!

4 thoughts on “Indonesian Solitude and Ecstatic Dance

  1. So exciting!! Happy New Year, Shannon. Enjoy Quito, Ecuador next! I personally enjoyed the culture, the people, the adventure. I know you will too. Assimilating into a new environment and culture is an amazing experience. The only way to truly learn and grow as a person traveling is to be in the environment for a period of time, to be a part of the community. This next experience will be wonderful teaching ESL in Ecuador!

    Love and all the best to you,
    Aunt Peggy

  2. Hey,
    rainy day here in the south of New Zealand. Went online to do a bit of research about 5 Rhythm Dance and Ecstatic Dance and found your post. Man you made me laugh. Don’t misunderstand me: I spent 3 months in Ubud about a year ago and as soon as I discovered the Friday night class at the Yoga Barn, couldn’t do without it anymore. But your description of it is hilarious!

  3. Indonesia
    Well once again I see you like to try many things for herself and this dance exotic feel great always taking new challenges and trying to enjoy life, I think this dance was very relaxing for you, and that apart the beautiful landscapes that always love watching tried something new but always also tends to be cautious in what he does but when he has the opportunity makes things even sick.
    I thought that because American did not like spicy food but if I see that.


  4. Hi Shannon,
    For me, her experiences in Indonesia were a bit strange, the first one was the estatic dance and second one the Yoga classes.
    I believe in the energy positive and negative. I am convinced that everything is energy in the universe, but the transmission of thought and reading ideas without words, is a little hard to understand.
    Your connection with Clint was special and I hope that you keep in touch with him until nowadays.
    At the end, life is full of surprises and her tours in that country were really amazing.

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