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Indonesian Folk Dancers Warned To Comply With Anti-Porn Law

by VR Sreeraman on  March 9, 2009 at 12:10 PM Lifestyle News   - G J E 4
Gyrating her hips to traditional gamelan music on a makeshift village stage, Indonesian folk dancer Sri Wulandari ignores the leers and wolf whistles of the drunk men below as she plucks grimy rupiah notes from their outstretched hands.
 Indonesian Folk Dancers Warned To Comply With Anti-Porn Law
Indonesian Folk Dancers Warned To Comply With Anti-Porn Law
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Her nightly routines rage into the wee hours in villages across West Java province but the 30-year-old dancer said the excited punters respected the golden rule of "look but don't touch."

"The men say naughty things and ask me to marry them but I'm a professional dancer, not a prostitute. Dancing jaipong is not a dirty job," she said.

The jaipong dance is one of several Indonesian art forms in the sights of social and religious conservatives after parliament passed a controversial anti-porn law in December.

West Java Governor Ahmad Heryawan raised hackles when he warned dancers -- who perform mainly at official ceremonies and cultural festivals -- to tone down their provocative moves and hide their underarms to comply with the law.

But while artists, audiences and civil society groups are appalled at such comments, Islamic parties trying to boost their popularity ratings ahead of April general elections have championed the anti-porn campaign.

"The dance shouldn't be too erotic," said Tifatul Sembiring, a senior leader of the Islam-based Prosperous Justice Party.

"It's true that in the 80s the jaipong dancers danced on tables in seedy places. Even now you can see them wearing tight clothes dancing at roadside bars," he told AFP.

"The worry is that once the anti-porn bill is fully implemented, the dance may be banned because it's too erotic."

Outraged and insulted, professional dance groups have called on Indonesians to teach the self-appointed guardians of morality a lesson at the ballot box come April.

"What are they talking about? The dancers are all covered up in long-sleeved traditional kebayas, not sexy tubes," said Mas Nanu Muda of the Jaipong Care Community, representing 20 dance groups.

"The dance is fast and energetic... If dancers limit their moves and do everything in slow-motion, wouldn't they appear lewd instead?" he asked, swivelling his hips in a slow, exaggerated manner to illustrate his point.

The West Java dancers are not alone in their battle against the anti-porn law.

From animist Papuan highlanders wanting to protect their right to wear "koteka" gourds on their penises, to Hindu Balinese opera dancers worried about their shoulder-showing outfits, and Christian Minahasa people from North Sulawesi fearing an intrusion of Islamic values -- many people across Indonesia's cultural and religious melting pot want the law scrapped.

Even the sultan of Yogyakarta has declared his opposition.

"The leader of our nation must be able to build tolerance between the citizens so they live side by side in peace. For me, this cannot be negotiated," Sultan Hamengkubuwono X, a candidate for presidential elections in July, told foreign journalists.

The anti-porn law was "the most terrible thing in the process of building our nation," he said.

The law criminalises all works and "bodily movements" including music and poetry that could be deemed obscene and capable of violating public morality, and offers heavy penalties.

The Constitutional Court threw out a petition against the law by the Minahasa people in February, but the ruling was based on a technicality and the Christian plaintiffs are expected to try again.

Wulandari said politicians should keep their noses out of art and repeal the law immediately.

"Just kill it. The jaipong dance reflects our culture and there's nothing pornographic about it," she told AFP in the home of her choreographer in Bandung, south of Jakarta.

"I'm angry at officials who misuse the law to attack us and our art."

Created by Sundanese artist Gugum Gumbira in the 1960s, Jaipong is a mix of older forms of community folk dances and the Indonesian martial art of pencak silat.

To untrained eyes, it combines the graceful arm and hand movements of Thai classical dance with hip gyrations reminiscent of Turkish belly dancing. It is not meant to be sexy, and the dancer's full-length kebayas reveal little.

"It's a popular dance performed at prestigious events in hotels and malls. Even children are taking lessons," said Bandung tourism and culture chief Askary, who like many Indonesians uses only one name.

"Without shaking and gyrating, you can't call it jaipong. I don't consider it erotic, titillating or lustful. That's all in the mind. If people want to think of something as erotic, it will be erotic," he added.

Yusoff Hamdani, a teacher of Islamic studies, said jaipong was "a good form of exercise" for young girls -- including his five-year-old daughter.

"It's not just about understanding and preserving culture. My daughter used to be sick all the time but has become fitter after taking jaipong lessons," he said outside a school in Bandung.

"I don't know why anyone would view the dance so negatively."

Source: AFP
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