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Cultural Dirty Dancing

By: Bodrek Arsana

This article was originally published in Latitudes magazine, a renowned bi-monthly magazine focusing on Indonesian culture. The magazine hailing from the island of Bali previously existed in paper form and was especially known for its in-depth critical articles and beautiful photography. As a tribute to all contributors of this magazine presents a selection of articles published in the years 2001-2004.

Joged bumbung is described in the guidebooks as a ‘traditional flirtation dance’. A pretty dancer in elaborate Balinese dress dances a solo to the accompaniment of a bamboo gamelan. Then she picks a partner (pengibing) from the audience to improvise a short duet. She gives the pengibing a ritual sash to tie around his waist, they shake hands, and then they dance. Young unmarried men are expected not only to dance well but to show off to their friends by trying to steal a kiss or touch the dancer. The dancer is expected to be tantalizing but unattainable. At the end of the dance they shake hands again, and the dancer resumes her flirtatious solo before picking another partner.

The other day I was riding my motorbike in North Bali, and as I entered the region of Gerokgak (Buleleng) the name ‘Gerokgak’ rang a bell. A friend of mine from Denpasar had told me about a famous troupe of joged dancers from that area. And indeed, all along the main road through Gerokgak to Singaraja, I saw dozens of signs in front of houses for different joged troupes. Last year, the art world in Bali was in a tumult over the circulation of a VCD of a joged performance of a troupe from Buleleng that showed explicitly erotic movements on the part of the dancer and her pengibing. People delightedly called this ‘Joged Porno’. It was wildly popular, and soon joged troupes from all over Buleleng and the eastern Balinese province of Karangasem had adopted this impudent new style.

But local authorities—village leaders and figures from the cultural and religious establishment in Buleleng—objected to the trend. On 21 May 2004, a seminar was convened to discuss the matter of Joged Porno (to which they gave the more dignified term Balinese, Joged Jaruh, or ‘Evil Joged’). Papers were presented by I. B. Puja Erawan (Head of the Culture and Tourism Service Buleleng), Made Rimbawa (Head of the
Desa Pekraman / Desa Adat Sekabupaten Buleleng), as well as by religious figures and the police. The day-long seminar at the Gedung Sasana Budaya Singaraja was attended by one hundred forty-six village leaders (kepala desa adat), artists and other cultural figures. It was opened by the Buleleng Regional Secretary, Ir. Ketut Ardha, who managed to obtain an agreement to forbid the performance of Joged Porno, because it transgressed Hindu ethics (etika), aesthetics (estetika) and morals (moral). The concluding statement announced that “Performances of Joged Jaruh are subject to being disbanded, to moral sanctions and to criminal prosecution. (Jika joged yang bernuansa porno itu dipentaskan maka dapat dibubarkan serta dikenai sangsi moral dan dihukum pidana.)

I pull up at a crowded coffee warung on the side of the Gerokgak-Singaraja road. My arrival stops what seems to have been a lively conversation. Perhaps it’s because I’m a stranger; everyone looks at me closely. But I pay no attention and just sit down on the bench outside and order a glass of coffee. A man sitting next to me takes the initiative to start a conversation. “Where are you from, adik? Where are you going?” he says politely.

“I’m from Denpasar, and I’m just passing through on my way to Singaraja,” I say, relaxed.

We make small talk for a while, and the conversation around us resumes. Then one of the other men, named Ketut Pasek, asks me, “Did you come to order a joged performance? We have the most famous joged troupe right here, the Joged Pangkung Paruk. There’s the sign and here’s one of the leaders of the troupe.” He jerks his head toward one of the other customers.

Before I can answer, a young man named Made Ngurah joins us. “We guarantee satisfaction—sexy movements, and you can pinch the dancers. The Joged Pangkung Parut is a best-selling joged troupe, famous all over Bali. We even have a VCD.” Made Ngurah tells me that he was an assistant leader of the youth group (Sekehe Teruna-Teruni) of his neighborhood (banjar).

I just stare at them, wondering why they think I had come to order a joged. Finally I ask them. “Why do you think I’ve come here to order a joged?”

Ketut Sena, another customer, says, “Ya, because most young people who come here are looking for only two things. To order a joged performance, or to matok dakocan.”

This term comes from matok = minum dan nongkrong di warung, or ‘drink and hang out at the warung’, and dakocan = dagang kopi cantik, which means ‘pretty coffee vendor’.

Ketut Sena continues, “Most joged dancers in this area are dakocan.”

According to Nyoman Jati, a banjar leader who also happens to be at the warung, the
Gerokgak area, like others around Singaraja, is known for its joged troupes and its dakocan. Every Saturday night young men come from all over Bali to Buleleng to watch a joged performance or look into hiring a joged performance for their banjars at home. Others come just to matok dakocan. “Dakocan began in the 1980s. Some people say that you can pay the dakocan to sleep with you. Maybe there are a few who do this, but I don’t think there are many. That’s just a rumor that got blown up by guys who chase girls, and it’s created a bad image. Now every guy who comes to Buleleng to the warungs thinks the dakoc an are prostitutes.”

He says he’s talked about this with leaders of other banjars. “I and other banjar leaders are ashamed that our region is known for Joged Porno and dakocan. Why be famous for something negative? We’ve already advised our joged troupes not to appear erotic. But we couldn’t forbid it because there was no official regulation. But after the seminar on 21 May condemming Joged Porno—I mean, Joged Jaruh—we feel that we have a basis for stopping it. I don’t know yet what the follow-up will be, whether they’ll make a formal ruling (awig-awig) forbidding it.”

“Why forbid it?” interrupts Made Ngurah. “Why not just leave things alone? The main thing is not stir up trouble. Do you really think people will be glad to have Joged Porno outlawed?”

“Joged Bumbung is a popular entertainment: cheap and fun,” says Gede Rawi, another customer. “You feel great watching a joged, especially if you ngibing. You can forget your problems for a little while and just be happy.” Gede Rawi admits to being a great fan of joged.

Many of the other customers at the warung cheer and say they agree. “Nobody wants to shut down joged.” And “Joged dancers are supposed to be sexy.” Then another young man, Ketut Rata, who lives next door to the warung, comes in. “Wah, what’s all the excitement?”

“We’re talking about the idea to stamp out Joged Porno,” someone says.

Ketut Rata, a student at Udayana University in Denpasar, says, “That is so Orde Baru. We’re past that era when self-expression was outlawed. If someone says that dancing is erotic or porno or wicked, on what basis do you decide that? And who has the right to decide or to judge? Let’s take a survey—how many people agree, and how many don’t, that joged performances should be outlawed?” He sounds just like a student orator at a demonstration.

Made Ngurah says, “The thing is not to be hypocritical. It doesn’t make sense. Close down Joged Bumbung, but VCDs of Joged Porno go around, prostitution still goes on, and the police take a cut. You see lots of police watching joged. And what about the fact that joged troupes are a favorite entertainment at religious ceremonies like weddings and upacara potong gigi? I say let the audiences decide. If they think joged is bad, they won’t order it anymore.”

After all this, we hear a voice in defense of Nyoman Jati’s idea in favor of prohibiting joged. A woman has come to the warung to buy a packet of instant noodles. “If you ask me, Joged Bumbung and Joged Porno should be stopped. They can ruin a household. My husband is always going to joged to ngibing and pinch the dancers’ bottoms. And do you think this is a good influence on c hildren?”

The men grow quiet. She pays for her noodles and leaves.

Finally a young man named Wayan Sentana, who has been sitting in a corner of the warung listening to the discussion, speaks up. “My joged troupe has performed all over Bali, in all kinds of places and situations—restaurants, hotels, banjars, private ceremonies at people’s houses.” Wayan Sentana, it turns out, is another leader of the Joged Pangkung Paruk troupe. “We’re a professional group, we do this to earn a living. Our troupe has six dancers, fifteen musicians, two dressers, and seven administrators, including me. That makes thirty people who depend on the troupe, not counting our families. We have a cash fund that belongs to the whole troupe that members can borrow from if they have a special need. This joged troupe is our life support.”

Another thoughtful silence.

He goes on, “I don’t want to say anything about forbidding joged performances, or how you can judge whether a joged is too sexy. To me it’s simple: if people don’t like it, they don’t have to watch it. As for the influence on children, don’t let them watch. Joged always takes place late at night anyway, when kids should already be in bed. Nobody complains about what kids watch on TV—rape, murder, all kinds of crime and violence. Is joged really worse than that?”


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