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Postcard image of young Balinese girl dancing the Panyembrahma welcome dance.

 

 While growing up in Singapore, I saw quite a bit of South East Asia, and in particular, Indonesia. Always seeking out an authentic experience off the beaten tourist track, my parents took us to a Gandhian ashram in what is now the sleepy tourist village of Candi Dasa on the south-east coast of Bali. It was run by an inspirational lady, Ibu Gedong Oka, who was full of amazing stories she told in Dutch or English, depending who was still at the table after dinner. Gedong Bagus Oka 's interest in Christianity while rooted in Hindu culture led her to befriend Mahatma Gandhi. After her husband bought a parcel of land adjacent to both a lily covered lagoon and a beach and bought it with all their savings, Ibu Oka built the Gandhi Ashram there in 1976. I remember some of the university professors, politicians and other adventurous people she hosted in thatched seaside cottages with vegetarian meals taken together at a long table on the lawn under palm trees and the milky way. The Gandhi Ashram is still going strong despite Ibu Gedong's passing in 2002.

During our first stay when I was 7, the volunteer girls living and serving in the ashram performed a traditional dance for us. I was mesmerized by the elegance of the sarongs, sashes, and flowers they wore. Subsequently every time we stayed there, some of the girls spent the afternoons teaching my sister and me how to dance part of the Panyembrahma while some of the men practiced playing the gamelan. Balinese dance attire has been a source of inspiration to me ever since.

The beautiful, intricate and gold printed Balinese dance ensembles are complemented with intricately carved leather accessories and headdresses decorated with flowers. Dancers start learning the delicate gestures and beguiling eye movements from a very young age and their art, to the sound of the gamelan orchestra, is an experience not to be missed.

I begged my parents to get me one of the gold floral dance tiaras that ladies were hawking at markets. I still have it. Last month, exploring Bali now as an accessories designer, I decided to seek out craftsmen who make these intricate buffalo leather dance accessories that still inspire me today.

Dancers wear a badong beaded collar, ampok-ampok leather belt with two extensions, arm cuffs and simping leather shoulder piece. The crown is sometimes also made of leather. 

I visited a small roadside workshop in Sukawati, south of Ubud, where the leather was carved from paper patterns with sharp tools, painted in gold and decorated with tiny mirrors and faux jewels. Finally, they are lined with red cotton and fashioned into headdresses.

In preparation for the dance, the headdresses are finished with pillars of white and yellow plumerias accented with pink hibiscus. Stunning.

 

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Bali dance tiara

Buffalo skin dance tiara with mirror work

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Blogger Detail

Blogger Name:     Cassandra Does
Full Name:     Cassandra Postema
Email :     hello@emiandeve.com
Biographical Info:    Cassandra is a Dutch fashion and textile designer/maker and illustrator graduated from Central St Martin's who produces accessories made from recycled landmines in Cambodia. Growing up in various parts of the world and calling South East Asia her home, she travels between Hong Kong, Singapore, Cambodia and Bali finding inspiration for her jewellery designs and sourcing artisanal textiles. She is passionate about sustainable and ethical design for fashion. Follow her on Instagram for real time photo stories.
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