Sat, 25 Jan 2003

`Tayub' dance moves with the times

Singgir Kartana, Contributor, Gunungkidul, Yogyakarta

Exoticism, sex and the hint of prostitution are three things which make the traditional tayub dance popular, but at the same time have tainted it with a negative image.

Residents living in rural areas in the provinces of Yogyakarta and Central Java believe tayub dancers, all female, bring them good luck.

Dancers of Lebdo Rini, one of the few tayub dance groups here, were once surprised when a group of mothers turned up at a concert in Dlingo, Bantul regency to ask the dancers to kiss their babies. They believed the kiss had the power to bestow good health and ensure the children were good people when they grew up.

A unique experience also happened when the group was performing in a village in Wonosobo regency, Central Java. A group of farmers carrying ropes they usually used to tie up their animals, entered the concert venue to ask the dancers to give them face powder, which the dancers applied to their faces.

"They then rubbed the powder into the rope, believing it would free their animals from diseases and give them plenty of offspring," Lebdo Rini's head Tarwanto said at the group's base in Kweni, Karangsari village, Gunungkidul regency.

Superstition benefits the group and helps ensure the survival of the dance, which is regularly performed at traditional rituals.

"In the past months we have hardly had any rest because we received numerous orders to perform in many different villages during traditional rituals," Tarwanto said.

Cultural expert Suryanto Sastroatmojo said the mix of magical and artistic elements in tayub dance had been there since it first appeared in around the 9th or 10th century during the time of the Mataram Kingdom under the rule of the Sanjaya dynasty. He said that tayub was first performed by priests in temples to worship gods and goddesses.

As a ritual, tayub is always accompanied by drinking and ngibing (dancing) activities where the male spectators join the dancers and place money inside the tayub dancers' bras.

This particular part of the performance has created a negative image of the dance, past performances of which were often banned by authorities who saw the dancers as prostitutes.

Some books and novels like trilogy Ronggeng Dukuh Paruk (Dukuh Paruk Dancer) describes how a tayub dancer is very close to the world of prostitution. Srintil, the trilogy's main character, for instance, sells her virginity to the highest bidder during the buka kelambu (raise the curtain) ritual before she becomes a dancer. The classic manuscript Serat Centini also describes similar things about the tayub dance.

Suryanto said there was a big difference between the past and present dance. In the past, spectators got drunk while dancing because of its magical influence.

"It explains why in the past, the dancing spectators were not allowed to touch the dancers. But today, the spectators tend to be sexually motivated," he said.

As a show, the dance has developed into a more entertaining performance than ritually fulfilling its pakem, or original guidelines.

Lebdo Rini, for instance, blends its music with modern and popular ones, like campursari, a mixture of traditional and modern music, and dangdut (a popular local music with strong Arab/Indian influences), to satisfy its customers.

In the show, the presence of modern musical instruments like guitars, keyboards, drums and even saxophones are no longer considered strange.

The dancers are not only required to master the traditional tayub dances and songs of Gambyong, Pangkur, Ayun-Ayun, Jongkerem and Cangklek but also have to master modern dances and songs.

"We also try hard to keep a clean show by not allowing drunk spectators to join the dancing in the arena. We also require them to place money for the dancers on a prepared box instead of placing it inside the dancers' bras," Tarwanto said.

Lebdo Rini, which was set up in 1994, now has eight dancers and 17 musicians. For a single performance of two to three hours, the group charges Rp 1 million to Rp 2 million.

Besides performing all across Yogyakarta, it receives many invitations to perform outside the province, going as far as the Central Java towns of Gombong, Surakarta and Wonosobo, and the East Java town of Pacitan.

In 1998 it represented Yogyakarta during a tayub dance performance in Taman Mini Indonesia in East Jakarta and took part in the making of renowned local film Ponirah Terpidana (Ponirah the Accused).