Enlightening students with Balinese dance; lead instructor offers a broader perspective on movement

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Lead dance instructor Bonnie Simoa demonstrates dance movements at the Balinese Dance class on Nov. 17 in Building 5.
Photos by: Arunima Bhattacharjee

Arunima Bhattacharjee

Balinese dance, with its complex footwork and finger movements, expressive gestures and facial expressions, is offered at Lane Community College by lead dance instructor Bonnie Simoa.

“The Balinese dance is rare and almost extinct and you learn it by mimicry and repetition,” Simoa said.

Simoa visited Bali in 1996 and met the last surviving Balinese dance teacher, 87 year old Sang Ayu Ketut Muklen. Since that first meeting she has returned to Bali many times to learn more about the dance and Indonesian culture.

“In Balinese dance I am dancing a character and there is a certain kind of energy that flows through me and a certain way I connect with space and I lose my identity. My personality recedes and the character comes forward,” Simoa said. “It’s so complicated that my mind is focused on what I am doing.”

In 2010 Simoa took a sabbatical from LCC to study the Balinese dance for four months. “I feel with anything, the more you understand something, the more you appreciate it,” Simoa said.

Since 1999 she has been teaching choreography, modern dance, rehearsal and performance, ballet and dance improvisation at LCC. For the last four years she has also been teaching Balinese dance.

Last summer, students from Simoa’s Balinese dance class were invited by the Indonesian government to perform in the Bali Arts Festival. She and six students took intensive dance lessons during their four week visit from four Balinese dance teachers: Ibu Arini, Pak Djimat, Ibu Sekar and Sang Ayu Ketut Muklen.

“Learning from these dance masters was (an) incredible blessing,” Erin Elder, a 2014 UO graduate said. “They have been practicing their entire lives, and the movements are completely integrated into their being.” They also performed live with a gamelan orchestra.

Elder first saw a Balinese dance performance during LCC’s open show in spring 2011 when Simoa’s dance class was performing a sacred offering dance called Rejang Dewa.

“I instantly fell in love with the music, movements and gestures of the dance and decided to enroll in the Balinese dance class for the following fall term,” Elder said. She added that she was completely mesmerized by it and continued to take the class every term for three years.

“Throughout my time in the dance studio, while learning from Bonnie I have become a stronger dancer and a stronger woman.” Elder said.

Since 2002, Simoa has been the director of the Lane Dance Company, which hires Lane students to perform at the Collaborations Dance concert. The concert is held every year at LCC in February.

Next March, Simoa and 15 students from her rehearsal and performance class will be going to the American college dance festival in Greeley, Colorado.

“Bonnie gave me a lot of opportunity to perform and create my own dance,” second year dance major Elana Sutton said. “She gives you a chance to express your dance through your own movements.”

Sutton met Simoa for the first time while auditioning for the Lane Dance Company during the fall of 2013. Sutton performed a dance piece called “Rain Dog” last February for the Collaboration dance concert, choreographed by Simoa. Since then, Sutton has been taking Simoa’s modern dance classes every term.

“Bonnie is extremely organized and patient. It is very rare to see someone be both artistic and creative and also very business oriented,” LCC music, art and theatre department technical coordinator James McConkey said.

In the Balinese Dance class, Lead dance instructor Bonnie Simoa teaches LCC student Jessica Ealy on intricate hand movements.

In the Balinese Dance class, Lead dance instructor Bonnie Simoa teaches LCC student Jessica Ealy on intricate hand movements.