Preserving culture through dance

EUGENE, Ore. -- Even when her tightly wrapped costume limits her range of motion, Bonnie Simoa commands attention.

Seventeen years ago, Simoa, formally trained in contemporary, modern and ballet, was teaching part time at UC Davis and directing the Bonnie Simoa Dance Company at the Davis Art Center. Although she maintained her company for six years, she felt unfulfilled by the ego-focused nature of the Western dance world.

"I decided I needed to do something very different and experience a different place and travel," Simoa says. "And somehow in that decision making process, Bali came into my mind."

Simoa disbanded her company in 1996 and began studying traditional Balinese dance under the revered teacher Sang Ayu Ketut Muklin, 86, and learned basic Indonesian to communicate during her lessons.

After studying dance in Bali for 14 years, Simoa wanted to deeply understand it as thoroughly as possible before she began teaching. Bonnie is now the lead dance faculty at Lane Community College and teaches Balinese dance in addition to other dance forms.

Because of the complicated nature of Balinese dance, she teaches her students the foundations of the movement so that they are able to recognize the choreography without becoming overwhelmed. She teaches her students the Legong Keraton Playon, a particularly rare form of traditional Balinese dance.

As with all art forms deeply rooted in tradition, preservation is key through practice and performance. Simoa learned many styles of Balinese dance that are rare in the Balinese culture and even more rare in the Western world. With ancient forms of dance such as the regional Legong Keraton Playon, there is a danger that they will fade away with time. By teaching Balinese dance, Simoa hopes to contribute to the preservation of the art form.

Bonnie Simoa has observed that often it's outsiders who recognize that an art form may be disappearing, and they help to revive it.

"It's kind of out of my hands," she says. "So I can just keep doing it and teaching it."

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