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Bringing Bali to Meadows

Bali Arts Day to feature drums, dance, stories and photos from the tropical ancient island, Nov. 12

Student Lade Obamehinti captured life in the village of Ubud in a non-invasive way.

SMU in Bali 2014 enrollment is now open. Spaces are filling quickly. Study abroad travel grants are also available. Email ; for more details.

Music grad student Kevin Cho (M.M. Performance/Percussion, ’14) plays traditional gamelan music during the SMU-in-Bali program last summer.

Dance and music in America were nothing like this.

When Jamal Mohamed visited Bali for the first time in 2002, he went to a temple in Gianyar to see a traditional dance performance. The dancers were there, replete in elaborate costumes and masks, but the audience was nowhere to be seen.

“It blew my mind,” says Mohamed, professor and director of the Meadows World Music Ensemble. “Here they were doing this spectacular dance, I was the only one there, and it didn’t seem to bother them at all that no one else was watching. I’ve since learned that the Balinese approach the arts in a completely different way than we do here in the United States.”

Mohamed, a percussion master who travels to Bali each summer for the SMU-in-Bali program, says the Balinese don’t consider dance, music and the arts as something presented to an audience; such things are presented for the Balinese Hindu gods.

“It’s an offering,” explains Mohamed. “They absolutely do not care if there are zero people or one thousand people watching – they do exactly the same thing.”

Students wore traditional dress while hand drumming in Bali. Photo courtesy of Susan Kress, SMU Engaged Learning.

Mohamed and students are bringing some of what they learned during last summer’s SMU-in-Bali program to Meadows on November 12, when they present “Bali Arts Day” in the Taubman Atrium from 5 to 7 p.m.  The event, part of SMU student Tyrone Davis’s Engaged Learning project, will feature hand drumming, dance, stories of Bali life and a display of photographs taken by students while in the Bali village of Ubud.

Student Lade Obamehinti ( Mechanical Engineering and B.S. in Math with a minor in Art, ’15) says photography professor Robert Gill noticed that she liked to take photos from a cat's perspective -- non-confrontational and far away from the subject. “It was interesting to see how my conscious attempt to not disrespect a foreign culture and the people it belonged to was able to manifest itself in an art form, subconsciously,” says Obamehinti.

After three weeks of intensive culture lessons, excursions to numerous temples, many traditional dance performances and early morning photography class field trips to high schools and fishing villages, she says she understands better why people come to this small tropical island in the Indian Ocean.

“Bali brings people out of their comfort zones to try something new and downright cool,” she says. “The culture is so unbelievably welcoming that it creates an atmosphere of boldness. It exists as a paradise, but is more of an environment to experience and try the things one couldn’t or wouldn’t do regularly, things one can’t find anywhere but there.”

Grad student Kevin Cho (M.M. Performance/Percussion, ’14) appreciates the way the Balinese have stayed true to their cultural heritage and traditions, especially in the face of Western influence. He admires their sense of commitment to family and community, and says those qualities are evident in Balinese music.

“In Bali it is a very different atmosphere in the way people interact and go about their daily lives,” says Cho, who studied gamelan and Balinese folk music while in Ubud. “Music was an everyday part of their lives. Being able to see how much it contributed to their idea of community was very eye-opening; it’s not only about technical facility, but more about building connections and evoking different emotions from people.”

Like many who visit the island, both Cho and Obamehinti want to return to Bali some day. Until then, they can relive their Balinese experiences at “Bali Arts Day” on November 12.

Read more about Lade Obamehinti’s adventures in Bali in her blog.

Read more about SMU-in-Bali.

See a Balinese news story, plus raw video footage, of the 2013 SMU-in-Bali program.

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