Cok Ratih | Dancer and entrepreneur
“You can’t separate art from life”
A member of the Balinese royal family, Cok Ratih opened the doors of her home to us, to show us the complex cultural and spiritual worlds of this paradise on Earth.
Text: Marta San Vicente | Photos: Juan Rayos | Video: Juan Rayos
Why did you become a dancer?
I inherited the tradition through my family. I began dancing when I was six years old. I was taught by my grandfather, the last king of the royal house of Peliatan. Dance is part of my body because it is a language of movement. It also helps me keep my body healthy. I still dance in public, in shows and at ceremonies in temples. I also teach dance to young girls, including my daughter, the fourth generation of dancers in my family.
Which is the aspect of Balinese dance that you most try to convey to your students?
The basis of Balinese dance is Legong, a story from the Hindu Mahabharata. It is very rich in movement and so it is the one girls start with when they want to learn to dance. Once they have mastered these movements, they can dance anything. Some Balinese dances are designed to be watched up close, because they include a lot of different facial expressions. The intention is to hypnotise the audience and make them feel what you are feeling, to share the personality of the dance with them. It isn’t possible to teach girls this directly. Learning comes with age, maturing alongside the body, until you truly understand dance. When it becomes part of you, you become a dancer.
How important is art for dancers?
Art can be a profession, but it is also part of the ceremonial life of dancers. Dance, music and offerings go hand in hand; we have never separated them. If tourists had never come to Bali, we would still continue dancing and building our temples as best we could. Art is part of our daily lives and they can’t be separated from it.
Further to dancing, you have created a traditional cosmetics brand and act as a guide on spiritual retreats. Why do you think so many people choose Bali for this?
Most of them come because they feel that Bali still invites them to pray. For me, Bali is a very profound place. I enjoy travelling throughout the world, but when I come home, I like the feeling of being on my island again. Foreign people perceive our religion and daily life as being different to that of other countries, because of our spontaneity. We don’t change them for visitors.
Which is the most important temple to visit?
Everyone should go to Besakih to pray. They say that all Balinese people, when we die, tour souls first travel to the Besakih temple. That is why it is so important.
Where would you recommend people in love to go?
Everywhere has something special for people in love. If you want to stay at the beach, there are lots of hotels where you can sleep in a romantic villa. You could also go to Ubud and to the rice paddies, or sleep in the valleys. They are very quiet and there are houses for couples who want to hide from the world. There are a lot of places!
Are there any options for people who love adventure sports, beyond enjoying the spectacular beaches?
There are lots of sports you can do in Bali, including scuba diving, rafting, horse riding and mountain climbing. For instance, if you climb Mount Batur to watch the sunrise, you can bathe in the natural springs and then go to the rice paddies for a bike ride. Western people also come here to go surfing, although the Balinese only watch. Our ancestors didn’t know how to swim. Not even I know how to swim! Today, however, there are a lot of swimming pools and children are learning. This is why surfing is a new activity for us, and a very exciting one. There are huge waves in Bali, particularly in the south and to the west.
How would you define the identity of the Balinese people and their land?
When visitors come to Bali, everyone is welcome and everybody smiles. Our home is always open, although we also ask them to respect our culture. We always say that you have to give and receive, since that is the only way to be equal. This is why I think people come to Bali, because of our kindness.