Dance School Dreams On In Jakarta

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In 1956, Nanny Lubis started up a small exercise class in Menteng, Central Jakarta. At the time, her class was a novelty, and the first of its kind in Indonesia. But her first five students were prominent, all the wives of the country’s high-ranking officials, including Fatmawati, the wife of then President Sukarno.

Nanny called the class “Namarina” which can be translated as “dedication to one’s mother” in the Batak language.

Decades later, the small exercise class has grown in to a full-fledged dance school, and Nanny’s daughter faithfully continues Indonesia’s workout and ballet tradition.

“Today’s ballet students are the children and grandchildren of those ladies who took her body workout class,” said Maya Tamara, who is now Namarina’s principal and artistic director.

“Namarina began to develop because at that time it was the only place in Jakarta for these kinds of activities. It was the first place in Indonesia to offer ballet classes.”

Nanny was born in 1926 in North Sumatra, and at the age of 30, she began to teach ballet, which learned in her 20s from Dutch people who lived in Indonesia.

Nanny was not content with simply mastering a skill, Maya said.

“She spent many summers in the Netherlands, Germany and the US trying to improve her skills,” Maya said. “My mother wanted to share her passions with other and was born with a keen ability to teach others.”

Nanny died in 1993 but Namarina lives on and continues to grow.

Today, Namarina offers classes in six areas of Jakarta and has over 2,000 students in its ballet, jazz and fitness classes. The company is celebrating its 55th anniversary by presenting a dance workshop, “On the Move,” and a dance musical, “Dream On.”

Despite Namarina’s success, Maya said she feels the company is not yet ready to expand to other large cities in Indonesia.

“There have been requests [to open dance classes] in cities such as Medan and Balikpapan, but I just don’t feel that we are ready for that,” said Maya, who graduated from the Royal Academy of Dance in London.

“If we were business-minded, we might have done it long ago. But this is not a food franchise where you can just find some recipe and get your business going. We are dealing with children. They are our clients. If our human resources are not well-prepared I’d rather not do it.”

Namarina’s success, Maya said, rests on three principles her mother always emphasized and applied in her lifetime.

“They are hard work, discipline and honesty,” the 51-year-old said. “You have to be consistent and do it with all your heart. We are still applying those three things my mother always taught us here at Namarina.

“Maintaining something for 55 years is not an easy job, although we certainly benefited from good luck.”

Patience and passion, Maya said, are also critical to becoming a good dancer.

“Children must start learning ballet early, around age 5, and go through at least 10 years of training until they can really show they are good. Everything requires a process. You can’t expect everything to be instant,” Maya said. “If they don’t have the passion, they won’t be patient enough to learn.”

The learning process, according to Maya, allows students at Namarina to eventually gain greater self-confidence.

“We also teach etiquette here,” she said. “In the end, we want our students to master the skills and be confident in themselves, but also be well-rounded. This is something we have passed down to the students from the time when my mother was still a teacher here. Everything should have balance.”

Since its establishment, Namarina has held hundreds of stage productions, including musical theatrical performances and ballet presentations.

Productions the dance and fitness institution has organized include “The Nutcracker,” “Swan Lake,” and some of Indonesia’s famous folktales, including “Bawang Merah, Bawang Putih” (“Red Onion, White Onion”) and “The Myth of Jaka Tarub.”

These events help boost students’ confidence, Maya said.

“We hold events periodically every few months as to get students of all levels used to performing in front of an audience,” she said.

While many believe ballet is an expensive pursuit only for the children of the elite, Maya said that it a relatively accessible activity.

“Compared to, say, the language and math courses I sent my kids to, ballet courses are not expensive. Music courses tend to be much more expensive because you likely have to buy a musical instrument,” the mother of two said.

Today, there are more than 50 institutions that run ballet classes in Jakarta alone, Maya said, indicating public interest is high. The number, she said, increases every year.

“Ballet can expand even further if we get support from the local government. [Former Jakarta governor] Ali Sadikin was particularly supportive of the development of arts in Jakarta. It was during his administration [1966-1977] that a number of arts centers, including the Taman Ismail Marzuki and Ancol, were built,” she said.

Unfortunately, not all the city’s leaders are as enthusiastic, Maya said.

“The support is not consistent,” she said. “It all depends on who leads the city.”

Despite Namarina’s endless efforts and contributions to the development of ballet in the country, Maya said she still hasn’t realized her biggest dream.

“I am still keen on introducing ballet to an even greater audience and at the same time maintaining and incorporating Indonesia’s cultural values into it,” she said. “This will keep my mother’s dream alive.”


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