I Was a Captive of the Oriental Dance
By “Awake!” correspondent in Ceylon
ORIENTAL music has much to tell. But dancing tells much that music alone cannot tell. It speaks forth glory to the gods and men held in honor; it tells of the strength, beauty and lissomeness of the human body, yes, the very yearnings of the heart. These are some of the reasons why Oriental dancing captured my attention.
It all began when, at a very young age, I started to attend classes for Western ballet dancing. This was enthralling. Nearly all my time was taken up with cultivating the art of dancing.
Learning and Performing Oriental Dances
One day there was a recital of an Oriental mode of dancing. With its fascinating language of gesture and poise, Oriental dancing captured all my interest. Though my father had been converted by some Methodist missionaries and my mother was an Anglican, I was still a Sinhalese woman, an Eastern girl. And did not the East have a much older culture and heritage than the West?
So, completing my secular education and overcoming much opposition from my family, I set out to specialize in the various forms of dancing in Ceylon and India. At an early age I obtained a diploma for the Kandyan dance in Ceylon. The Kandyan dance is the one for which Ceylon is best known. Kandy is a beautiful city nestled in the hills of Ceylon. It was the last capital of the Sinhalese kings. These kings married princesses from South India. So they had much to do with bringing these dances, along with their Hindu religious influence, to Ceylon.
Then I pursued my studies in India, where I received a diploma for Bharata Natya, being the first Sinhalese and the first “Christian” to do so. The Bharata (meaning “India”) Natya (“dance”) Sasthra (“science”) is said to be the beginning of all dance forms of the East. It is known as the culminating essence of the Four Vedas, the sacred Hindu writings. It is a highly developed and difficult technique, as it embodies all aspects, of the dance art. It is rich in facial expressions, gestures with hands and arms and rhythmic movement. It is used in conjunction with many hymns of praise to Hindu gods.
I was really impressed by the great extent to which the religions of the East had incorporated dancing into their ceremonies. Why cannot we Christians do this too? I wondered. Why not blend into Christianity the things of our own Sinhalese race, heritage and culture? The National Christian Council of Ceylon was taken up with my efforts in this direction, and my close ties with the YMCA were very helpful. With these to help and sponsor me, I went to other lands, giving lectures and recitals.
In 1957 I was invited to share in the Culture Day programs of the United Christian University of Tokyo. I got to visit many places in Japan. Through a friend of my father I was invited to the Imperial Household Music Department, where I met Princess Chikibu and Princess Mikasa, who were fascinated by the repertoire of dances I performed on television.
Dancing, with all the prominence and fame it was bringing me, came to mean everything in life to me. I lived for Oriental dancing. Up until June 1961 life for me was one grand sweet song. I did not have a care in the world, as I was so absorbed in my dancing, dancing school and religious dramas. Because of the religious aspect, I now thought I was giving not only my art but more of my life to the service of God.
Learning Something More Important than Dancing
Then I suddenly became the victim of a tragedy. This left me drifting on black clouds of grief, overwhelmed with disillusionment. I was convinced that God lived, but where could I find him? To whom could I turn for help?
Along came a much trusted friend that I had known from youth. How helpful were her honest thinking and sympathetic understanding! I came to look to her for practical help and counsel but not for spiritual strength and guidance. Why? Because she had just recently left the church. So I preferred to seek such help from the many church ministers I knew so well. But this was to no avail. Still I paid little attention to the Bible verses that my friend so persistently read to me.
One day my friend explained that Jehovah’s Christian witnesses were having an assembly, and she asked me to come. I consented, but I was too prejudiced to learn much from the assembly. Not long afterward my mother got seriously ill. While I was at home caring for her, two boys called at the house, offering me a Watchtower magazine that had an article on “Christendom Has Failed God.” This whetted my appetite, and with my friend’s loving help I began to learn what the Bible really teaches. Each new point I told to the ministers, feeling sure that they would appreciate the Bible truths I was learning. But not so. Instead they issued dire warnings, such as, “Don’t have anything to do with them.”
As my knowledge increased, my eyes were opened to see that it was these accusers and not the Witnesses who were not true Christians. I soon broke free from false religion. But how about my dancing? Well, there was something much more important in life now—preaching the good news of God’s kingdom as man’s only hope. I found that dancing is not condemned in the Bible, but that the many things borrowed from Babylonish religions and dances that praise other gods and men are not proper for true Christians.
While I am no longer a captive of Oriental dancing, I teach a little dancing as a means of income to sustain me while engaging in the Christian ministry. Teaching people the truth from God’s Word can lead to everlasting life in God’s new order. Learning Oriental dancing can never do this. Those whom I have helped to learn God’s truth have become much closer and truer companions than those I taught to dance. Truly I enjoy a satisfaction and freedom unknown before.