Five students of Philosophy and Anthropology, namely Moch Zihad Islami, Bety Oktaviani, Doni Andika Pradana, Danu Saifulloh Rahmadani, Wahida Okta Khoirunnisa, teamed up to investigate philosophical values in Indonesian cross-gender dance lengger lanang. The team was among the selected UGM teams that participated in the Student Creativity Program (PKM).
Team member Zihad explained that the research was driven by the negative perception of the traditional dance in today’s society. Lengger lanang is a folk dance originating from Banyumas, Central Java, that is performed by male dancers dressed as women. It is originally the community’s way of expressing gratitude for the harvest, a tradition that has existed and developed for a long time in the said regency. Unfortunately, lengger is now on the verge of extinction due to society’s increased stigma against the LGBT+ community.
According to a survey conducted by Tirto (Tirto.id) in 2019, of all 1,005 Indonesian respondents, only 17.11% thought that the lengger dance deserved preservation. Another 11.54% opined that it should be abolished, 57.21% opted for preserving it with adjustments, 12.84% did not care, and 1.29% thought else.
“The negative perception of lengger lanang as a cross-gender culture has resulted in gender biases in the arts. All forms of art comprise symbols that aesthetically express the philosophical values existing in certain societies. On that premise, we aspire to examine these values in lengger lanang,” said Zihad, Wednesday (18/8).
He added the team studied the Javanese dance from the perspective of Philosophy and Anthropology, allowing them to probe values and dig up the dynamics of the lengger dancers and institutions in sustaining their existence in the midst of changing Indonesian society.
“The lengger dancers sometimes face discrimination because they are deemed to violate the nature of men by dressing up as women,” said Zihad.
The research found the lengger community had made several adaptations to draw near to modernity, such as performing with an electronic keyboard and boosting their social media engagement. Values embodied in the dance included the value of equality and balance, openness and flexibility, divinity, and togetherness, which were all examined based on the cross-gender concept and the costumes, accompaniment songs, and moves of the lengger dance. Interviews also revealed that some families did not fancy their relatives engaging in the activity, leading to fewer and fewer active dancers remaining today.
“According to the representatives of the Banyumas Tourism and Culture Office, Indonesia now only has 12 lengger lanang dancers,” said Bety.
Under the supervision of Philosophy lecturer Rachmat Hidayat, the team also linked their findings to gender inequality in Indonesia. For example, the value of balance can be relevant to how humans should understand the balance of the body of both men and women, which consists of masculinity and femininity. Breaking down gender barriers that often harm one party in daily activities becomes crucial to achieve balance.
Referring to the Global Gender Gap Index 2020 released by the World Economic Forum, Indonesia still struggles with this issue. It is ranked 85th out of 153 countries, far behind other Southeast Asian countries, such as the Philippines at 16th, Laos at 43rd, and Singapore at 54th.
“Hopefully, through this research, the Indonesian people can start appreciating and internalizing these values, especially in the context of gender inequality. Besides, we hope the government starts supporting and making strategic policies to help preserve the lengger lanang dance,” said Danu.
Author: Agung Nugroho