In this issue of The Wesleyan Connection, we ask “5 Questions” of Urip Maeny, artist in residence in dance. She she has taught at Wesleyan since 1972, and will retire this year.
Q: Please tell us when and how you first began studying Javanese dance.
A: I began studying Javanese dance informally when I was still in elementary school in my hometown of Pekalongan in Central Java, Indonesia in the early 1960s. In 1961, I studied at the gamelan conservatory (high school level) in Surakarta. The school allowed me to focus my study on dance—especially Javanese dance, but also Balinese and Sudanese dance. After graduating, I taught dance at the conservatory for a couple of years. As both a student and faculty member at the conservatory, I danced in many cities in Java and Bali. Once, I performed the most sacred Javanese dance in the court of Surakarta.
Then, in 1968, I moved to Jakarta, and worked at the Cultural Office there. My assignment included teaching at the Presidential Palace, especially to the children of the President. I was also a member of a performing arts group, which performed abroad in Hong Kong, Australia and the Middle East.
Q: How did you end up coming to the U.S., and teaching at Wesleyan?
A: In 1971, I joined my husband, Sumarsam, who at that time was working and teaching gamelan at the Indonesian Embassy in Canberra, Australia. In 1972, Wesleyan invited Sumarsam to teach gamelan, so we both departed Australia for Wesleyan. Soon after arriving at Wesleyan, the Wesleyan Music Department assigned me to assist my husband, teaching Javanese dance. I taught Javanese dance as part of the World Music Program until I was transferred to the Dance Department in the mid-1980s. I continue to teach a course in Javanese dance, and closely collaborate with the gamelan group in the Music Department. I direct Javanese dance and dance drama on and off campus, including a Javanese dance drama and gamelan performance at Lincoln Center in New York. While in residence at Wesleyan, I have performed in many cities in the U.S. and abroad. I have also briefly taught Javanese dance at Cornell and at Smith College.
Q: What has kept you at Wesleyan for 40 years?
A: Teaching Javanese dance to American students is a challenge, especially when you teach it by yourself. Javanese dance requires highly controlled movements of different parts of your body to be synchronized with musical rhythms. (See more photos of Maeny ‘s class online here. Watch a video of Maeny teaching Javanese Dance at Wesleyan online here.)