Wednesday, October 5

Kasuma Tari ready for bigger stage

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Dance teacher encouraged to see her charges gain invaluable experience from Nusantara regionals

Masniah Bojeng, know fondly by many as ‘Cikgu Mas’.

WHEN Masniah Bojeng established Kasuma Tari back in 2002, her sole intention was to gather fellow ex-schoolmates who were passionate in traditional dancing and keep this art alive.

They would meet up every weekend to practise for a couple of hours and before long, the group began gaining attention from the community.

They started to receive invitations to perform at occasions such as weddings, festivals and opening ceremonies of events in and around Kuching.

Thanks to words of mouth, the invitations later turned into bookings, the proceeds from which enabled the group to acquire more elaborate costumes, accessories and props for their performances.

Their number also grew to include young dancers, including children of the members themselves and those from schools.

“The original members, myself included, were school dancers during our days in SK Encik Buyong. We’re still active, as you can see now.

“However, I still consider us as a small group – I’d say the number of active dancers in Kasuma Tari is about 20,” says Masniah, 55, who currently teaches Bahasa Melayu at her alma mater, one of many primary schools in Kuching that have been around since pre-Malaysia era.

Cikgu Mas teaches her young charges some basic steps during a session at SK Encik Buyong multipurpose hall.

One generation to the next

The teacher, fondly known by many as ‘Cikgu Mas’, has always been a cultural dancer.

“She follows the footsteps of my grandmother, who was also a dancer.

“And I, in turn, follow their footsteps,” Cikgu Mas’ daughter Nur Iliya Shalehah Shafri tells thesundaypost.

The 25-year-old is due to report for duty at the Department of Arts and Culture Sarawak soon but for now, she acts as the spokesperson for Kasuma Tari.

Cikgu Mas and her daughter Nur Iliya in a photo-call on the set of TV1’s afternoon talk show ‘Kuppa Kopi’, where they were the guests in a recent episode.

“I have been active in dancing since I was nine. Even now, I still take freelance jobs.

“Of course I started with Kasuma Tari, but Mom never stopped me from joining other dance groups.

“She always advises me to never miss any opportunity to enhance my skills.

“Now, I’m with Kasuma Tari where apart from being its spokesperson, I also help Mom teach dancing to school-children,” says Nur Iliya.

The schedule for Kasuma Tari is once a week – for the adults, it runs either on Saturday or Sunday, while for the junior dancers, the practice is on any weekday after school, commencing at around 2pm.

“Each session runs between two to three hours.

“However, the session would run longer if we’re getting ready for a competition.

“The weekend practice would run from 10am to 5pm, with a two-hour lunch break in between.

“For the weekday practice, we would do it at night, usually from 7.30pm to 10.30pm,” says Nur Iliya.

On genres, she says Kasuma Tari focuses on creative ethnic performances that combine the cultural elements of many communities in Sarawak.

“Of course, Mom started out with Malay traditional dances like the ‘joget’, ‘zapin’ and ‘inang’, but she also learned the basic steps of other Sarawak ethnic dances.

“Mom is also very flexible. She always receptive to suggestions from other members when it comes to improving our routines,” says Nur Iliya.

Cikgu Mas (left) and her Kasuma Tari team in a group photo, taken after the conclusion of Tingkah Geruh-Akar Kita Zapin 2022 Nusantara at AEON Tebrau City in Johor Bahru.

‘Giving it a go’

Speaking of competition, Kasuma Tari had just competed in the ‘Tingkah Geruh-Akar Kita Zapin 2022 Nusantara’ held at AEON Tebrau City in Johor Bahru.

Run under the ‘Malay World Cultural Paradise’ programme established and led by Malaysian artiste and ‘Nusantara’ (Malay Archipelago) cultural activist Noraniza Idris, the regional-level programme entered its fifth season this year, with eight dance troupes from Malaysia, Singapore, Brunei and Indonesia vying for the championship title.

“To tell you the truth, we did not even know that there was such a competition,” says Cikgu Mas.

“Yes, we entered some local and national-level events, and actually won some of them, but we only knew about the ‘Tingkah Geruh’ after having seen its promotional poster that was shared by our followers on Facebook.

“It’s them who had really pushed us to give it a go.”

The poster was on the Sarawak leg of the competition, which took place at AEON Mall Kuching on June 26.

The dancers pose for the camera prior to performing at Aeon Mall Kuching’s ‘Gawai 2022 Showcase’.

“The other teams came really prepared, so it was a tough battle, but I had confidence in my charges. We won the Sarawak leg, which qualified us for the nationals.

“We were very excited about that, but at the same time, we couldn’t help feeling nervous because the Nusantara finals had been set to take place the very next day after the national finals.

“We had to double up all our efforts – really going all out for that,” says Cikgu Mas.

Her charges were up against 10 other troupes at the national finals in AEON Tebrau City last weekend, where they finished among the Top 5 teams and earned a spot in the regional-level battle.

“We knew the Nusantara battle was going to be a different ball game altogether, but one important thing that my charges and I took from this experience was the high level of dedication and commitment shown by every finalist.

“Every step was thoughtfully planned; not a finger out of sync. We’re inspired by that, and we learned so much.

“We brought home the consolation prize, but more than that, we also gained an invaluable experience,” says Cikgu Mas.

Akar Seni Malaysia emerged the Tingkah Geruh 2022 Nusantara champion, having outperformed their closest rivals Osam Art Academy of Indonesia and Sang Peningkah, also from Malaysia.

Looking ahead

Kasuma Tari girls performing the ‘Chinese Lantern Dance’ live on ‘STEADEY!’ – a variety show on TV Okey.

The Johor Bahru outing has really encouraged Kasuma Tari to up their level of skills, having witnessed a galore of high-calibre talents displayed by their Nusantara counterparts.

“Of course, the competition definitely enhances our resume,” quips Nur Iliya.

Looking ahead, she highlights her mother’s intention of upgrading Kasuma Tari into an enterprise.

“We would still be running our core activities – training our dance troupe for show bookings and conducting dance lessons for schools and organisations.

“However, the business plan part includes improving our inventory of traditional costumes, accessories, as well as gears and props for performing.”

Nur Iliya also says Kasuma Tari would have not reached its present standing without the solid support from many quarters, governmental and non-governmental, over the years.

“So Mom and I wish to take this opportunity to convey our gratitude to our Tupong assemblyman Fazzrudin Abdul Rahman, Sarawak Malay Culture Foundation Charitable Trusts (AKYBMS) general manager Datu Dr Sanib Said and local businessman Affendi Jeman, who have always supported Kasuma Tari.”

Nur Iliya accepting financial contribution for Kasuma Tari from local businessman, Affendi Jeman.

Adding on to her daughter’s remarks, Cikgu Mas says she would want to establish Kasuma Tari as a business after reaching retirement.

“The plan is ready, and it’s not that far off also – about five more years to go,” she laughs.

In all seriousness, Cikgu Mas says Kasuma Tari would continue to nurture young talents and groom them to become the next generation of Sarawak cultural dancers.

“Remember my objective of setting up Kasuma Tari?

“I would very much like it if there’d be a future ‘Cikgu Mas’ and her friends who came together and establish their own ‘Kasuma Tari’.

“This is our heritage, and it is our duty to uphold and preserve it,” she points out.

Occasionally, Kasuma Tari also does contemporary dance routines.