Ika originates from a humble family of farmers in East Java where she was raised to simply follow her parents’ footsteps in the rice fields.
Attending school was not much part of the plan. At the early age of 12, she chose to move to the city “as a maid, merely to avoid ending up married to someone,” she recalls today in her shop, located in the wealthy district of Kerobokan, Badung, Bali.
Among the many costumes believed to be straight out of a palace of “One Thousand and One Nights,” this well-known figure of Bali nightlife explains that she performs every weekend in prestigious venues. Ika also designs and creates the flowing and sexy attire on sale at her boutique or via her mail-order catalogue. She has also set up the adjoining belly dance studio, where she welcomes dozens of students every week to her classes.
She started her belly dancing studio ten years ago when nobody cared much about it in Indonesia. Often copied, Ika still stands strong and unique in Bali, whilst her competitors have failed to survive the trials of professional business. She regularly joins festivals around the world and keeps herself up to date with the ever-changing world of belly dancing by attending classes of famous international teachers.
She prides herself in saying, “I teach but I also keep on learning with the best in the world.” Belly dancing has become fashionable worldwide, a move has been made towards what is called “tribal or fusion” and Ika doesn’t want to be left behind in terms of choreography as well as her outfits, constantly evolving its designs.
Prices for her costumes range from Rp1.5 million up to Rp3 million, making the Arabian princess appear affordable to the many new Indonesian followers of this belly dancing trend, that has recently been triggered by the Arabisation of the mores in Indonesia. True, the costume business has now become the most financially successful branch of her activities. She exports a lot to South Korea, she says, where her brand is well known.
It’s difficult to imagine that before 2005 she had never tried a single dance step.
Sometimes, destiny enters someone’s life and things happen unexpectedly. Before that, she had been sent to Bali as a babysitter in the home of an Italian-Indonesian couple. The young Ika was still all dressed up as a modest Muslimah, far from knowing that she would soon leave that all behind.
By complete accident, she had the opportunity to replace somebody at the famous but now closed Dance Company, where she definitely caught the bug for dancing and performing. Since then, she has made a big decision on the road to success by selecting what suited her most: the Arabian belly dance. “Contrary to many other dances, you can start belly dancing when you’re a bit older,” says this alluring woman with smoky eyes.
Often invited on TV shows to discuss this belly dance craze that’s sweeping Indonesian society, Ika also travels on a regular basis to festivals in Malaysia, Vietnam, Singapore, Thailand, China, and Hong Kong. She plans to set up a major festival in Bali soon, to put Indonesia – the biggest Muslim population country in the world – on the belly dancing world map.
“I would love to organise a festival in Bali every two years, which would encompass everything about tribal, fusion, and oriental belly dance with friends who already know how to set up such events,” she reveals. One thing amazes her though; no Arab has ever joined these international events. “Maybe they are too traditional and don’t want to accept the fusion spirit that has embraced the worldwide belly dance community,” she posits.
According to Ika, the best international teachers are now Ukrainians, Argentineans, and Russians – no longer the Egyptians. “Egypt is only good for theory now. Belly dancing has since opened to modernisation through a choice of combinations with many new styles,” explains the Indonesian queen of this popular art form from the Middle East.
Her students are mostly Indonesian women. Foreign women only join during their stay on the Island of the Gods. The age of participants ranges from 20 to 60 years old. She also welcomes a few enthusiastic gay men. But most of the attendees are women wearing the typical modest clothing Muslim women don every day. She decrypts that their motivation to join her classes is derived from a wish to get more confident with their bodies, and even wanting to please their husbands.
Ika also says that everybody can be a good belly dancer at any age, with any kind of bodily figure – it is accessible to all. And contrary to the old cliché, you don’t need to have a fat stomach to be good. Actually, belly dancing follows the current trend of having fit bodies. Guess what? It will quickly help you get one too!
“Belly dancing moves will actually help you burn fat around your waist. Now, all women want to be fit and slim, don’t they? Belly dancing is the solution,” continues the dance teacher with great confidence. All socially negative aspects that have been previously associated with belly dancing have now vanished into thin air. “Nothing is more fashionable, nothing is artsier,” she says.
Now highly paid, especially when performing abroad, Ika only dances in Bali on the weekends because her schedule has become very tight. On Friday or Saturday nights, you’ll have a chance to see her perform in places like Slippery Stones, Kumala Pantai Restaurant, Pantarei, Bali Mandira, and Shisha Café.
Otherwise, you can still attend her classes. It will cost you Rp150,000 for 1 hour 30 minutes or Rp700,000 for eight lessons in a month. You can also have this female maestro all to yourself in a private lesson at her studio. She also performs at live events such as weddings, birthdays, and anniversaries. Ladies, why keep waiting to join the international family of belly dancers?