Running the only traditional Indonesian dance troupe in the city of Philadelphia definitely has its own perks especially when the pope is coming to town. After 4 years running an Indonesian traditional dance troupe, performing many years for the community, teaching at a local charter school and building a troupe of 3 to now group of 20 members, I was looking for the next big bang.
The name modero itself is not a common word among the Indonesians living in South Philadelphia. Many times the name was mistaken with “modern” or even “moderno”. Modero is a verb that was rooted from the noun dero which is a name of a social dance in central Sulawesi of the Pamona tribe where my family was from. Dero circle typically formed at weddings or other celebrations. It is danced to strengthen the relationships amongst the newly formed family, new or old friendship and to boost camaraderie.
When the city of Philadelphia announced that we are going to host Pope Francis and the World Meeting of Families (WMOF) in September 2015 the whole city was ecstatic. I did my research on whether we can volunteer and perform. Online application to perform and Modero’s YouTube channel were submitted in July. The news of whether our application and video made it to the organizer was never received until the end of August when the official invitation email popped in my inbox and acceptance letter must be submitted 3 days later.
So the scrambling began with signing the letter, scanning and emailing back to ESM Production, the organizer of the WMOF, contacting members of the group on who will be interested to participate with a note that everyone participating must go through a credential process. By the end of the week 20 names were listed on the roster and online credential and background application were submitted individually.
While we waited for the screening process, our troupe practiced 3 dances once a week. We decided to perform a medley of dances from Bali, West Java and Jakarta (Betawi). The dance Bapang Selisir and Bajidor Kahot will be performed by our women’s troupe while Renggong Manis will be performed by our male and children dancers.
It was finally a week prior to the world performance. Everybody was excited and anxious and yet no news whether all of our dancers pass the screening process. About 3 days before the big day, we were told that no news meant good news and instructions on credentials pick-up, shuttle information and schedule of the festival were sent.
In the morning of the performance on September 26, 2015 at 7AM the Modero troupe gathered at the Navy Yard in South Philadelphia to be shuttled to Logan Square. Major highways and bridges were shut down for the day to anticipate the international crowd visiting the city of brotherly love. Our shuttle dropped us off at the Art Museum area and we had to pick-up our credential passes and go through the security check-point. Philadelphia was never as secured with the military, SWAT and Philadelphia Police Department personnel in every corner of every street. We went through the security check-point almost losing our 2 flags, our Balinese headdresses and hairspray but luckily the head of the security of our check-points understands how important these items for our performance especially the hairspray. Ha!
We arrived bright and early at Logan Square stage next to the Cathedral Basilica of SS. Peter and Paul where the pope will be for the morning mass. The anticipation and excitement of Modero dancers and the early risers surrounding the Cathedral Basilica was building as the holiness arrived at the Philadelphia International Airport. When Pope Francis actually standing in front of us, the crowd went wild and our dancers proudly wearing our traditional Indonesian costumes and waving our flag to the pope. After a few minutes cheering for the pope and after he went inside for the morning mass it was time for us to finish getting dress for the performance. Around 2 PM, our troupe was ready to perform at the Logan Square Stage, we bowed our heads, held hands and said our prayers according to each of our beliefs. Right before our international performance we were interviewed by several local and international media. Our dancers and crew also had our red carpet moment when the crowd requested us to pose for pictures and to take their picture with the dancers. Then it was time to rock the stage. After weeks of preparation that was our moment to shine. We performed Bapang Selisir from the island of Bali as an opening then we continued with a greeting from Modero Dance Company while one of our dancers, Syarif performed a mime act and our crew Hani and Suzan displayed and waved our beautiful red and white flag. Our message to Pope Francis and the world was as follow:
“Greetings from Indonesia. Our beautiful country that is filled with diverse customs and traditions. Unity in diversity is what we believe in and today we are sharing the love of our culture with all of you. Because love is patient, love is kind and today is about love, amor and togetherness. Today is about how our differences should bring us together because in the eye of the beholder we are one. Today is about the celebration of people, family and humanity. Today we are the world. Selamat datang, sugeng rawuh, horas, wilujeung sumping, tabea pomberata, welcome!
We closed the performance with Bajidor Kahot, a new creation dance which combines Jaipong and Balinese movement and Renggong Manis from Jakarta. Modero did a great job entertaining the 700,000 people from all over the world and received the kudos as we were leaving the premises that day. For us that was our big Kodak moment and what an honor to represent our country doing what we love with our dance family. For many this was just another performance but for Modero this was our once in a lifetime opportunity and we were grateful to be a part of it. September 26, 2015 we were a part of history.
Thank you to our dancers and crew: Cheryl Chow, Ellyana Chow, Nikedila De Wanda, Yenny Evans, Grace Hite, Merlin Lamson, Brianna Lamson, Yauw Lok Ie, Suzana Lucas, Steven Lucas, Nicholas Lucas, Natalie Lucas, Owen Mendez, Allison Noviana, Diah Rahayu, Vincentia Rosdiana, Marcela Siahaan, Kintan Silvany, Jamie Storms, Syarif Tambayokso, Hani White and Sri Wulan.
Written by Sinta Penyami Hite, founder of Modero Dance Company.