I float in the infinity pool perched over a steep gully; a pair of hands support my head and back, dappled sunlight spills across my face. This is the Watsu aquatic healing session on day one of the Bali Spirit Festival, and already my spirit is soaring.
Each evening we were treated to highly visual, cutting edge performances. Love in a Circus, from Hollywood provided a tripped out circus vibe and haunting vocals; Mamadou Diabate from Ghana played the Kora with such lingering sweetness that people were in tears; Australian Ganga Giri, as always, played an amazing blend of didgeridoo and electro tribal beats; Bellydancers, fire throwers and Balinese masked dancers all made appearances.
Daily workshops took place in elegant white marquees spread across the verdant gardens of the Purnati Arts Centre. An overwhelming choice of classes included many forms of yoga, such as Vinyassa Flow, Hatha and Power; dance workshops ranging from Bollywood, to Hula hooping and West African; and Music workshops including Kecak, Kirtan, and Sacred songs of Africa. I had been a little worried when I attended the festival for the first time last year that it would be full of new age hippy types preaching cosmic mumbo jumbo, but my fears proved unfounded, in fact the atmosphere was very grounding, everyone was here to learn and to embrace as much or as little of Bali Spirit as they felt comfortable with.
There can be few events in the world where you get the chance to dabble in so many different genres and activities and far from being a serious affair, it is the sound of laughter that stands out in my mind. And I am not just talking about Laughter Yoga, although that was pretty funny, especially when an elderly Balinese man wandered past, watched for a while, then joined in and laughed longer and harder than anyone. In Kundalini yoga Rebecca tells us to make fists with our hands and instructs us to hit our butts. “This is for everytime you have ever wanted to kick yourself in the ass,” she says, “Do it now and get it over and done with.” In a dance class, Ellen Watson plays Thriller and calls out, “Lets pop a Michael Jackson move shall we,” and we are all in hysterics as we attempt to moon walk. It was while watching Ellen’s ecstatic dance workshop last year that I finally lost my inhibitions, she instructed everyone to “Dance like fairies and spread your fairy dust.” The way I figured it, if a fifty year old guy with a moustache and a beer gut could dance like a fairy, then so could I. And it was incredibly liberating, to play like a child, to dance like no one was watching.
Some of the most poignant moments came on the final day which was free and aimed at Balinese families. The wonderful Deborah Koehn led a group of Balinese village elders, some in their seventies, through a yoga workshop. Afterwards, some of them joined in the hula hooping and drumming classes, while others stayed on to do Kundalini yoga. When Rebecca called out, “It’s time to dance” and belted out a hip hop tune, they were quick to jump up and throw some funky shapes.
The closing night concert was a fitting culmination of the event. My favorite moment came during Hamanah’s high energy African drum set, when a stray dog wondered up to centre stage, wagged his tail to the rhythm and basked in the rapturous applause that erupted from the audience. Headliner, Afro Moses had everyone leaping around, arms in the air with his blend of Afro Funk / Reggae. For the finale he was joined by many of the other musicians for an “All star jam” and told me afterwards that playing together as one family was the highlight of the festival for him, adding that the “Energy and the soul” of this night made it one of the best concerts he had ever experienced. This is the true magic of the Bali Spirit festival, the seamless melding of cultures and genres. There is no sense of us and them, just a sense of unity.