I learn how to dance Ngajat Niti Chapak

Searching for Ngajat Guru

I am sure there are plenty of good dance teachers that can teach Ngajat here in my beloved hometown Miri. Each has his/her own choreography. If possible, I wish to learn from all of them.

Last year, a girl named Eminjoo relocated from Betong to Miri with her family and stayed somewhere near – about 3 minutes’ drive from my humble abode. I heard she was well-trained by some instructors back at her home town. She teaches Ngajat lessons during her limited free time and I happened to be free during that time frame.

Relearning Ajat Indu

The class she gave to her first batch of students was Ajat Indu / Ngajat Induk. I consider it a good relearning process as I had not danced for what seemed like eternity. Sure, there was a time in my youth when I used to perform various types of traditional dances on stage, but those were the days when Britney Spears used to be thin and young. I used to be lithe too. Sometimes I miss the fun old days when I used to perform in musical theaters.

Several steps (bungai ajat) in Ajat Indu that I learned include bejalai, niti batang / niti papan, kenyalang, kauk ai, ulak, kajat, and pusing kayan. Different teacher may have different choreography, but those steps are the most common basic steps. I’m aware that there are plenty of contemporary ‘ngajat‘ out there, but I love the original steps the most.

In the old days, my late-grandmothers (both paternal and maternal) did not have any specific choreography to follow, they ngajat freestyle – they simply improvise on the spot!

In Ngajat Niti Chapak, we incorporate those basic steps into the dance as well.

Attempting the Ngajat Atas Chapak / Ngajat Niti Chapak

Sensing Eminjoo’s passion in dancing, I expressed my wish to learn other form / style of Ngajat from her, so she taught me Ngajat Atas Chapak (as she called it). It is also known as Ngajat Niti Chapak. Another student named Crystal also joined me. Some of my friends never heard of the dance – it’s rarely seen performed; I became increasingly intrigued by it.

ngajat = dance

the definition of Ngajat

If you are interested in learning some Iban words, I recommend A Handy Reference Dictionary of Iban and English – edited by Vinson and Joanne Sutlive, and published by Tun Jugah Foundation, Kuching (1994).

niti = (to walk) along a narrow place

the meaning of Niti

Chapak is an Iban word for plate / saucer.

the definition of Chapak

The Library of Congress catalog card number for the above-mentioned dictionary is 93-085292, while its ISBN number is 983-9115-01-4.

However, if you are looking for an Iban – Malay dictionary, then I would recommend Kamus Iban – Melayu Dewan – Edisi Kedua (2016), published by Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka.

The Chapak

I’ve chosen 5 ceramic plates which I utilized specifically for Ngajat Niti Chapak. The plates are not to be used for other purposes.

Note: Plastic / paper plates CANNOT be used for this dance!

Pictured below: Ceramic plates. Glass plates can be used too.

the Chapak that I have chosen for my Ngajat Niti Chapak dance rehearsal

Although I was at my teacher’s house for 4 hours, I learned the whole dance in about 2 hours. The other 2 hours were spent on frequent breaks (consisted of chit-chatting, eating and drinking). It was a hot day so we drank plenty of plain water and soft drinks. This particular session wasn’t open to the public because me and Crystal had booked the teacher for a private lesson. Usually, it will take several weeks to complete one of her classes (for example – Ajat Indu) – she allocated 4 hours weekly for the lessons and she will teach until the student has fully grasp the dance. However, she made an exception for me and Crystal for the Ngajat Niti Chapak class.

How I did it

I ngajat as graceful as I could without breaking any saucer (tiptoeing on the saucers without losing my balance), and whenever I do this dance, I imagine that I’m in a dancing competition where the judges have Misophonia and the clinking of one saucer against another will drive them mad. Therefore, I try my best to avoid knocking the saucer against each other. I think the most important thing is to be able to balance onself on the plates as one tiptoes on them, while maintaining a graceful posture.

I have seen a clip where a young dancer ngajat niti chapak – she can balance herself on the plates but her movement were very kasar (rough / ungraceful) and when she moved the plates around, she opened her legs a little too wide – it looked unladylike. My teacher advised me to practice every night to get it right!

Before we practice the full dance, we spent some time practicing basic footwork & balancing on the chapak:

In the clip below, my ngajat teacher trying some footwork on my chapak while another student struggled to balance herself on her chapak.

Below: Eminjoo showed us how to move the plates with our feet.

to avoid breaking the Chapak

Imagine if the dancers wear full costume (traditional attire / ngepan Iban) … that would be so much lovelier.

Rehearsing without costume:

sweating it out

Don’t Forget to Warm Up!

Needless to say, doing a proper warm up session before every dance class or any workout session is crucial. Warm-up sessions prepare the dancer mentally and physically. Personally, I find Bartenieff’s exercises beneficial.

From time to time, even when I am not dancing that much, I would still read books or materials related to dance. Dance allows people to connect with their inner-selves. I love connecting with my inner-self!

Dancer Wellness - the book

Other Ajat

There are other types of ngajat such as Ajat Pua Kumbu, Ajat Atas Tawak, and so on, but I will talk about them in another post.

Cheers! :-)

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