Literature News

The Girl Who Loves To Dance: A mak yong story book aimed to make traditions more significant than Marvel

Kakiseni and MPH publishing continues their effort in popularizing and preserving cultural traditions through the medium of children’s books with The Girl Who Loves To Dance – a story of hard choices interlaced with the magic of the mak yong tradition.

The Girl Who Loves To Dance is the second part of the Hikayat series, the first being Shadows, a children’s book told in the mystical dreamscape of wayang kulit – particularly Wayang Kulit Kelantan. In the second part we go back to Kelantan and delve deeper into a tradition that is still banned by the state of Kelantan – the drama-dance heritage of mak yong.

David Chin, managing director of Kakiseni, talks about our national responsibility in protecting these pieces of heritage, stressing its importance in our cultural identity as Malaysians. “UNESCO declares it a piece of heritage (Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity), but some of us won’t even acknowledge it. We need to carry this responsibility as it is OUR culture”. This fact adds more weight to the efforts of Kakiseni and MPH, as the mak yong tradition is also at risk of being delisted from UNESCO due to the lax efforts of preservation.

The story of The Girl Who Loves To Dance is written by Arisha Akhir, a poet with two books to her name, Uncertainty (2014) and Still (2015), and illustrated by Serah Boey, whose illustrations bring out a feeling of child-like wonderment inextricable from a grand sense of scale. Both writer and illustrators were chosen from a myriad of people who applied through an open call selection process.

Arisha Akhir reading from her book (Credit: Transhallow)
Arisha Akhir reading from her book (Credit: Transhallow)

The book is a tale about Nana, a young Malaysian girl who seeks the advice of her grandmother, a Mak Yong, as she decides between following her heart and caving in to peer pressure. “I have to confess that the story is actually inspired by my niece’s relationship with her grandmother”, said Arisha Akhir, relating the charming friendship that became the basis of the book’s narrative.

When it comes to illustration, Serah Boey draws his inspiration from her already established love for traditional clothing. “There is something beautiful about cultural clothing, but I had trouble researching it since there weren’t that many sources or books to derive from about the mak yong tradition”, she claimed – emphasizing on the problem with sparse documentation when it comes to some parts of our local culture. “Overall, I had fun bringing Arisha’s words to life” (Check out some of her illustration work in the book by clicking here)

During the book launch on the 16th of August, Kumpulan Mak Yong Bunga Emas Sri Temenggong from Universiti Malayisa Kelantan performed for a crowd of pre-schoolers who were adorably excited to see the drama-dance in action. There was also a reading session of the book by the author.

Last year, Kakiseni brought storytellers to the story of Shadows to students at five different schools around the Klang Valley. The book enabled Kakiseni to bring a traditional Wayang Kulit performance and workshop to British International School Kuala Lumpur earlier this year to these students, many of whom had never even heard of Wayang Kulit, let alone seen a performance.

Low Ngai Yuen, president of Kakiseni, highlighted the type of tactile experiences needed to get children to be involved in the arts. “When we talk about arts in school, people sometimes think we’re referring to formal lessons, creations of an entirely new syllabus, more work for the teachers and a busier schedule for the. It doesn’t have to be like that. It can also be the type of integral experiences we provide in the Hikayat series when get invited to schools to provide workshops”, she said.

(L>R) Zuraini Jamallul Azi, MPH Senior Marketing Executive, Low Ngai Yuen, David Chin, Arisha Akhir, Serah Boey, Lylatul Qadrina, Kakiseni Communications Strategist. (Credit: Transhallow)

The initiative succeeded with wonderful results, so much so that Kakiseni aims to bring The Girl Who Loves To Dance as well as Mak Yong performances and workshops to more local schools. In this way, the organization aims to introduce a whole new generation of Malaysians to the heritage and traditions of our country.

“Kakiseni welcomes the call for more arts in education by our Education Minister, Dr Maszlee Malik, but his words must be back by concrete action. We believe that traditional art should be an integral part of any plan to bring more arts and culture to Malaysian students, and with Hikayat, we aim to make Mak Yong bigger than Marvel, in terms of its meaning and significance to our own children.” – Low Ngai Yuen, President of Kakiseni

While The Girl Who Loves To Dance is available at most leading bookstores, every book purchased through Kakiseni ensures that a book is delivered to an underprivileged child from Dignity for Children, an organisation that provides education to children who are being left out of Malaysia’s mainstream education system.

Additionally, private and international schools that bring Hikayat traditional performances and workshops to their schools will also be offered the opportunity to generously sponsor Hikayat to national schools or education centres for the underprivileged that may not have the funding to do so on their own.

Up next in the Hikayat series will be a tale based on the art of bangsawan theatre.

If you are keen to be a part of bringing Hikayat to more schools and children in Malaysia, contact David Chin at or +6017 348 2541.

Kumpulan Mak Yong Bunga Emas Sri Temenggong
Featured image Credit: Transhallow

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