If you have heard of Ubud, which is one of the largest cultural centers not only in Bali but in the entire Indonesia, then you should not be surprised to know that some of the most beautiful Indonesian dances come from this inspiring island, so let’s dive into the Balinese dancing ocean!
As you probably suppose, there is an unbreakable bond between most of the traditional Indonesian dances and religion. From the earliest times, religious rituals and ceremonies were based on dancing, singing, and drama performances. All of these rituals have succeeded to survive during the stormy Indonesian history because of the commitment of the older members of society to teach the youth the core of the dances starting from their earliest age.
However, there are also some dances that are danced just for fun, and if you are interested in getting to know more about any of them, no matter whether they are religious or not, read on and discover the most popular and the most inspiring dances from Bali!
The Balinese Dances for Fun
If you ask people from Indonesia which dances they find the most attractive and the most interesting, there is no doubt that they’ll mention some of those that are performed outside the temple. These types of Balinese dances are locally known as Balih-balihan dances. Kebyar duduk, kecak, janger, and legong are only some of them and these are the ones that are really popular both among youth and older people. Let’s see what makes them so popular!
Kebyar Duduk Dance
If you see a lonely man making moves in a seated or half-seated position and wearing heavy layers of glittery make-up and a large gold-patterned piece of fabric, and at the same time you hear vivid and striking music, then you are probably in the middle of kebyar duduk dancing performance. Even though it is supposed to be danced under the traditional mask and costume, this dance isn’t religious and usually, there is no background story – it’s all about the dance.
This dance, originally performed only by men voices, was developed during the thirties of the last century and since then, it started to influence various segments of popular culture, finding its place in numerous soundtracks, series, artworks etc. In its core is a story of the battle from the Ramayana and men who are performing it have special clothes around their waists. Their dancing is mostly performed in a circle around the bonfire and it is authentic because of the special hands and arms movements.
Since it is mostly danced during the night, it is said that this dance originates from an old exorcism dance. During the last decades, female kecak dance groups have started to form and they are becoming more and more popular among the people of Indonesia since they bring more delicacy to this wild tribal dance.
Even though it is considered as one of the most interesting Balinese dances performed outside the temple since it gathers boys and girls and it’s based on their dancing interaction, Janger dance is not particularly often seen nowadays, except several janger groups who perform this dance in Denpasar to entertain the tourists.
During the performance, men are supposed to be sitting cross-legged and producing sounds while the girls kneel, dance, and sing the janger song. The singing is usually followed by the music played by the orchestra and according to tourists who have seen this dance, what makes it so special are not the dance moves, but the incredible costumes in gold shades and coconut leaves on the heads of the girls.
This Balinese dance is based on the complex feet movement, fast fingers gestures, and intensive and striking facial expressions highlighted with heavy makeup masks. Commonly, it is danced by two really young girls (usually girls who haven’t reached the puberty) and it’s said that legong dance appeared during the last century as a form that served to entertain the royal family, so it is not surprising that it has some drama elements as well, such as the third person who appears on the stage to introduce the dancers and prepare the stage for particular parts of the dance.
There are different types of Legong dance and every of them is based on some of the traditional Indonesian stories. The dances may last up to one hour, depending on the complexity of the story that should be told by the dance.
The Most Impressive Balinese Religious Dances
As we’ve already mentioned, there is a large number of dances in Indonesia that represent the base of some important religious ceremonies and rituals. Depending on the importance of a religious ceremony, the dance that’s its integral part can be performed in different parts of the temples. The inner court of the temples are usually places for the most important sacred dances while the other ones that have elements of both secular and sacred are performed in the middle temple’s court.
The most important sacred dances (also known as Wali dances) are Sang Hyang Dedari, Barong, and Rejang while the best-known dance performed in the middle court of the temple (Bebali dance) is the Gambuh dance.
This Balinese dance is said to be „the fun for the gods“. Traditionally, it is practiced by the people who want to be sure that they will have a prosperous year and good health. Maybe because it’s not that easy to provide these effects, Sang Hyang Dedari is one of the most demanding Balinese religious dances and preparations for this especially important performance may last for months.
The reason for long-lasting pre-dancing procedures is the time required for the girls that haven’t danced before to be taught to dance and reach the point of complete relaxation which is commonly known as the trance state. This is succeeded by numerous lessons held by local priests. An interesting fact related to this performance is the belief that girls perform spontaneous dance moves that they haven’t practiced during the preparations. Basically, this means that all the moves and sounds they make are led by gods and goddesses through the entire performance and the performance is ended only when the gods are completely pleased.