Balinese Traditional Dance

The traditional Balinese dance is more than just an art form. In ancient tradition, dance is a part of the religious and artistic expression among the Balinese, even for now. In some situations, Balinese used dance as a way to fend off evil spirits. Of all dances, it can be divided into two types. The sacred dances and entertainment dances. Above all, Balinese dance is dynamic and intensely expressive. Balinese dancers express the stories of dance-drama using strong gestures from the gestures of fingers, hands and  strong head-eyes coordination. Part of the history includes understanding historical events that inspired many forms of dance practiced in Bali today. 

Barong Dance

Barong Dance is a native Balinese dance. It is an art form of the battle between Barong and Rangda. For years it was represented as an infinite war between good and bad, god and evil. Barong is a mythological character that has lion or panther-like creature, white thick fur and with gilded jewelry on the head and the tail, while Rangda is a female evil figure that has long hair, horrifying fanged, pendulous breast and long claws. 

However, there is another version of the dance. The Barong dance is trying to depict one of the important parts in ancient Java kingdom story during the reign of Airlangga. There is a widow named Calon Arang who mastered a black magic and often caused disease to come to the surroundings. This made her daughter unable to get a husband because people were afraid of her mother. Because of the difficulties, Calon Arang was angry and she intended to take revenge by wishing to goddess Durga. The next day, a great flood engulfed the village and many people died. Disease also appeared. King Airlangga with Barong that believed to be a guardian of nature and the army then fought with Calon Arang.

As the first performance, Barong dance was opened with Balinese traditional music and attractive movement of Barong along with playful monkeys.  In several performances or stages, the number of monkeys might be vary. At this stage, the dance draws a tranquil circumstance where Barong lives. The next stage was a scene where Rangda and his army come and strike Barong with the male dancers.  Rangda then cast black magic by which the spell made the man stab themselves on their chest with Kris. However, Barong cast protective magic to the man and made their body invulnerable to kris. At the end of the scene, Barong wins the war and successfully makes Rangda run away.

Essentially, the play is about how good triumphs over evil. This is generally the principal theme in most Balinese performances and arts with ultimate aim to spread out good moral. The time to watch the show varied in several places and commonly the shows start in morning at 9.30 am.  The masks of Barong and Rangda are considered sacred items. Thus, before the dancer wears the masks a present to offer blessings by sprinkling holy water and offerings should be taken. Barong mask and custom is quite heavy and two male dancers are needed to lift and move the Barong from the inside.

Kecak Dance

Kecak is believed to date back and composed around the 1930’s. The dance mainly plays about the Ramayana story, an old-age myth that depicts the life of Rama and Sita in Ayodhya Kingdom and the war with Rahwana, an evil spirit. In Bali, the Ramayana story has become part of the cultural life and moral teachings once the Hindu came to the island around 100 BC. 

The story begins with Rama and Shinta entering the stage to perform beautiful dance depicting the vibrant love and serenity. Someday, Rama was left to hunt but he wasn’t aware that Rahwana was interested in his wife, Shinta. Rahwana then delegates his men to kidnap Shinta while Rama is away. Realising his wife being kidnapped, Rama and his brother gather the army to fight with Rahwana in Alengka, Rahwana’s Palace and rescuing Shinta. At the last minute, savior comes from Hanoman and his followers.  Hanoman is a Hindu deity, and the central character in the story. At the end, Rama and his allies win the war and successfully save his wife.

Commonly, the Kecak Dance consists of fifty to one hundred men wearing only loincloths and the upper part of their bodies are left bare. They will form a circle formation that surrounds the fire and certain character in the center. First, they move their bodies rhythmically to the left and right, chanting the words “chak ke-chak” continuously in slow rhythm then gradually speeded up the rhythm and by turns they lift their hands, trembling, into the air. At the end of the performance, we’ll see that the dancers play with fire, in particular a burning coconut shell,  which has become a symbol of Rama winning the war against Rahwana. As the dance is getting more popularity among tourists, the number of arts centers that hosts Kecak is scattered around Bali. There are several temples that host the dance daily, such as Pura Uluwatu and Tanah Lot. 

Topeng Dance

The Topeng dance is originally a sacred dance and only to be performed at temples. However, this traditional Balinese dance aimed to entertain and may make jokes. Topeng Dance commonly performed by a group of male or single men wearing specific masks that show handsome, smiling or even friendly faces that depends on the aim of performance. The shows are accompanied with a traditional Balinese orchestra and narrator that tells the story.

For instance, Telek Dance that is considered as a sacred one. The dance served as a legacy from the ancestors that usually hold in temples.  In some villages in Bali, Telek Dances must be performed on a specific sacred day for salvation sake. In other villages, cancelling Topeng Telek performances is meant to invite negative energy to come. Or, there are Topeng Tua Dance as an entertainment and familiar among tourists who come to Bali. The dance makes jokes, to ridicule the audience and funny manners. They wear white long sleeves covered with colourful fabric like a layered shield. The costume and the attributes are a mixture of masculinity, elegance and gracefulness. 

Whether performing for a religious event or on the commercial stage, the topeng dancers treat their masks with special care. Each sacred mask is believed to embody the spirit of fabled kings and heroes so before each performance, the owner will usually pray and place offerings on the mask. Along with Topeng Tua and Topeng Telek Dance, Bali has another topeng dance based on ceremony or special occasion. Such as Topeng Pajegan, a splendid dance where the dancer acts out several roles by changing both his mask and voice simultaneously to represent the different characters. Or, Topeng Panca Dance that depicts a harmony between human and nature. Based on its sanskrit name, Panca means five, consisting of five dancers and rach dancers presenting an individual character. 

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Legong Dance

Legong Dance is a dance about unrequited love story. The dance illustrates the love saga of Prabu Lasem, a legendary king who fell in love with the beautiful princess of Daha.  The princess refused his marriage proposal and the king then got angry and kidnapped the princess. After hearing that his daughter had been kidnapped, the King of Daha declared war and attacked Prabu Lasem.

Legong is considered the classic Balinese dance and believed to be developed in the palaces in Bali during the 19th Century. There are fifteen types of variety of this dance which has duration, movement, the number of dancers and performances time differently each other with the majority of dancers using a fan during the show. Above all, the dance is characterized by its intricate finger movements, eye coordination and complicated footwork. In the past, Legong dancers were girls who have not yet reached puberty but today the dancers may be of all ages, performances by male and female.

The classical performance showcases the agility of the dancers, who move dynamically to a live accompaniment of a gamelan orchestra. Today, there are several artistic variations of the Legong Dance, found throughout the different regions in Bali, such as in the village of Saba and Bedulu in the Gianyar regency and Kelandis in central Bali highlands. One of the most favorite places to see Legong is Puri Saren Royal Palace in Ubud. 

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Pendet Dance

Pendet or commonly known as beautiful welcome dance is a dance to purify the temple or theaters prior to sacred ceremonies. This traditional Balinese dance commonly performed by five young girls carrying flower petals and possess as a greeting to the audience. As a religious dance, Pendet is usually performed during temple ceremonies. 

In addition, Pendet believed as a representation of Balinese floral offering ritual, where Balinese  offered floral offerings from shrine to shrine within Balinese temple or residential neighbourhoods. Unlike sacred ritual dances that demand arduous training, Pendet may be danced by anyone as easy movement or taught simply by imitation. As the characteristic, Pendet dancers bring flowers in small silver bowls containing flowers in a ceremony. They spread the flowers around the temple. At the end of the performance, the maiden dancers would throw and sprinkle the flower petals towards the guests. This dance is a symbol of welcoming gods, spirits, and guests in some ritual ceremonies in Bali. During the shows, the smile never disappears from the dancers and they show good coordination of quick eyeballs, hand and fingers.

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Gebogan Dance

Gebogan or so-called banten or offering is made for the anniversary of the temple. It has one to three meters high and requires some skill to carry. The most difficult part is entering the gate to the inner temple, which always has a lintel. The woman who carries the banten or offerings must stop; there is always someone around to help the carrier lift the offering off of her head and put it on the ground. Since it is required a skill to bring this offering, many called this as a dance also. The woman also makes a line in a row which is beautiful and picture-perfect. The gebogan is placed in front of the people who are praying while the maker makes her devotions. In some temples the offerings are placed in open pavilions for a long period of time during the ceremony. In others the offerings are taken home immediately after prayer. 

In some villages, the high offerings are carried to the temple in a procession. Usually each neighborhood association or locally known as Banjar has its own group, each lady dressed identically, with offering generally rather alike. In other villages, the ladies simply make whatever they feel like making and go when they are ready and followed by Balinese traditional marching band. Sometimes a person will promise God to have a high offering made for a ceremony if some wish that he can be made come true.

This may be hoped for success on examination, a wish that a family member will recover from a sickness. When the prayers have been said and the offering made, the high offering is carried at home, and those who wish may eat any of the food.

To learn more about traditional Balinese Dance see these articles below

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