Balinese dance is a dynamic form of art with a strong connection to religion. It plays an important role in the Balinese life and is a way of connecting with the gods, either as a welcome for visiting gods or even as a communication channel in certain trance dances.
Every performance will start with an offering, and dancers will pray on the day of performance to receive Taksu, which has no clear translation in the English language but can be roughly described as Divine Inspiration. The dances are most often performed during temple festivals and important ceremonies on a weekly base at some places dedicated for tourist performances.
Most of Balinese dances are inspired by the Hindu epic Ramayana and Mahabarata. Traditional Balinese dance forms are usually passed on to girls and boys since very young age. They are required to train with under precise rules and discipline schedule. Nowadays, travellers are likely to have the chance to learn the dance in many classes held at the traditional villages or even hotel resorts. Some dancers can be hired to come to your hotel or villa and put on a show, accompanied by the traditional Balinese orchestra gamelan.
Most all types of dances will require vivacious and gracious movement of all parts of the body, including expressive facial, eyes, and hand gestures. Dance is very essential to life in Bali, and each village (especially in Ubud and Gianyar) usually have some highly skilled dancers and teachers that they are proud of. Many great dancer maestros from Gianyar have travelled to perform at the international stage since hundred of years ago.
One of the most spectacular dances in Bali is the Kecak dance. It is performed by a large group of men and boys dressed in sarongs, sitting in a circle while shaking their bodies and wildly moving their uplifted arms to the sound of their voices chanting Chak Chak-Chak-Chak. In the middle of the ring formation, the love story of the Hindu epic Ramayana is re-enacted as a dance. It shows prince Rama’s battle with the evil king in an attempt to rescue the kidnapped princess Shinta. By his side to fight the king’s army is the monkey general Hanuman.
Initially, the Kecak started as a part of the Sang Hyang trance dance, which was a male-only group praying to the souls of their ancestors. But recently there is also a group of female dancers in Ubud are performing Kecak dance.
The Kecak dance is best enjoyed when performed at night when the only lighting will be a burning flame in the centre of the circle, creating an even more dramatic and mystical performance. The best Kecak show in Bali is the one held in Uluwatu Temple; a magical show with a scenic background of sunset by the ocean.
This dance represents the struggle between good and evil. The Barong represents all that is good and has the role of the protector. He is the leader of all good spirits and can appear in all kind of shapes. In the Barong & Kris dance, he appears in his most holy form which is the Barong Keket: a combination of a big shaggy dog and a lion. The Barong Keket is a playful spirit who loves a bit of fun and joking around. But when confronted with the evil witch Rangda, his demeanour quickly changes into one of a powerful protector. Two dancers support the appearance of the big Barong Keket while the evil witch Rangda with her big fangs and long clawing fingernails is performed by one.
The most dramatic part of the duel between good and evil takes place when supporters of the Barong try to draw their knives against Rangda who uses her magic to put them in a trance which forces the men to hurt themselves instead.
Supported by the energetic sounds of the gamelan, the Barong and Keris dance is an exciting dance to watch. The performance ends when a temple priest removes the trance state of the Barong supporters with prayers and blessed water. Be aware that a small bird might be sacrificed to appease the lingering evil spirits.
During the celebration of the festivals Galungan and Kuningan you will see the Barong going from door to door, cleansing the area from evil influences.
Legong dance is considered Bali’s most graceful dance, combining detailed finger movements, complicated steps and expressive eye movements. The classical dance is only performed by young female dancers often as young as 8 or 9 years old.
The Legong dancers are dressed identically in very tight brocade, and gold coloured accessories from head to toe. It is amazing to see how they still can move with such speed and grace.
The dance tells the story of Rangkesari gets lost in a forest and then found by King Lasem, who is hypnotized by her beauty that he refuses to let her go. Rangkesari’s brother Daha, threats King Lasem to set her free or he will initiate a war. King Lasem refuses to release her, and both men fight in the battlefield, causing the death of King Lasem. The Legong dance describes the farewell of the king as he makes his way to fly with the birds.
This complex dance of a warrior preparing for battle requires great skill and energy and is performed by one male dancer wearing a heavy layered costume and metal headpiece.
It is an intense performance guided by the powerful music from the gamelan, showing the mixed emotions of a warrior and a prayer to the gods for protection.
The sacred Sanghyang dances involve the divine spirit or Sanghyang to enter the dancer’s body temporarily. These dances are therefore known as dances of trance. Their original purpose was to bring balance and good health by driving out evil spirits that came to earth in the form of sickness or death The Dedari and the Jaran are the two most well known Sanghyang dances.
The Sanghyang Dedari involves two young female dancers put in trance at a nearby temple and carried to the place of performance to dance in perfect harmony with their eyes firmly shut. A group of male and female provide the background sound of chanting to which the young girls dance. When the chanting stops, the spell will start to break, and a priest will bring the dancers back by blessing them with prayers and holy water.
The Sanghyang Jaran, also known as the Dance of the Spirits or Fire dance, only involves male dancers in a trance, moving through a fire of coconut husks while riding a symbolic horse. At the end of the dance, a priest will come forward to break the trance with prayers.
A story of young lovers is performed by a formation of sitting young girls and boys. The chanting girls will gently sway, which is in great contrast with the wild movements of the loud shouting men. The Janger dance is a dance of celebration and is often performed at wedding or by the end of harvest season.
Topeng or mask dances are dance drama’s where all the dancers imitate the character of the mask they are wearing. The Topeng Bungkulan covers the entire face and is worn at non-speaking performances like Topeng Tua (the old man), Topeng Keras (the stubborn military man) and Topeng Manis (the kind and refined hero). Not all full-face covered masks depicts humans.
The Jauk dance is performed by a dancer wearing the mask of a demon and gloves with long scary nails. The Topeng Sibakan only covers the forehead and nose and is worn in dramas where the performers play comical figures and make jokes using the Balinese language.
The Pendet dance consists of simple dance movements that do not need much training or practice. It is usually performed by women bringing offerings to a temple or ceremony and symbolizes purification.
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