The best performances in Bali that you have to watch

Most Balinese dances are inspired by the Hindu epic of Ramayana and Mahabarata. The tradition of these forms and movement are passed on to girls and boys from a very young age. They are required to train with under precise rules and discipline schedule. Nowadays, travellers are more likely to have the chance to learn the dance in many classes held in traditional villages and are hired to perform a show at hotel resorts or even your villa, usually accompanied by the traditional Balinese gamelan orchestra. Most all types of dances will require vivacious and gracious movement of all parts of the body, including expressive facial, eyes, and hand gestures. Each village (especially in Ubud and Gianyar) usually have very highly skilled dancers and teachers. Many great dancers from Gianyar have even travelled to perform on international stages from hundred of years ago.

What’s interesting about these Balinese Dances?

Balinese Dances & Traditional Performances are 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 only be closely 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 tourists to observe as well.

Traditional Balinese Dance

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Kecak Fire Dance

One of the most spectacular dances in Bali is the Kecak dance that is performed by a large group of men and boys dressed in sarongs. The performance consists of 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 more recently, female dancers in Ubud have started performing the Kecak dance as well.

The Kecak dance is best performed at night when a burning flame in the centre of the circle creates an even more dramatic effect on the 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.

Barong and Keris Dance in Batubulan Village

Barong Dance and Kris Dance

This dance depicts the struggle between good and evil. The Barong represents all that is good and plays the role of the protector. He is the leader of all good spirits and can appear in all kind of shapes but dances 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 mischief, but when confronted with the evil witch Rangda, would quickly become the powerful protector. Two dancers support the appearance of the big Barong Keket, while only one perform the role of the evil witch Rangda with big fangs and claw-like fingernails.

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 break the dancers from their trance with prayers and blessed water. Be aware that a small bird might be sacrificed in real time as part of the performance in order to appease any lingering evil spirits.

The Barong could also be seen going from door to door during Galungan and Kuningan, cleansing the area from evil influences.

Legong Dance

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.

Baris Dance

Baris dance is categorized into two types: The non-ritual dance is usually performed by a single man dancer and is the first dance that a new dancer learns. A complex dance where the baris tunggal (sole baris) dancer takes the stage in a studied and meticulous movement of a warrior preparing for battle.

One male dancer performs by wearing a heavy layered costume and metal headpiece. It is an intense performance showing the mixed emotions of a warrior and a prayer to the gods for protection.

A group of people, on the other hand, would wield a variety of weapons and execute over thirty various styles of ritual baris dances; each emulating a warrior’s movements. The baris dancing group formats are accompanied by various types of music and incorporate various motions. The dances are performed at religious rituals and festivals as well.

Bali Kids Dancing in The Village Temple

Sanghyang Dance

The Sanghyang dance are sacred performances that involve the divine spirit or Sanghyang to enter the dancer’s body temporarily. These dances are therefore known as dancing while in a 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. At the end of each dance, a priest will come forward to break the dancers from their trance with prayers and holy water.

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 break.

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.

Janger Dance

The term Janger loosely translates to “infatuation”, eluding to someone passionately in love. The Janger dance depicts the blooming romance in young couples that begins by setting up a scene to greet the audience. 12 male dancers will perform the intricate kecak, and afterwards will sit across from each other on opposite sides of the stage as the female group (janger) sings a traditional folk song before performing a slow, but fluid dance in a square formation.

The young men would be sitting cross-legged and doing elaborate hand movement influenced by pencak silat (old martial art) moves. The young women would kneel and weave patterns with their arms and hands.

The Janger dance is thought to have originated from female farmers singing to ease their weariness after working a long day in the fields. It has since evolved into a dance as a way to meet other young men from nearby communities. The Janger dance is a celebration and is often performed at wedding as entertainment, or by the end of harvest season.

Topeng Dance

Topeng, which translates as “mask,” is a theatrical performance in which the performers are dressed in elaborate costumes that tell classic tales of legendary kings, heroes, and myths, accompanied by an orchestra of traditional music instruments. With each variation of the Topeng, or mask dances, 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.

Ladies Performing Sacred Dance in Village Temple during Odalan

Pendet Dance

The traditional Pendet dance is performed in the courtyards of Balinese Hindu temples. Pendet is the ritual dance in which an offering is presented, consisting of simple dance movements that may be performed by anybody and taught by imitation that symbolizes purification.

Pendet is often done by young girls carrying bowls of flower petals, throwing handfuls of them into the air at certain points throughout the dance as a way to cleanse the location. It is also a dance to welcome the audience and invite spirits to enjoy the performance.

The Balinese flower offering ceremony banten or canang are presented to the shrines within the temples or compounds to express appreciation to the Gods. Pendent is different to Wali, sacred ceremonial dances, which need extensive training and are exclusively done at ritualistic events. Due to the religious importance and presence of spiritual forces, it could only be performed by select dancers.