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Dance, Music, and Theaters of Bali
Dance, Music,
and Theaters
of Bali

Dance, music, and the theater of wayang are other forms of expression laden with religious connotations. The Trance Dance, for example, is performed when a village is suffering, say from an epidemic or bad harvest. The dance is intended to appease the gods and goddesses, with the hope that they will bless the village. Other dances also manifest the great complexity of Balinese daily lives which are never detached from their religious beliefs. Throughout the year, you can regularly find scheduled dance performances, especially the Balih-balihan or entertainment dances.


Along with the Hindu religion, the Indian influence in Balinese dances is also significant. Balinese strong identity adapts these various influences with indigineous religion of animism and folklore traditions, creating an expression distinctively flavored by Balinese ethnicity.

Much like the training of gamelan orchestra players, dance training begins when one is still very young. The teacher will stand in front of the children and start dancing. The children will follow her every movement. Once the teacher feels that a child understands the basic sequence, she will stand behind the child, and direct the child by holding her wrists. Practicing with a gamelan orchestra will only happen when the dance is considered to have entered the student. The dancer must learn to fully express the character that she is dancing for; self expression is not a known concept.

Based on their religious functions, Balinese dances can be categorized into three:

1. Wali (sacred) Dances
These dances are considered sacred, and must be performed in the inner court of the temple.

  • Rejang
    Danced by females, Rejang dance is a procession of those who have just barely learned to walk to those who can barely walk, moving in a slow and stately fashion towards the altar, twirling fans or lifting their sashes. Their costumes range from a very simple attire to an elaborate dress complete with headdress as you would likely find in Tenganan.
  • Baris
    Literally means warrior formation. Baris is a warrior dance usually danced by men. The movements are dramatic. It is hard to distinguish whether it is the dancer that follows the orchestra, or the other way around. You could say that they both go off into their own dimensions, yet at certain well-defined times meet to create an astounding tapestry. The dancers wear elaborate head decoration, from a gold-colored head band to leaves and strings of cempaka blossoms. Variants of this dance are sometimes danced by children and women. You can find this dance performed in Sanur, Tabanan, and Ubud.
  • Pendet
    This dance is usually performed by married women, moving in very dignified and elegant way to carry and present offerings to the gods and the goddesses.
  • Sang Hyang Dedari (Trance Dance)
    This dance is normally performed to entertain the gods and the goddesses to appease them or to ask for their blessings. A bad harvest or an outburst of an illness may warrant such a dance. The preparation for this dance may take months, as prepubescent girls who have never danced are trained to relax their mind to be able to get into a trance state. Day after day they visit the priest at the local temple to receive their lessons. When the priest concludes that they are ready, and the time is right, the dance will be performed in the court of the temple. Dressed in elaborate attire and immersed in the smoke of burning incense, the two young girls slowly dance as the accompanying chant of the village women gradually relax them to get into trance. The gods and the goddesses will enter their bodies as they enter trance, and they will dance with movements that they have not mastered in their normal state. They may act and sound like a horse or a monkey; at times, they end up dancing while balancing their back on a piece of bamboo supported by two men on both ends. When they collapse, the village women will chant to ask the gods and the goddesses to peacefully leave the bodies of the young girls. If they refuse, dancing will continue until they agree, at which point the girls will simply collapse.
  • Barong
    Barong is probably the most well known dance. It is also another story-telling dance, narrating the fight between good and evil. This dance is the classic example of Balinese way of acting out mythology, resulting in myth and history being blended into one reality. Wanna know the story?

2. Bebali Dances
These dances are ceremonial, and usually performed in the middle court of a temple. In the spectrum of sacred and secular, these dances fall in the middle.

  • Gambuh
    Gambuh is a danced drama. It tells the courtly story of a Javanese prince in his quest for a beautiful princess.

3. Balih-balihan Dances
These dances are often considered secular and entertaining. They are performed in the outer court or even outside the temple.

  • Janger
    Janger is performed by young girls. Peacock crown shaped headwear made from intricately woven gold-colored, dried coconut leaves rests gallantly on their heads. The girls are open shouldered, dressed in a piece of cloth wrapped around the chest, and a batik wrap on the waist down. Most of the dances are performed sitting down, with highly coordinated hand, shoulder, and eye movements.
  • Kebyar
    Kebyar is usually danced by two women with beautiful, long, shiny black hair, accentuated at the top by a band of cempaka blossoms. Fans on one hand, they move dramatically. Feet are strongly grounded, and hands and feet move abruptly.
  • Legong
    The dance of legong tells a story. It is the most feminine dance. It is usually danced by two females before they reach puberty (in fact, they must retire by the time they reach puberty).
  • Kecak
    Kecak is a spectacular dance usually performed at night, surrounding a bonfire. The westerners called this dance The Monkey Dance, for the movements may remind us of monkey's movements. There can literally be one hundred or more bare chested men, sitting down on the ground surrounding the bonfire, led by a priest in the middle. The only music to accompany them are the beats of their palms hitting their chests, their thighs, or other parts of their bodies, or their claps, rhythmically accompanied by shouting and chanting.
    The dancers move in unison, creating a spectacular choreographic performance. Either hands stretched out, pulled in, rested on the shoulder of the next person, or waists gyrated left and right, etc.

Regularly scheduled performances of these dances, especially the Balih-balihan dances, can be found throughout the year.


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