The Bali dance is religious in nature and full of drama where the dancers move their bodies on the pace of gamelan music.
Every movement of fingers, hands, head, body and feet is important and tells the story of the Balinese vision of life.
The Bali dance is part of many religious rituals and takes place during numerous festivals and ceremonies on the temple grounds. Today these dances are also performed for tourists.
Tickets are widely available on the streets of Ubud especially at Monkey Forest Road and around the Central Market for dances such as...
Ubud is the indisputable cultural centre of dance and drama and you’ll find numerous dance performances almost every night. It costs around 50.000 rupiah to see a one-hour lasting dance performance, which is a real bargain if you ask me...
The Bali dances can be divided into three main groups,
1. Wali dances, which has its origin in animistic, old Indonesian, ritual and sacred dances.
2. Bebali dances,which are semi-sacred dances often portraying Hindu stories.
3. Balih-balihan dances, which are public dances taking place in the temple but also on a podium for visitors.
The dances are learned from a very early age on and a special commission is there to choose which child has the most talent to perform a certain dance.
The girls for the Legong dance are already selected when they reach the age of 5 years old but their 'career' also ends before they reach puberty.
The dances are learned without a mirror but copied from one another with a teacher who looks after the details. The Bali dance performances are not only there to entertain you but also to please the gods and to keep the demons out.
Today you can also see lots of dances in hotels and restaurants but these are often a fraction of the real dances performed in temples. Some of the hotel dances give you an OK impression but most of them are plain dinner entertainment.
Instead of hotels, restaurants or even the beach quality dances are performed in special designated settings with a circle-like open stage called ‘kalangan’, a temple gate called ‘candi bentar’.
From here the dancers emerge under huge banyan trees. You will hear real-life crickets in the background and it looks like they are used for their special effects.
The Pendet dance (bebali dance) has its origin in bringing offerings to the gods and everybody with a dance education is able to dance the Pendet.
Nowadays the first Bali dance before the Legong dance is the Pendet. Here the dancers welcome the spectators with throwing flowers into the audience.
The Pendet Flower Welcoming Dance
There are as many Barong dances as there are myths and legends available in Bali. The stories are often between the struggle of good and evil. One of the most popular Barong dances you can find is the Barong Keket and Rangda story.
The Barong Keket is a shaggy half dog, half lion mystical creature played by two men in one costume with long fangs, bulgy eyes and naughty behavior. There’s also a group of men who carry krisses (traditional daggers), the supporters of the Barong.
The opponent of the Barong is Rangda, an evil witch with sabre-like fingernails, long tongue and threatening fangs.
In the story each opponent tries to overcome the other with magical powers but when things do not look to good for the Barong the supporters will try to attack the evil witch with their krisses.
This doesn’t work because the witch has used her power to put the men in a trance so they will stab themselves.
The Barong also has magical powers and puts a spell on the men to prevent this from happening.
This is the most memorable part of this Bali dance because the gamelan plays dramatically and the men foam around the mouth, moving backwards and forwards and some are even rolling on the ground.
A priest arrives and sprinkles holy water on the supporters to free them from the spell.
In the end the evil witch Rangda is defeated and good has overcome bad again.
The Barong, half-dog-half-lion with his monkey companion...
This Bali dance of Legong (balih-balihan dance) is without any doubt the most gracious of all the dances. The dance is accompanied by the beautiful sounds of the gamelan.
The Legong dancers are often young girls around 8 to 10 years old and selected from the village for their beauty and suppleness.
They will perform the legong till puberty and then start dancing other types of traditional Bali dances.The Legong Keraton is performed by three dancers, two of them are the Legongs and the other is known as Condong.
The Gracious Legong Dance
The Legons are wearing identical costumes with tightly bound gold brocades and their faces are made up with detail to the eyebrows and their hair decorated with beautiful frangipani flowers.
Their movements are choreographed in detail with the twisting of the fingers, hands, feet and facial expression. This Bali dance is worth watching.
The Legong Kraton tells the story of a king, who kidnaps a maiden called Rangkesari. Her brother begs the king to let her free rather than to go to war.
The king ignores his begging and is on his way to the battleground when he meets a bird that brings ill omens. He ignores the bird and continues to meet Rangkesari’s brother on the battleground, who kills him.
The Oleg Tambulilingan (balih-balihan dance) is a graceful love dance between a flower and a bumblebee. The female dancer resembles the flower and dances gracefully to attract the bumble bee.
The bumble bee is danced by a male dancer and half-way through the performance they dance together in a seducing and teasing way.
The Flower is waiting for the humblebee
The Sanghyang dance (wali dance) is often performed in combination with other dances such as the Kecak dance.
At the end of the Ramayana story one man is in a trance. He performs the Sanhyang Jaran trance dance and rides on a wooden horse kicking burning coconut shells around.
The Sanghyang Dancer in a trance
The Sanghyang dance is there to protect the village of dark powers and is often performed when things go bad and to prevent more misfortune.
At the end of the Sanghyang dance a priest helps him to come out of the trance and the performance ends.
Unlike the Legong which is a very feminine and gracious dance this Bali dance is a male warrior dance.
The warrior prepares himself for battle and is accompanied by the gamelan gong. The gamelan gong player has to express the warriors feelings.
The warrior looks a bit insecure from the start but gains momentum during the dance where he rises on his toes and whirls like a guy ready for action.
I’ve seen two of these Baris dances in Sanur and I have to be frank, they looked funny…
Here I made the mistake to watch this Bali dance in the hotel and on the beach because there was something clowny about the whole thing. The ‘warrior’ looked like a spoiled little kid without his ice-cream.
Luckily in Ubud my opinion about the warrior dance changed. At the Ubud Kelod Community Hall in Jalan Monkey Forest Road I saw a classical Baris Dance.
This one is a world apart from the one in Sanur. Here the warrior was really fierce looking and performed every detail with intensity and style.