Volunteer in Bali with Friends for Asia
Volunteer in: Thailand - Vietnam - Nepal - Bali

Balinese Dance

The people of Bali just love to dance and this type of performance plays a key role in their cultural and religious ceremonies. Many of these dances were created to please the gods, and they involve the dancer entering a trance. Other performances are based on the old stories that have kept the Balinese entertained for generations. There can be a great deal of energy and fun associated with this local art, and it is usually something that volunteers to the island will enjoy.

Legong Balinese dance

History of Balinese Dance

It is impossible to say when dance first became popular on the island of Bali, but it has been an important part of life for as far back as the local history can be traced. Many of the dances that are popular today can be traced back to the fourteenth century, when performances become popular among people at court, and with the peasantry. The Balinese tend to view traditional theat and dance as being one and the same thing, and they are collectively referred to as sesolahan). It is only really since the arrival of tourists, and volunteers that the local people have started offering short dance performances as separate from drama productions – the local people continue to prefer the older way of doing things. There is a strong Indian influence on Balinese dance, and the nearby island of Java has also contributed much to the Bali dancing tradition. The local dance traditions are viewed by the people as a key way to preserve their culture and stories. It is common for there to be stories in the local news lamenting how some of these dances might die out one day because there are not enough young people learning them. If this extinction ever happened it would be viewed as a great national loss – as well of a loss for the rest of the world.

Balinese Dance and Religion

Balinese dance is closely linked with the island’s religious traditions. It is believed that in order for the local people to enjoy prosperity, they need to please the gods and these deities get pleasure from watching humans dance. Some of the most famous routines, such as the Sang Hyang Dedari, the dancer will go into a trance, so that they can allow a spiritual force to enter their body. It is said that both benevolent and demonic gods will visit Bali, but there are special dances to welcome or placate as required. There are also sacred dances that need to be performed in order to cleanse the temples.

Bali Dancers / Balinese Dance - White Wings

Types of Balinese Dance

It is possible to break down the Balinese dances into three distinct types:

  • Balih Balihan dances are simply for entertainment and enjoyment.
  • Bebali dances are used as part of ceremonies.
  • Wali dances are considered sacred and traditionally they are only performed in the inner court of the temple.

There are many different types of Balih Balihan dance including:

  • Kecak is better known to westerners as the monkey dance. It involves monkey like movements and chanting the word “cak” – the purpose of this is to put the dancer into a trance.
  • Janger is a type of social dance that is most often perfomed by children these days. It involves boys and girls dividing into four lines so that they form a square (boys face boys while girls face girls), and each group has their own routine to perform.
  • Legong dance was originally a dance only performed in front of royalty, and it involves reenactments of traditional stories in the form of dance. Only girls who have not yet reached puberty will be involved in this type of performance, and it involves tough training that begins at a young age.
  • The Kebyar dance has its own style of gamelan music to accompany it. This dance is performed by two women – each will have a fan in one hand.

The sacred dances would include:

  • The Barong dance involves dancers pretending to be mythical creatures including the demon queen Rangda.
  • Sang Hyang Dedari needs to be performed by prepubescent girls, and the goal is to please the gods. The two girls dance themselves into a trance, so that a special spiritual force will be able to enter their bodies.
  • The Pendet dance is performed in order to purify the temple. During specific times during this routine the dancers will throw flower petals into the air.
  • The Baris dance is performed by men, and it reenacts the preparations a warrior might undertake on the eve of battle.
  • The Rejang dance involves slow trance like movements that are designed to please the gods. It is always performed by females.

The most well known of the ceremonial dances would be Gambuh, and it is a type of dance drama accompanied by gamelan music. It is based on a series of poems that describe the adventures of a Javanese prince who is believed to have lived in the sixteenth century. The ceremonial dances are often performed in temples, but they are not considered as sacred as the Wali dances.

Best Place to See Balinese Dance

Some of the best places to witness Balinese dance on a trip to Bali would include:

  • Ubud is often described as the cultural capital of the island, and there are regular dance shows in venues around the town.
  • There are sacred dances held at regular times throughout the year in the temples.
  • The bigger hotels will often have dining with Balinese dancing as entertainment for guests.
  • There are regular kecak dance shows at Uluwatu temple which is not far from Kuta. This performance takes place around sunset, and those who have been claim that it is an unforgettable experience.

Learn Balinese Dance

Local people will start to learn Balinese dance at around 5 years of age. If volunteers are keen to have a go at learning the basics, they will find that there are hotels offering this type of class as an option for guests – one venue offering this option would be Mara River Safari Lodge.