Move to the beat

The ancient country is rich with a fun and vibrant culture that attracts tourists globally. Discover the Indonesian native dances that brings people from far and wide

Legong traditional Balinese dance in Ubud, Bali.
Legong traditional Balinese dance in Ubud, Bali.
Barong and Kris Dance.
Barong and Kris Dance.

By Kushmita Bose

Published: Tue 17 Aug 2021, 12:00 AM

With a population of about 255 million people, the land of islands is known to be the fourth most populous country. This remarkable number suggests that significant religious diversities can be found within its boundaries. Influenced by the Portuguese traders to Dutch colonialists to Chinese and Malay immigrants, the culture of Indonesia is diverse, and is a melting pot of colonial and immigrant influences as well as indigenous traditions.

Despite being a secular country, Indonesia is known for its enormous Muslim population with Islam being one followed by Protestantism, Catholicism, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Confucianism.

This archipelago is abundant in herbs and spices, which have shaped traditional recipes. Recipes differ depending on the predominant crops in the area. Due to the abundance of cane and palm sugar, the Javanese, for example, prefer sweeter meals. Other locales like Manado and Padang favour more of chili and spices. Many cultures in Indonesia have unique celebrations commemorating even the smallest milestones, such as a child's first foot on the ground or particular months of pregnancy. Ceremonies of harvest or Thanksgiving are also celebrated as well as unique dates linked with stories or history.

Indonesian society is hierarchical. Degrees of deference will be demanded depending on one's rank, education, and perceived authority but age is typically the most important element in defining the level of respect. When speaking to someone older than themselves, Indonesians may employ honorific speech and bow gently.

Indonesians have always been communal since inception. Villages maintain tight-knit communities and look after one another while farmers work and cultivate lands together. They are known for their friendliness even in modern settings like the office. Harmony is a guiding philosophy. Working together is seen as essential for productivity, therefore Indonesians are prone to being polite and kind even when they disagree with you. In general, on the whole they respond positively to people who treat them with respect and acknowledge them.

From ancient times to the present, Indonesian artists have drawn inspiration from the archipelago's culture, morals, and natural surroundings, ensuring that art always remains vibrant. Sculptures, dance, theatre, and other forms of art remain an important part of Indonesia’s rich culture.


Dances of Indonesia

Dance is an important part of Indonesian culture and many artists have been practicing under the supervision of professionals since childhood. Dance, according to them is the celebration of the body and they rightly believe in it. Indonesia has over 3,000 dance forms some of which have tribal roots. The Barong and Rangda dance of good triumphing over evil, featuring demon queens and child eaters, is arguably the most renowned of the Balinese Hindu dances. During these trying times, the greatest way to appreciate Indonesian culture is to watch and learn about it from the comfort of your own house. Traditional Indonesian dances are diverse from one another and represent the ideologies of different ethnic groups. Take a look at some of these traditional dances:

1.Saman Dance - is one of Indonesia's most well known traditional dances that evolved in the province of Ache. The Saman dance embodies many Acehnese values, ideas, and philosophies, including wisdom, religion, faith, and unity. The dance involves hand clapping and shoulder clapping to generate body percussion sounds, coordinated to create music and look intriguing at the same time.

2. Pendet — Another admired dance form of Bali, Pendet is particularly performed by women with a bowl of different flowers. The dance style is an offering as a prelude to purify the temples and theatre performances. Pendet was gradually transformed into a 'welcome dance' by Balinese artists over time, while it still had certain sacred-religious aspects. The traditional dance has become a spectacle for tourists visiting the island.

Balinese dance culture combines old Hindu traditions with dramatic dance and music to convey stories. Dances can depict how a figure in Hindu mythology battles demons and evil spirits. Since the early 1900s, Ubud has been a centre for entertaining royal courts, hosting traditional dance performances. Because of its distinct cultural impact and history, you can spot numerous temples that host performances. Hindu mythology like the Mahabharata and Bhagavad Gita stories are commonly popular in the Balinese Dance. Amongst the Balinese dances, Legong, Barong and the Kecak dances are the ones known extensively by visitors.

3. Kecak — Originated in Bali in the 1930s, Kacak is a type of Balinese Hindu dance and musical performance performed largely by males in temples and communities around Bali. It is considered one of Indonesia's most spectacular traditional performances performed by a circle of 150 dancers wearing checkered clothing around their waists. The uniqueness comes from the fact that this form has no artificial background or stage, and no musical instrument is used. A Balinese traditional rite called Sanghyang, inspired many parts of the Kecak dance. During your visit to Bali, you can enjoy this dance form in several tourist sites such as Uluwatu Temple, Batubulan and GWK.

4 .Legong — Legong dancers have earned a great social standing and reputation as one of the most popular and culturally significant Balinese dances. In the olden times, only royal families had the luxury of enjoying the exquisiteness of this dance, which involves delicate finger and foot motions and expressive facial expressions, all enhanced by sophisticated traditional attires. A typical Balinese dance routine, it is most commonly followed by gamelan music and poems.

5 .Barong — This is one of many art forms linked with spirituality, and it is frequently performed in rituals. It can best be described as the never-ending battle between good (represented by Barong in a massive Lion costume) and evil (represented by Rangda). The dance, which depicts the traditional conflict is one of the most well-known and adored on the island. You can observe the dance performances across many places in Bali but the ones performed by the Batu Bulan villagers in Gianya or Kesiman are widely known.

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