Dances of Indonesia- Get Enthralled by the Mesmerising Indonesian Dances

Indonesia has inherited a very rich culture with dance being an integral part of it. According to the Indonesians, ‘dance is the celebration of the body and freedom’ and they truly believe in it. It is a powerful mode of expression incorporating drama and soulful music. It originally began amongst the indigenous population. The popular dance forms are not just well known in the country but known worldwide. There is a lot of diversity and multiplicity in their performances. The significance of the dances of Indonesia varies from one another. Some are a matter of celebration while some are mandatory rituals.   

History of the Dances of Indonesia

dances on indonesia
The well-known traditional dances of Indonesia grew out of different cultures of local tribes and their practices. Some traditional dances depict episodes from the royal epics from India. The formal dances of the courts of Yogyakarta and Surakarta are some of the popular variations.

Sardono Kusumo who has tailored most of the international acts for these dance forms is Indonesia’s best-known choreographer and Eko Supriynato is Indonesia’s best-known dancer and performer. He has worked with Kusumo and toured with Madonna.

To list a few, here are some of the popular dances of Indonesia.

1. Pendet, Bali - The Temple Dance

This dance form is performed by women particularly as a prologue performance to any other dance form. It is traditional to the Balinese culture. It can be performed by anyone as it is merely an act of imitation. The dance is a traditional offering made at the centre of temples (called jeroan pura) with flower petals which are thrown into the air during the performance. It is a sacred ceremony to purify temples or theatre performances. Pendet can also be performed as a greetings act or to welcome an audience to enjoy dance performances. It particularly belongs to the Wali category also used by others as part of a tradition. it is a very beautiful opening act which attracts a lot of people.

2. Saman Dance, Aceh - ‘A Masterpiece’

Saman is one of the most popular dances of Indonesia but also worldwide. It belonged to the Gayo ethnic group. Historically, it was used by the tribe leaders as a prayer to advice the viewers before the act. At first, they were performed by men but gradually it involved a mix of both men and women. The implication of Saman changed over time and is now used for entertainment purposes or to commemorate a social cause. This dance form is unique in a way as it does not involve any musical instruments. It is rather sung by the performers themselves. The group of dancers are usually odd in number but their performance is harmonious in nature. It is a visual treat.

3. Kipas Pakerena, Gowa - The Dance with Fans

A representation of the Gow culture, this dance form involves around 6 women who come together to spread a message through their dance culture. Performed by women only, the dance depicts a story of the separation of human from the divine. Fans are swung in the air with graceful dance movements creating a festive environment. This dance is very artistic and ornamental in nature involving a lot of poise and elegance in the form. Each dance also gives out a message to the forthcoming generation to fathom.

4. Bedhaya, Central Java & Yogyakarta - The Celebration of Love

Amongst the many dance forms around the world which celebrate love, Bedhaya is one of the most beautiful and enchanting performances one can experience and one of the most graceful dances of Indonesia. This dance form was originally prepared in dedication for the Queen of the South Sea notable as Kanjeng Ratu Kidul for her beloved husband- Sultan of Mataram.  Thus it is performed in royal palaces of Yogykarta and Surakarta.

9 women performers undergo a ritualistic purification and are dressed as brides to present an effortless performance in chivalrous palaces. They are usually performed on crowning ceremonies or celebrations.

5. Tari Piring, Minangkabau - Precision with Plates


Popularly known as the plate dance of Indonesia, this dance form is all about precision and grace in the dance steps along with plates. It originated with the indigenous population of Minangkabau reflecting their culture. It marks a fruitful rice harvest and it is through the perfect Piring performance that they extend their gratitude to the Gods. It involves twenty different dance movements with the use of acrobatics too.

Accompanied by the musical symphonies of the talempong and saluang, around 3-5 dancers perform to the fast tempo, commemorating the spirit of joy and togetherness.

6. Reog, Ponorogo, East Java -  The Dance of Black Magic and More

Representing the dark, mystical and supernatural world, Reog is known to all the Indonesians. It is also synonymous to the thugs who indulge in violence. It is known to be staged only on full moon nights, perhaps to create an enchanting effect. It is pompous, extravagant and eye-catching. This dance particularly uses boisterous and dangerous costumes and is well known to gather a large audience.

This dance form has a very interesting tale behind it. Originally told by Ki Ageng Mirah it is a story of a great battle between the King of Ponorogo and a lion-like creature called Singa Barong. It involves the participation of twenty to thirty performers with the lion-like figures and the warok in the forefront. They perform to the tunes of gamelan instruments such as ketuk, kenong and kempul. One just cannot afford to miss out on Reog due to its mysticism.

7. Merak, West Java - Poise of the Peacocks

Stemmed from the soil of Pasundan, Merak is a beautiful form of dance in Indonesia. It is a greeting act at the beginning of wedding ceremonies. The dance embodies the attraction of female peacocks by the male.

For this dance, women dress in an intricate peacock designed costumes. This dance form symbolizes the movements of the magnificent bird. It is full of grace and finesse. The women dance effortlessly to melodious tunes and enchant the audience with their poise.

8. Cakalele, Ternate - The War Dance

Celebrating the valor of the Malaku stalwarts, Cakalele is a dance form standing apart from the others. It is meant to enrage the spirit of war among the people and is performed by male dancers with the support of a few female performers. Cakalele embodies the customs of the Malaku tribe, representing their bravery.

Originally a war dance, it is now used to attract tourists and promote the tourism of Indonesia. They are staged as acts of entertainment or traditional celebrations. It is also used for the appreciation of the Malaku ancestors. This is one of the dances of Indonesia that has worldwide recognition.

9. Roro Anteng and Joko Seger Dance, Tengger - A Tribute to the Legends


Indonesia is rich in traditional and legendary dance forms, Roro Anteng and Joko Seger being one of them. It celebrates the tales of the legends Roro Ateng and Joko Seger and the origins of Yadnya Kasada.

This dance form is very similar to Balinese dance forms which involve slow-paced dance moves with great refinement. The dance immortalizes two legends, thus it is practised keeping in mind the age-old traditions.

A lot of care is ensured while performance as superstition says that slight refashioning could result in enraging God Hyang Widhi. The costumes are also blessed by the local shaman before the performance. About thirty to thirty-five dancers dance to melodious chantings. The dance form always ends up being a masterpiece act.

Indonesian Dance Festival

Indonesian Dance Festival
Almost every year, Indonesia holds an Indonesian Dance festival where not just in-house dancers but dancers from different countries of the world like Mexico, France, India, Germany, Australia, Singapore, and South Korea get together and show active participation with great enthusiasm. The 14th Indonesian Dance Festival was held on November 3rd, 2018. The next one is soon to arrive. So you must seize the opportunity and experience the most magnificent dances of Indonesia and around the world.

These dance forms are highly impressive. With graceful movements, varied dance techniques, tales behind the dance forms, costumes, masks and expressions, you are sure to get attracted their dances. Indonesia is housed with some of the most charming and ravishing dance forms. One can surely take home some inspiration from these dances of Indonesia. Each dance act is an unforgettable experience and it will leave a lasting impression in your mind.

This post was published by Sony Punjabi

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