Performance dances of Bali

In Bali, there are three distinct types of dances: the sacred wali dances, the ritual dances, and the performance dances. Known as the balih-balihan dances, the dances that fall into this category are used solely for creativity and performances and are not attributed to religion. As such, composers are allowed a large amount of freedom to create and reinvent these dances. Often dubbed contemporary dances, balih-balihan dances can be full of stories and moral lessons or move to the music. In some cases, composers mix elements of traditional Balinese dance and modern dance, resulting in beautiful and sometimes eccentric displays.

Out of the many dances in Bali, some dances are designed especially for entertainment. These dances are composed and performed by the creative minds of Balinese as a present for visitors or common entertainment.

You may be familiar with some of the balih-balihan dances like Kecak, Janger, and Legong. These three balih-balihan dances are considered traditional performance dances, as they, to a certain extent, cannot be modified from the original. These dances are also the most popular on the island, with cultural centres hosting these dances almost daily, especially the massive Kecak dance. Just look at a local banjar, and you will find people, mostly young women, practising their dance moves. Adversely, contemporary performance dances are not always easily accessible to the public. These modern dances are often only shown in specialized art exhibits behind closed doors, so only a select few can watch them.

In the famous Kecak dance, a group of people sits around a bonfire and chants “Cak, cak, cak” while raising their hands. They use no instruments; in fact, the dance entirely relies on the dancers’ abilities to use their bodies as musical instruments! The person in the middle coordinates the others, telling them when to stop and when to resume.

Legong is another popular performance dance that almost always fits into the rundown of a special celebration. It is based on the dreams of a Sukawati prince who dreams of meeting angels. As such, Legong dancers are dressed in beautiful makeup and attire, as they resemble angels. It’s also fun to know that Legong dancers are always featured on anything that’s related to Bali, like cakes and souvenirs.

Janger is another standard performance dance that is often shown and offered at hotels and touristy areas. Performed as an opening act on various occasions, this dynamic dance, which is an alternative to the Pendet dance, shows the relations between young men and women. The dance is performed by ten people: five men and five women. They dance in rhythm with one another to the song of Janger. The dance is actually named after the song!

So those are only a few of the performance dances that make up the rich cultural landscape of the performance arts in Bali. There are many more; you just need to know where to look! Hint: try asking the locals. They know a lot.