Indonesian Folk Dances

Rachel Hanson
Balinese Dancer

In the history of folk dance, Indonesian folk dances offer a particularly colorful and emotional brand of folk dance. Many people don't realize it, but Bali is in Indonesia, and Indonesia shares a border with Papua New Guinea. Comprising more than 17,000 islands, Indonesia is a huge area of the world, and the fourth most populous country on the globe. It should come as no surprise that this huge land mass is steeped in classic traditions, one of the brightest being folk dancing.

Indonesia's Traditional Folk Dances

One of the biggest folk dance traditions in Indonesia is that of the island of Bali. Bali is regularly visited by tourists seeking not only an exotic location, but also a vibrant arts scene. Bali is able to cater to this tourist desire with ease; organized performances feature classic Balinese dances of several different types.

Balinese Folk Dances

There are two different types of traditional Balinese folk dance. 'Wali' is a sacred folk dance, and 'Bebalihan' are dances intended for entertainment purposes only. This division is one of the best things that Indonesian folk dance could have possibly done to make sure that folk dancing stays alive and well for centuries. While many cultures experience disputes over cultural dances with religious underpinnings, Bali's separation of entertainment and sacred ritual dancing makes it clear which is which.

Wali

  • Pendet: A religious ritual dance, Pendet is traditionally danced by young girls, with the purpose of purifying a temple before something else is going to happen. This dance may be performed in preparation for another dance, or for a religious happening in the temple.
  • Baris: A sacred warrior dance of Bali, in this dance a male dancer depicts a male soldier about to go off to battle. The dance is a reinforcement of his manhood and his ultimate ability to succeed in battle.

Bebalihan

  • Topeng: This masked dance has the function of telling stories. Traditionally, a narrator with a half mask tells the story out loud, and some dancers (all with full masks) act out the story that is being told. The stories detail ancient lives and times.
  • Ketjak: A surprising dance, this one was born only in the 20th century, which may explain why it's so different from other folk dances of Indonesia. In this dance, men form a large circle and reenact a battle, but the dance is thought to have roots in trance induction.

Javanese Folk Dance

Folk dance from Java, another island of Indonesia, has gained media attention around the world for being 'too graphic' sexually. The Javanese Jaipong dance is rooted in Javanese, and therefore Indonesian, cultural and dance history. However, like several Pacific folk dances, like Hawaiian hula dance, outsiders see the sexual innuendo in the dance in places where it is not even present.That's not to say that there are no sexual notes in Jaipong-there are. Jaipong dance was created by Gugum Gumbira, who had been asked by the Indonesian president to help revive indigenous music and dance of Indonesia in 1961. Gumbira may have done the job a bit too well, because the dance became widely popular and appreciated. It's easy to see why some people find it inappropriate (traditionally, the singer in the dance was a prostitute); however, the roots of the dance are strong, and the dance can be interpreted in as sexual or in as artistic a manner as one likes.

A Rich Heritage of Folk Dancing

In addition to the folk dances of Java and Bali, there are several other traditional dance cultures in other regions of Indonesia. The region is rich in culture, from music, to dance, and to the inextricable link between the two.

Indonesian Folk Dances