Music and dance were known to people for a long time. At first, dance would be used in religious ceremonies and rituals, for example, to call out the rain in the dry season and in some instances, before going hunting, to bring good luck and a rich catch. Our ancestors believed that they would please the spirits and the higher forces of nature, thus they will be sent whatever it is they needed in abundance.
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Balinese dancing is one of the oldest types of dancing. Bali, an Indonesian island, has become a tourist attraction where people from all over the world come to see the unique dance. It is very influential on a person and there is no other medium quite like it that can have such a significant effect on a person. Especially, Balinese dance is meant to touch the deepest parts of the human soul. It can raise the mood and make it light or depress it and have a negative influence on the psyche of a person.
Comparing to other types of art, which can be made and put on a wall or stored in a museum, a dance only exists while it is made. To make it even more unique, Balinese dancers incorporate a lot of hand gestures and movements of the legs and body.
Every part of a person seems to be doing its separate dance but altogether, it creates a unit where the center is the emotion and connection to a higher force (Spies 2001). Balinese dancing is learned from a very early age. Children start learning within a family by first observing their parents and mimicking the movements. As it is a traditional dance of the culture, a lot of Indonesians are well aware of the dance and its importance.
The learning process is one of the unique features of the whole dance. It is not done in private, on the contrary, the practices take place in a public place where neighbors, friends and people from the community come and watch. Their views are an important part of the learning process, and if there is a mistake made, they will point it out. This teaches the student to be used to an audience but also, to the criticism of the profession.
It is interesting that the Balinese dancing culture understands that only through humiliation and public display students can reach perfection. Another significant teaching technique is that students learn by observing their teacher. There are no mirrors, so the only way for them to learn proper movements is the close interaction with the teacher. At first, a student stands behind their teacher and repeats the moves.
Then, the teacher will go behind the student and make physical contact. In this way, the teacher moves the student’s arms and legs making sure of the correct placement. It is important to mention that each teacher has their original way of style and movements. As such, some teachers become more demanded than others, and people come from distant locations to be taught by a particular teacher (Gold 2004).
Balinese dancing is a form of theatre that comes to life through dancing. It is a show between the certain music style, illusory dancing and acting. The gestures and the emotion on the dancer’s face are authentic to the culture and the rituals that have existed for centuries.
The unique musical instruments add to the traditional dancing and are also considered a part of the ritual to the Gods. Religion has always been an intricate part of the Bali culture where a person’s life is a battle between the good and evil spirits. This means that a person becomes connected with their dance and costume in the closest way.
The representation of the spirit must be emotional and heartfelt. When an individual is doing the dance, they must feel the energy that is radiating through their body and so, transfer it to the surrounding people and nature. For each particular type of activity there is a specific dance. Religious dance greatly differs from a dance before a hunt or the calling out of weather (Ness 1992).
Even though a single person can perform a dance and hypnotize the audience, a large group of people performing the same moves is even more enchanting. Due to the fact that the dance is learned from such a young age, dancers become extremely experienced in the movements and the synchronization becomes almost perfect. As a matter of fact, it is one of the key characteristics of the dance.
Even when dancers turn away from each other, they are able to perform the exact same movements, with a specific height of an elbow, foot extension or finger movement. The music that is played helps in a great way because it contains sound cues that allow people to quickly and unnoticeably adjust in case they lost the rhythm (Merkle 2012).
Another form of Balinese dancing is called “Topeng”. This is when a dancer or several are wearing special masks. Usually, these are of different types and have many kinds of emotions expressed on the mask. It is never taken off during a performance, and it is meant to symbolize ancestral roots and rituals.
The general theme of the masked dancing is connected to the kings that ruled a long time ago. It is very closely linked with the history of the people, and this is why it is appreciated even more than other types of Balinese dancing. Humor is often involved as one of the key aspects of the performance.
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Even though some events that are acted out relate to the ancient past, humor is still incorporated. This type of mixing of time and cultures adds greater uniqueness to the dance and the people performing and watching. The dancers have different roles within the setting, some are wise and philosophize about life while others are clowns who run around the stage and contrast the other characters.
The masks are made from wood, and the process is considered an art form in and of itself. Painting the masks and applying specific emotions is a very long process which requires high level of skill. It is rather interesting to note that the paint is made from all natural products, which adds even more connection to the nature and the spiritual world (Gold 2004). As such, Balinese dancing is one of the most original ones in the world.
Indonesian Balinese dancers have kept their popularity to the modern day. It stays an important part of the culture as the future generations continue to respect and transfer the legacy of the ancestors.
Gold, Lisa. Music in Bali. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2004. Print.
Merkle, Margarete. Bali: Magical Dances. Berlin, Germany: Epubli, 2012. Print.
Ness, Sally. Body, Movement, and Culture. Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1992. Print.
Spies, Walter. Dance & Drama in Bali. London, England: Tuttle Publishing, 2001. Print.