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In this chapter:

  • Most Balinese arts are linked in some way to Hindu beliefs, gods and spirits
  • Girls learn traditional Balinese dances from an early age
  • Wayang Kulit is a well-known shadow puppet drama performed in Bali that tells many traditional stories
  • There are many different Balinese dramas and many use elaborate masks to portray humans, animals and demons
  • Gamelan orchestras play Bali`s traditional music and have many traditional instruments

Dance, drama and music

In Bali, most arts in Balinese culture are linked in some way to people's beliefs and the gods and spirits that they worship. Performances are often prayer offerings, but are also performed simply for enjoyment.

Traditional Balinese dances are very dramatic and tell a story through movement. For this reason dance and drama are very closely linked.


Bali is well-known for its traditional dances. Most of these dances have their origins in the Hindu Javanese and Indian traditions and are deeply connected to the island's religious beliefs. These traditional dances are sophisticated and stylish. Many were developed between 700 and 1200 years ago. Traditionally, Balinese dances were performed for celebrations, temple ceremonies or as offerings to the gods. Today, however, dances are also performed for the many tourists who visit the island each year.

Each dance is different. Some are only movement, whilst others combine movement and drama to make a retelling of a story more accurate. Some are sacred as they portray the stories of the gods and Bali's history, whilst others are more modern.

The movements in Balinese dances are symbolic. The emphasis is on the eyes, head and arm movements, which work in harmony.  Facial expressions and emotions are not shown during these dances, and in some instances it seems as though the dancers have gone into a trance-like state
The Balinese learn dance from an early age. Some girls will begin their tuition from the age of four and continue dancing throughout their lives. Dancing is mostly performed by Balinese girls, but boys are also involved.
There are hundreds of Balinese dances, all with different meanings.
See image 1 

Wali dances

Wali dances are the most traditional and are performed in temples across the island. They are the most revered performances and hold the most historical and religious significance. They are often presented as part of a ceremony. There is little storyline in these dances but they are very spiritual.

Rejang, Baris and Sanghyang dances

Rejang, Baris and Sanghyang dances are described as 'trance' dances and are also highly religious. The Baris dance very demanding and can be performed solo or as a group. It is a warrior dance that centres on a young warrior who is preparing to go to war. Posture is very important in this dance, and reflects the qualities of a warrior, such as dignity and ferocity. 

Legong, Kecak and Joged dances

The dances that are performed solely for entertainment purposes are Legong, Kecak and Joged dances. The Legong Keraton dance is a classical dance performed by three young girls. It gracefully retells the myth of Princess Rangkesari, a beautiful maiden who was kidnapped by a king. Whilst one girl introduces the story, the other two perform identical movements in identical costumes.

Dances are usually accompanied by the musical sounds of the gamelan.


Just like the dances, Balinese dramas portray the essence of the Balinese culture and religion. Their dramatic portrayals are very different to Western performances, and incorporate aspects of the visual arts through puppets and masks.

Wayang Kulit is a famous play that uses shadow puppets in its portrayal (see animation). It is a very popular performance art not only in Bali but throughout Indonesia. The puppets are made of gilded leather and are elaborately painted. Performances are given during different ceremonies, temple services, for tourists and for entertainment in the villages. Serious stories are often retold using humour. The puppeteers are often very skilled and are able to give voice to a number of different characters, control the puppets' movements and organise the musicians that accompany the play.

Masks are used to depict humans, demons and different animals in traditional dramas (see image 2). Like dances and shadow puppet performances, these dramas are also accompanied by the gamelan. The masks are used as a mechanism for the performer's rhythm and movements. There are four traditional Balinese dramas which use masks: Topeng; Barong; Wayang Wong; and Calonarang.

Topeng dramas are performed on special occasions (temple celebrations and other spiritual events) and re-enact historical stories from Bali's history. These performances are used to link the real world and the ancestor world.

The Barong also incorporates aspects of dance and a giant puppet. It is a story about protecting a threatened village from evil sprits. The giant animal puppets are used to protect the village from these spirits.

Wayang Wong is a dramatic tale of the famous Ramayana story. It is a great Hindu epic that tells the historical story of good and evil. The story revolves around Prince Rama and his wife, who is abducted by a demon.

The fourth Balinese drama, Calonarang, tells the story of a king, a witch and a priest. Calonarang was queen who was accused of practising black magic. There are different versions of the story.

Masks in Balinese dramas are used to portray humans, demons and animals. They are intricately made by talented artists.


Just like dance and drama, music is a very important aspect of the Balinese culture. The most popular and well-known musical sounds in Bali come from the gamelan orchestra. Gamelans are made up of many different local instruments. Some of these include: the gangsa, a xylophone-style instrument with keys made of bronze and beaten with a mallet; rion, which are bronzed pots played by four men; a trompong, which is similar to the rion but played by only one person; a cymbal-like instrument called a cengceng; and kendangs, which are Balinese drums.

Styles of music can vary greatly. The gamelan is capable of creating a soft, haunting sound.  It is also known, however, for its ability to play fast, loud, and dramatic music due to its large percussion section.

See image 3


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Question 1/5

1. Most traditional dances have their origins in

the Hindu Javanese and Indian traditions.

the Balinese and Javanese traditions.

the Dutch and Javanese traditions.

the stone age traditions.


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