Balinese dances can be separated into 2 classes, dances for the gods and dances for the people. Balinese temples (pura) have 3 courtyards (outer, middle and inner) representing the transition from the domain of humans to the domain of the gods. The most sacred Balinese dances take place in the jeroan (inner courtyard) far away from the gaze of tourists.
The most important Balinese dances (wali), which include the baris gede, gabor, pendet and the masked dance topeng pejegan are all performed in the jeroan. The middle courtyard of the pura (temple) is used for ceremonial dances (bebali) such as the gambuh and ramayana are performed in the jaba tengah (middle courtyard). The temple pemangku (temple priest) and pedanda (high priest) conduct rituals and bless worshipers on special occasion such as the odalan (temple anniversary) when the whole desa (village) will be in attendance. Balinese wayang kulit (shadow puppet) shows are also a part of temple ceremonies and ceremonial observance.
The jaba (outer courtyard) of the temple is where popular tourist dances are performed. These are still traditional dances and great skill and expertise is required by the dancer and the accompanying gamelan orchestra. A great place to see a Balinese dance performance is the Royal Palace in Ubud, located in the middle of Jl. Raya Ubud. Typical dances performed in the outer courtyard include the legong, kebyar and baris tungal. Balinese dance has been and is still in a state of creative growth with people such as the famous Mario choreographing newer versions of dances.
Every night on Bali TV it is possible to watch a traditional Balinese dance. Bali TV is broadcast and can be viewed on public TV all over the island.,
In 1931 Bali expats Walter Spies and Katharine Mershon choregraphed the ‘kecak‘ dance, for a German movie. The dance involves 50 or so Balinese men sitting in a circle, arms outstretched, chanting cak-kecak, with a succession of solo female dancers and others acting out a good vs. evil play in the center. Kecak dances are popular today and can be seen at Pura Luhur Uluwatu and other locations.
Famous Balinese dancer Mario choreographed the oleg tambulilingan (bumblebee dance) in 1952 for a Balinese dance troupe’s tour of Europe. Another modern favourite is the genggong (frog dance).
One Balinese dance that is held is special regard is the gambuh. This dance is said to be base of all Balinese dances, due to its moves and musical accompaniment. German expat Walter Spies wrote in 1938 “Every dance form, is ultimately derived from gamboeh; all dance technique originates in its movements, all scales and melodies from its peculiar gamelan.” There is today a ‘Gambuh Project‘ which seeks to preserve this traditional Balinese dance.
Male and female performers of Balinese dance move with a different style. The women being wrapped in a tight sarong, bending forward, using angular arm movements and small, fast foot movements. The men using wide stances and making use of the dangling extended fingers of their outfits. Watching a Balinese dance performance is a great way to enjoy Balinese mythological culture.