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Balinese Traditional Dance: Sanghyang

Traditional dances in Bali deserve a separate discussion. Balinese dance is not only outlandish outfits and sounds of an orchestra; what is happening on the stage is the history that may describe Hindu epic stories, Balinese folklore or sacred overtones. Dance in this tradition is a language where words are gestures. In addition, dance for Balinese people is not only moves to music; in fact, it is a dramatic performance. Music and drama in Bali are synonyms. Furthermore, Balinese dance is mostly a tourist entertainment, which is easily found by the visitors, since the performance is held almost every night in the tourist centers. However, the Balinese dance got the status of tourist entertainment rather recently. Initially, the majority of performances were a part of traditional exorcism, had religious or ritual inclinations, but after the art revolution they were adapted for the foreign public and became the main tourist attraction (Picard, 1996). Sanghyang was one such traditional dances in Bali.

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Sanghuang is derived from the rite of exorcism (Picard, 1996). Traditionally, it was performed during epidemics. The dance has two interpretations, which are Sanghyang Jaran and Sanghyang Dedari. First type is executed by “one or more dances accompanied by male chorus” (Picard, 1996, p. 150). A part of the performance is when an individual (medium) rides a bamboo-hobby horse barefoot through the burning coals. During the dance, an animal spirit enters the dancer in the state of trance. Two little girls, who are also in trance, traditionally perform Sanghyang Dedari. They are considered as nymphs and selected from four corners of the village. Afterwards, they dance in the temple accompanied by women chorus. After the ceremony they distribute holy water, which is accepted as ritual remedy (Picard, 1996).

The touristic adaptation of Sanghyang is the dance Kecak. It is a dance accompanied by male chorus. In the early 1930s, it was transformed into a performance of 50 men, placed in circles and illustrating the part of Ramayana (the sacred tale). Among the tourists it was called the Monkey Dance, since men in circles appeared as monkey army sent for saving the wife of Rama, who was kidnapped (Picard, 1996). The popularity of this dance was decreased during the war, but it returned in 1970. In addition, in order to attract more tourists, Sanghuang Jaran and Sanghuang Dedari (Fire Dance and Angel Dance respectively) were used as a performance for tourists. Nowadays, these exorcist dances are used for the initial purpose only in two villages in Bali.

From the Pickard point of view, this dance is the evidence of multidirectional culture in Bali. The idea means that this particular culture is so dynamic, that it easily absorbs the foreign influence. In addition, it transforms its orientation onto the foreign culture, but does not change the native spirituality. Incoming tourist in Bali helped the Balinese to evaluate the ancient customs and return to the traditional repertoire. However, from another perspective, the inrush of tourists eliminated the boundary between the sacred dance and entertainment. Despite the performance, which was improved to a great extent by Balinese, their spiritual and exorcist component fell by the wayside. Thus, the authorities created measures to distinguish the commercial performance from the sacred tradition. The foreign influence seemed to have no significant effect on the Balinese dance, since people were only adapting the performance for the audience. However, the noticeable changes were noticed in the dances. Thus, a strict division was introduced between the dances that are tied with the rituals and those having onlyy commercial background. This distinction became a true “cultural challenge”.

The entire Balinese dance was closely examined to define its spirituality or commerciality. However, the study of Monkey Dance, Fire Dance and Angel Dance showed that it is hard to distinguish their nature. These particular dances were created particularly for touristic purposes, but they use many moves and features being characteristic for traditional ritual dances. In addition, the accessories used in these performances are said to emanate a special energy for the dancers to express during performance. The combination of accessories and movements made them ritual dances, but the fact that they are performed for tourist public makes them commercial dances. Despite the fact that resolution about the separation of the sacred and commercial dance was adopted, the misunderstandings still occur. According the authorities’ decision, the dance performed for its initial purposes is ritual, but when presented for the foreign public, it is commercial. However, the similar features exist; thus, the risk of confusion is present based on the fact that the dances are distinguished only by the circumstances of their presentation.

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To my mind, the usage of traditional dances for tourist entertainment is wrong, since there is a risk that the native culture would be dissolved in the globalized world. The tradition is already disappearing due to the confusion between ritual and commercial dance described earlier. In my opinion, the authentic tradition should stay the way it was intended. In addition, the ritual is a secret aimed only for those, who are performing this mystery. Perhaps, in order to study the particular culture, it is permissible to show these dances to investigators, but I think it is unnecessary to turn them into an attraction.

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