"3 Friends Fans" Bali's Legong Dance

Bali Legong
People/Country: Bali
Fan image: Legong fan dance
Border/Corners: sarong pattern, flower designs
Dry point etching

 Halo/ Hello in Indonesian

 Om suastiastu/ Hello in Balinese

Bali is a province of Indonesia ( the westernmost of the Lesser Sunda Islands), strongly influenced by Indian, Chinese and Hindi cultures, but with its own, unique personality.  Nine Balinese dances have be placed on the UNESCO World Heritage List, including the Legong dance pictured here.  (See another blog on the Balinese Baris Upacar Dance performed by male dancers, also on the UNESCO list).  I must say that the first time I saw authentic Balinese dances performed, I was struck by the inclusion of definitive eye movements among the dancers. This is not something I was used to seeing, and it had quite a dramatic effect. Eye movements in Balinese dance is used to express happiness, sadness, surprise, fear, etc. and gives a theatrical aspect to the movements. There are three categories of dance in Bali: Wali ( sacred dances ), Bebali (semi-sacred dances) and Balih-balihan (dances for entertainment purposes). The Legong falls into the last genre and is a considered a secular dance pantomime of a dream story of King Lasem.   Traditionally, it was performed in royal palaces by two (sometimes with a third attendant) young (pre-pubescent) female dancers (representing nymphs or virgins) with fans. It is  accompanied by the music of a Gamelon orchestra. The dance, itself, does not have sweeping motion. Rather there are subtle finger, foot and eye movements.

 In the 1930s, Legongs were performed outdoors at village celebrations. However, before the arrival of tourism (in the mid last century), the concept of a stage was not really known. Dance was considered a part of life or given as a spiritual offering.  It takes years of practice and dedication to dance the Legong, and these dancers often are considered with high social regard.  Today, Legong may be seen at the Ubud Royal Palace, on stages throughout Bali, and in public arenas performed by accomplished female dancers. Make-up accentuates the eyes and a priasan, white dot on the dancer’s forehead, denoted beauty. The silk costumes for the Legong are particularly sumptuous with gold treads and floral brocade patterns,  and an elaborate gold-leaf headdress, which can be quite weighty (Bali News, Legong). Some modern costume components are gold painted silk or leather.  But, actually, many performances only appear luxurious. The “gold” collars, front panels,  and headdresses are often made of cardboard.

The beautifully decorated fans are an integral part of the dance. Called Kipas, the dance fans are heavier and with thicker handles than the usual souvenir fans. Dancers do not demurely hide their faces behind these dances as in some Western dances, but rather move them in an energetic flapping/fluttering motion (like butterfly wings) or hold them with their hand (palm down) on the fan handle with the open fan below as pictured in the etching, as if “facing” the audience, not the dancer.  (A search of Bali Legong on YouTube will yield some performances worth watching.) The fans seem almost to have an "attitude" , and that is what made me want to include them in this section. 

Border: the pattern of this border is taken from a Balinese skirt (sarong or sarung) that was gift from my son, who plays in a the Dharma Swara Gamelan orchestra and had been in Bali working on a music project. Both men and women in Bali wear sarongs like this around their waists. (See original at bottom. To hear Gamelan music, click this site: https://www.dharmaswara.org/. Note; Scroll down to “Synesthesia”,  which is the piece composed by my son.)

Corners: the flowers in the corners are typical of Balinese/Indonesian designs found often on batik fabric. Batik is a wax-resist fabric dying process originating in Java, Indonesia and recognized by as an UNESCO Intangible Heritage Culture. (Actually, evidence of the technique has been found in ancient China, but it was in Java, that it became highly used and traded. The name comes from the Javanese work tik meaning to dot. )  Molten wax (or sometimes a rice paste) is applied to a base cloth using a metal funnel stylus (a canting) as a drawing tool or a copper stamp (tjap) adapted from the printing idea of a carved wooden block. Once the cloth is placed into the dye bath, areas covered with the wax resist the dye. Subsequent areas can be covered with wax to allow for multicolor dying. Ultimately, the wax is removed with boiling water, melting or scraping. Many countries such as China, Nigeria, Sri Lanka and Java create batiks (Gaffney).

References and Links:  
( Note: I do not endorse or mean to promote any  of these sites.) 
  • Archana R.D., Legong, Bali's enchanting traditional dance, 15/9/16, (gulfnews.com)
  • Bali News: UNESCO Appointed 9 Balinese Dances as World Heritage
  • Legong: Dance of the Maidens.https://disco.teak.fi/asia/legong-dance-of-the-maidens/
  • Gaffney, Diana, The Batik Guild, www.textiletrader.co.uk
  • Gamelan Dharma Swara. https://www.dharmaswara.org/
  •  Legong Dance in Bali, https://au.hotels.com/go/indonesia/legong-dance
  • Textile Research Centre, Leiden, the NetherlandsNationalclothing.org Beautiful folk costume for Indonesian legong dance 6/1/2020
  • The Twin Mirrors of Bali’s Legong Dance,  https://www.indoneo.com
  • UNESCO Intangible Heritage. Three Genres of traditional dance in Bali. https://ich.unesco.org/en/RL/three-genres-of-traditional-dance-in-bali-00617
  • UNESCO Appointed 9 Balinese Dances as World Heritage. https://baligrouporganizer.com/9-balinese-dances/

  • Wilcox. R. Turner. Folk and Festival Costume of the World. London. B.T. Batsford LTD. 1965..

Sarong from Bali

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The Art and Writing of Barbara Rizza Mellin