The Dances of Indonesia

Every culture has its own dances, and every dance has a story. Did you know that Indonesia has hundreds of traditional dances? In this edition we explore some of the country’s popular traditional dances and their origins.



A dance from the Gayo tribe of the Islamic province of Aceh, the Saman is performed by about 10 people who sit on the floor in a straight line. The dance, a UNESCO Masterpiece of Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity, represents education, religiosity, respect, heroism, solidarity and togetherness.


Piring is Indonesian for ‘plate’, and plates are the main tool of this dance. Born in the Minangkabau tribe in West Sumatra, Tari Piring, or the ‘plate dance’, used to be performed as part of a thanksgiving ritual following a successful harvest.


One of the must-see attractions of Yogyakarta and Central Java, the origin of the Ramayana ballet on Hindu-influenced Java is unknown. The dance is inspired by the eponymous Hindu epic which
tells the struggle of Prince Rama in rescuing his wife Sita from the demon king Ravana.

Kancet Papatai


Also known as Tari Perang, or ‘war dance’, this dance from East Kalimantan tells the story of the Dayak tribe warriors during war. Vibrant and dynamic, the war dance is usually performed by 10 to 20 men who carry the tribe’s traditional weapon, the mandau.


The Sajojo is performed at important events and cultural festivals to welcome guests. Originating from Papua, the dance is basically a much older version of the modern-day flashmob, as it is often performed by more than 30 people in congruent movements.


Internationally known as the ‘fire dance’, Kecak involves a huge group of men in checked sarongs sitting on the ground around a bonfire with hands in the air chanting cak cak cak repeatedly. A sacred dance in the past, it was turned into a performing art in the village of Bona, Gianyar, in the 1930s.