Intricate hand gestures, complex foot movements and deep gazes replace the spoken word in the traditional masked Balinese dance, Legong Kraton. A form of royal entertainment in the 19th century, Bali’s tourists are now its main audience and, even if quality varies, it’s a riveting visual experience.
In feudal times, pre-pubescent girls or young boys were the dancers of choice, performing for indulgent kings and courtiers in the royal households. It’s different now in Ubud’s temples and palaces, with adult performers too attracting hundreds of visitors to the evening shows.
Clutching a cold Bintang beer – not a centuries-old Legong tradition – I arrive early for a front-row seat. There are several theories on where the dance originated. “A prince called Dewa Karna had a vision in 1825,” says one tour guide. “While meditating, he saw heavenly nymphs dancing the Legong. He wanted to re-create this vision but none of the village girls was beautiful enough – so he had masks made to cover their faces.”
“He must have been fussy,” remarks a tourist. She had a point. Balinese women aren’t known for their lack of good looks. The un-Prince Charming attitude aside, the prince was right - plot misunderstandings aside Legong dancing is captivating, each movement catches your eye, every moment one of drama.
Equally enthralling is the music, the Indonesian percussion style, gamelan, its metallophones, kendhang drums and xylophones creating a beautiful sound heard throughout the temples of Bali and Java. It’s so absorbing that when it’s all over, it’s like waking up from a very vivid dream.
Get your own travel booking website for free and set up shop as a TRVL Agent. Learn more!