In Bali, traditional dance music is played to a child in the womb and they learn the proper hand movements before they can walk. Training for the “legong” dance begins at the age of five and is always done by girls who have not yet reached puberty.
Bali – Been There

Balinese dancing and the story of Dewa Karna

Photo by Frans Lemmens

Bali – Been There Balinese dancing and the story of Dewa Karna

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.

Meera Dattani
Meera Dattani Travel Writer

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.

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A Legong Kraton dancer hides behind her fan. The gold-rich costume are tight and heavy, restricting movement, so much of the storytelling of the dance comes from formalized eye and hand gestures. Photo by Jochem Wijnands

Jochem Wijnands

Jochem Wijnands

Nikon F5

Aperture
ƒ/3.5
Exposure
1/250
ISO
100
Focal
90 mm

A Legong Kraton dancer hides behind her fan. The gold-rich costume are tight and heavy, restricting movement, so much of the storytelling of the dance comes from formalized eye and hand gestures.

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