The Story Behind The Popular Balinese Art, Kecak Fire Dance

The island of Bali is synonymous with culture and tradition. Behind all the uniqueness, there is one Balinese art that has long been a magnet to attract tourists. That art is called the Kecak Dance, a performing art that involves many people in each performance.


Kecak dance is a type of dance that is often performed in several major events in Bali. The uniqueness of Kecak fire dance lies in its rhythm, as well as the dancers who form a circle while exclaiming “cak cak ke cak cak ke”. During the performance, the audience will be presented with several scenes from the Ramayana stories.


What is Kecak Dance?


what is kecak dance from bali



Kecak dance is actually not an ancient dance that existed during the royal period. Kecak dance is a sendratari (dramatic art) inspired by the Balinese ritual of Sang Hyang. It is a means of spiritual communication between the community and the gods or ancestral spirits. In an unconscious state, they will dance and be accompanied by songs of worship and accompaniment of tetabuhan. This tradition is a cultural heritage to ward off bad luck. Kecak dance is also known as Fire Dance. This dance is a highly anticipated attraction by tourists who are visiting Bali.


Kecak fire dance is usually performed by 50-70 shirtless male dancers. They sit in a circle in an arena or stage in the center of which there are several torches. Wearing Balinese plaid sarongs (kain poleng), the dancers will calmly shout “cak” while raising both hands. This dance is so unique. Played without the sound of gamelan instruments and does not use a stage background. Dancers only focus on shouting “cak” to run this performance. Their voices are like a choir that creates an energetic feel, as an accompaniment to the epic Ramayana story.


As a form of dramatic dance, Kecak dance is generally performed in an open space at sunset. The Kecak dance pattern is forming a circle. Before the performance begins the dancers will sit tightly while cross-legged in a curved pattern. The cohesiveness of the dancers will create a dynamic, energetic and vibrant rhythm. So that the tempo of the show will feel faster every time, but still offer attractions that are so mesmerizing. The best location to watch kecak dance performances is at Uluwatu Temple. With the background of the sunset, tourists can watch the kecak dance performance which is phenomenal. Besides Uluwatu Temple, Kecak dance can also be found at Tanah Lot, GWK Cultural Park, Pura Dalem Ubud, Padang Tegal Stage, Batubulan, Umadewi Stage and others.


History of Kecak Fire Dance


History of Kecak Fire Dance



The history of Kecak dance began with the idea of a Balinese dancer named I Wayan Limbak, along with German painter Walter Spies. Both collaborated to take and modify some elements of Sang Hyang dance to create kecak dance. Around the 1930s, kecak dance was introduced. As explained earlier, kecak dance originated from the Sang Hyang tradition. A form of traditional activity to ward off bad luck.


The performers would dance in an unconscious state, and begin to communicate with the gods and ancestral spirits. I Wayan Limbak and Walter Spies then took the initiative to take a number of Sang Hyang dance components, as well as modify them as a dance that exists today. Both also inserted the popular Ramayana story and made it into a drama dance art.


Kecak dance inventor I Wayan Limbak passed away in 2003 at the age of 106. He left behind a spectacular body of work that is now a tourist icon in Bali and Indonesia. Mr. Limbak, had created a dance called “The Monkey Dance”. Inspired by the “exorcist” dance, Limbak popularized the kecak dance and helped shape Bali’s image as an island paradise with an exotic culture.


The Uniqueness of Kecak Dance and the Story Elements in it


The Uniqueness of Kecak Dance and the Story Elements in it



The meaning of Kecak dance can be used as a valuable lesson. This is because, in the performance the Balinese dancers will perform several scenes from the Ramayana story. A play that has long been famous among the Balinese people. In the performance, about a dozen main dancers will act out a number of characters from the Ramayana story. Generally, the two main protagonists, Rama and Sita, will enter the stage. This area is already surrounded by other dancers who form the Kecak dance floor pattern, which is circular.


The main kecak dance movement is to raise both hands, while shouting “cak cak cak”. The sound of “cak cak cak” accompanies the Ramayana story. The two dancers who play the characters Rama and Sita, will dance and tell the story of how the two characters carry out their daily lives. The moment when Rama goes hunting, will be used by an evil giant named Rahwana to kidnap Sita. This dramatic scene to save Sita, becomes the core of the story performed from kecak dance.


In simple terms, the story elements of kecak dance can be explained as follows:


The first scene: Tells the story of Ravana’s attempt to kidnap Sita, by sending some of his men. In this scene, Rama is told to be hunting in the forest.


The second scene: Shows the conflict between the garuda birds, who try to save Sita. However, this attempt fails because the antagonist figure Rahwana is so strong.


The third scene: Tells the situation of Rama who is lost in the forest and cannot save Sita. He then asks Hanoman for help to save his wife.


The Last scene: Tells the story of Hanoman’s success in saving Sita and burning down the Rahwana’s Alengka Pura kingdom. Hanoman also tells Shinta to wait for Rama’s arrival.


The Ramayana story is staged and accompanied by the sound of “cak cak cak cak”, which is the uniqueness of Kecak dance. Each attraction will amaze the audience who see it.


Kecak Fire Dance Properties


Kecak Fire Dance Properties



Kecak dance performances generally show dozens of shirtless male dancers. They will wear Balinese plaid sarongs. On their wrists or feet, the dancers will wear rattles or small bells. Compiled from various sources, here are the kecak dance properties used during the performance:


Rattles: This object is used to add sound accompaniment to the Kecak dance performance. The sound of the rattles and the sound of shouting “cak cak cak”, will be an interesting spectacle.


Frangipani flowers: as a complementary object to Balinese rituals, frangipani flowers are also used as one of the properties that must be present in Kecak dance performances.


Embers: Embers become the next Kecak dance property. Embers are often used by dancers to perform attractions by stepping on them. This scene is a spectacle that is highly awaited by tourists.


Shawl: Dancers sitting in a circle will wear a sarong or shawl with a checkered pattern, black and white in color. This shawl is very closely related to Balinese life because it symbolizes the concept of Rwa Bhineda (good or bad things).


Mask: the mask is used by the main dancer who plays the role of Rahwana and Hanoman.


Offerings: offerings are identical to the rituals performed by Balinese people.


Kecak dance has been recognized throughout the world. This dance makes Bali a tourist island that is thick with cultural values and traditions. The figure of I Wayan Limbak should not be forgotten. This dance maestro from Bedulu Village, Bali can be an idol. Kecak fire dance must continue to be preserved, so that the next generation can learn it.

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