Dance Categories

Dance in West Java can be divided into five categories:

  1. Tari Kursus (Course of study dance)
  2. Tari Topeng (Masked dance)
    1. Topeng Cirebon
    2. Topeng Priyangan
  3. Tari Wayang (Dance drama)
  4. Tari Rakyat (Social or folk dance)
    1. Ketuk Tilu (Includes Jaipongan, Cikeruhan, and Bajidoran)
    2. Betawi
  5. Tari Kreasi Baru (New creation dance)

The dances from each of these categories is quite distinctive in its presentation. They do, however, have obvious similarities because they developed from the same tradition and each form has influenced the others. Thus, for example, the Tari Kursus was influenced not only by popular dance, but also was strongly influenced by the Topeng Cirebon (Mask Dance) Tumenggung.

Tari Kursus

gawilIn the early 20th century, there was a movement to catalog and standardize court dance. This was paralleled, in the anti-colonial nationalist movement, by the recognition of the value of classical dance and dance-drama and its contribution to Indonesian culture. Tari kursus comes from that time. Tari Kursus is a series of solo compositions for men. It is derived primarily from tari tayub or tayuban, a style of social dance popular at the turn of the century that was a variation of the folk dance form, ketuk tilu.

The term tari kursus is relatively new. It appeared after the adoption of Bahasa Indonesia as a national language. Even today, the older generation uses the name ibing keurseus. Ibing means dance and keurseus is how the Sundanese say kursus or learning. The word keurseus is directly related to the period in the 1920’s when the form was first created. As noted above, this was a time when people -- especially in Bandung -- were very interested in creative dance derived from traditional sources as an expression of national identity . People wanted to intensively study dance and used the Dutch word for a course of study, kursus. Later the form was called ibing patokan or standards dance, because in tari kursus there is a set choreography with standards or guidelines for proper movements, whereas in the folkloric style, tari tayub, there were no such guidelines.

Tari kursus is accompanied by a full gamelan, either the 7-tone gamelan pelog or the 5-tone gamelan salendro. The music is similar to that played for tayub as well as for kliningan and wayang. Tari kursus was originally performed by aristocrats, intellectuals, and elite government officials (mayors, regents, district heads and so on). Unlike tayub, which was performed in private homes, it was often performed in public, in the city center.

Tari kursus is specialized in its style and technique. Its themes and choreography reflect general types or stages of human character. In one performance, all these types can be performed at once or the performance can be limited to just one character type. The names of the character types are:

  • Liyep (or Lenyep) -- gentle or refined
  • Lanyap -- agile, lively or frisky
  • Gagah -- rough or strong; soldiers often possess this character type

The performance can also be divided based on the tempo of the accompanying music:

  • Lenyepan
  • Gawil
  • Kawitan
  • Kastawa
  • Gunung Sari
  • Keringan

Today there is little interest in the further social development of tari kursus, although it is taught in the formal dance institutes. However, it has had a great influence on today’s creative dances.

Tari Topeng

topeng.sCirebon, as one of the centers of culture and art in Jawa Barat (greater West Java) had a significant influence on dance, which later inspired dances created and performed in Priangan. That is why this category, based on the style and way it is performed, is divided into Cirebon and Priangan styles.

The term topeng or mask refers to a performance in which certain specific masks are used; not all masked performance can be called topeng. The masks themselves are called kedok or cover. Another meaning of the word topeng comes from the root word, ketap-ketop gepeng, the term for two circular button-sized decorations that hang from the dancer's headdress (sobrah). The wooden masks worn by the dancers are not tied at the head but held between the teeth from the inside. When the dancer sings, the masked is lifted up a little from the face.

Topeng is performed in both court and villages. The location of the performance does not mean there is any difference in the style -- the dance is done by the same artists. Traditional topeng is often performed for religious celebrations such as circumcisions and weddings. However, there are other important traditional ceremonial rituals that are getting rare where topeng is also used.

For individual celebrations, the dance is usually performed in the courtyard of a private house, while for communal celebrations the performance is held in the village center, village court, or cemetery. The different settings, audiences, and environment will automatically create different programs of entertainment, since there is an intimate relationship between performers and the context of the performance. Thus, in topeng, no two performances are identical. Each performance is different because each is created for an individual purpose and context.

Tari Wayang

gatotkaca9The dance-drama was called raket in the court of Banten, a term that first appeared in the 14th century. In Cirebon, the dance-drama was called wayang wong or wayang orang. It was also called topeng dalang because there was a narrator (dalang). It is accompanied by the five-tone gamelan salendro. The dance drama in Cirebon more often presents stories from the epic Mahabharata

Although the bedaya in Central Java refers to a court dance performed by nine or seven women, in the courts of Cirebon the number of dancers was not fixed. In the 20th century, the Kanoman court bedaya is usually danced by six women because, according to former Sultan Kanoman X, the number refers to the Rukun Iman (Six Pillars of Belief) of Islam. The stories presented are the Menak stories, stories of Amir Hamzah, the uncle of the Prophet Mohammad.

Tari Rakyat

kembang topeng2Nearly every dance form originally had a ritual purpose and some hoped-for supernatural effect. Going through a ceremonial ritual was one of the ways to reach spiritual tranquility and dance and music were used to complete the ritual. Today, many folk dances are performed as part of a life-cycle or seasonal ceremony, to give thanks and to remember the ancestors.

Tari Rakyat represents a wide spectrum of dance, from ancient trance dances performed in conjunction with religious ceremonies to social dances devised last week in Bandung nightspots. Two influences on this type of dance bear mention: pencak silat, Sundanese martial arts; and ronggeng or sinden, professional female entertainers who sing and dance, not only at public and private festivities, such as weddings and circumcisions, but also to attract crowds at the beginning of dance dramas (wayang).

Ronggeng originally entertained the aristocracy; later the practice, believed to have existed as early as the eighth or ninth centuries, became common everywhere. Thus, in West Java many folk dance forms are customarily performed by professional entertainers.

Two genres of tari rakayat are: Ketuk tilu and Betawi.

Tari Kreasi Baru

merak05.sTari kreasi baru (new creation dances) have been developed following Indonesian independence (1945). They use classical and folk movements in a modern setting and are designed for stage performance by dance artists. Indonesian arts institutes and universities offer degrees in choreography. Modern choreographers show great innovation in addressing new themes and incorporating movements, from both traditional Indonesian and modern dance sources, into their works.

The best known example of tari kreasi baru is the peacock dance. It is associated with West Java, as it was among the first of the new creation dances composed there after independence by Raden Tjetje Somantri. The dance shows peacocks in the garden, drinking, and displaying their feathers.