Balinese Culture Until Today: Survival of The Flexible

Submitted by viravira on 23 October 2013   •  Destination   •  Bali

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This post is a contribution from Diyan Surya, on his trip to Bali for some meet-ups with Balinese Culture and Arts experts.


Walter Spies : dude, you’ve got an awesome Sanghyang dance ritual there..

The people of Bali : seriously, dude? Nice to know that you dig it.

Walter Spies : could I, by any chance, modify the ritual a little bit?

The people of Bali : what do you wanna do with it?

Walter Spies : well, I really like the monkey dance part, I think it’s the coolest part. I’m gonna make the mouth percussion into a full performance. It’s gonna be rad!!

The people of Bali : whoa, we never thought of it that way. Sounds like a great idea, go ahead, dude! *and they continued with the cock fight*


That’s how I imagine the conversation between Walter Spies, a German artist, and the people of Bali went in 1930’s. On his visit to Bali, Spies saw the ritual dance of Sanghyang, and was most captivated with the monkey dance part. A light bulb turned on in his head, to take out the monkey dance part and make it stand on its own as a dance. Voila! The result is what you and I may now know as “Kecak Dance”. It has also been a favorite amongst foreign tourists in Bali, while the original Sanghyang ritual is still intact.

Balinese Cultures

This new creation can’t help but make think of how open-minded the Balinese are. They were fair-minded with the changes offered by outsiders. No wonder the Balinese culture and art are still popular until today, and maintained even by the young.

I got this information from I Wayan Dibia, a Balinese artist, whom I address as Pak Dibia. I met this reposeful man a while ago on a trip to Bali, which I won from a lucky draw. Pak Dibia is a professor in Arts and he teaches at an art school in Bali called Sekolah Tinggi Seni Denpasar. His full name is Prof. DR. I Wayan Dibia, SST., MA. (that’s a heck of a line on a name card :P). He is widely known for his Balinese traditional dance creations, including the ones based on Kecak. This seasoned artist has also traveled to show the world the Balinese culture and art.

balinese cultures

 “They [the Balinese people] let the young generation touch the Balinese art.” ~ I Wayan Dibia.

Pak Dibia’s statement reminds me of many Indonesian arts that are on the verge of extinction. This sad reality is usually caused by the exclusivity of the arts. Some can only be shown to or conducted by certain people, such as the royals, the “chosen ones”, certain line of blood, and aren’t allowed to be performed outside of royal palaces. Consequently, people’s awareness, much less preservation of the arts, is limited by these restrictions.

Fortunately, there are people who care enough to do something to try and preserve the arts.

Gelar is one of them. This small company now consisted of Bram, his wife Ratih, and Aulia, used to only produce traditional performances in big cities of Indonesia. Now they expand the activities to Cultural Trips. Instead of taking the traditional dances from all over Indonesia to elite stages in big cities like Jakarta and Surabaya, they now also arrange trips for culture enthusiasts to the original places of the art and cultures.

balinese cultures

The trip where I encountered Pak Dibia was also facilitated by Gelar, in a series of Mahakarya Indonesia (translates to “Indonesian masterpiece”) project. They took us to meet several prominent figures in Balinese arts and cultures, who kindly explained to us about their fields of expertise, and how they are great Indonesian creations.

The meeting with Pak Dibia, for me personally, came into fruition when I got to help out my buddy Avo back in Jakarta, who was making a documentary on the collaboration of kecak and beatbox. Seeing Pak Dibia’s enthusiasm in collaborations, I didn’t hesitate to phone him and ask to participate in the project as an expert in Kecak. I was right. He responded very positively! 😀 (It’s an on-going project, so, stay tuned for the final result!)

Balinese culture

The Balinese’ success in keeping their arts and cultures alive is what makes Bali’s art scene sparkling in the eyes of people around the world. I mean, of course, it’s also known for the beautiful landscape, but what part of Indonesia doesn’t have beautiful landscape? So now my question is, can Balinese’ open-mindedness rub off to fellow Indonesians? I think it is time that we, Indonesians in general, progress our way of thinking in order to preserve – and enhance – our arts and cultures. Traditional art and performances shouldn’t be put on a pedestal, kept in glass boxes, but out of reach to most people. By letting the people feel like they own it, they will participate in preserving the arts.

balinese cultures


If you are interested to experience the Indonesian traditions yourself, or at least see and listen to what experts have to say about them, the easiest way is you can sign up for Gelar’s upcoming trips. I must say, they don’t charge you cheaper than other trip organizers. But knowledge such as this isn’t cheap, and based on my experience, I can say that Gelar is not your ordinary trip organizers. They care about Indonesian art and culture’s preservation, and they can arrange meetings or gatherings with experts and prominent figures in respective fields.

To find more about their themed trips, you can check out their website.

The upcoming trips include:

Jembrana trip

balinese cultures
photo from Gelar


–       What? A trip to Jembrana (in West Bali), to see and learn more about the annual buffalo race called “makepung”, weaving art called “endek”, masks, gamelan made of bamboo called “jegog”, and surprisingly an ancient site of Gilimanuk.

–       When? November 22-24, 2013.

–       Who? The trip will include explanations on the subjects by Putu Fajar Arcana, a journalist and editor from Kompas daily, who was born in West Bali and spent his early life in Bali.

–       How much? The trip’s fare is IDR 3,750,000/person, exclude transportation to and from Bali. If you can get your hands on the latest National Geographic Traveler (Indonesia) magazine, you should be able to see the trip information there.

Tamasya Batik trip

balinese cultures
photo from Gelar


–       What? The batik ‘tour’ this time is a road trip through places with prominent batik cultures on the south coast of Java Island. The trip will start from Solo, Central Java, to Klaten, Yogyakarta, Purworejo, Kebumen, Banyumas, Ciamis, Tasikmalaya, Garut, and finishes in Jakarta.

–       When? December 11-15, 2013.

–       Who? The trip will take along Sonny Muchlison to inject you knowledge on batik. He is a fashion designer, lecturer and fashion critique.

–       How much? IDR 4,750,000/person, exclude transportation to and from Solo. You can also check out the information in the latest edition of Tamasya magazine.

If you’re feeling up to it and want to sign up for the trip, email us at or and we will take it from there.*


*Indohoy is now an official media partner of Gelar.

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