Dance in Southeast Asia is amazing.  From the Water Puppet shows in Vietnam to the Fan Leb from Thailand, there is so much to see. Continue reading to learn about the many different forms of dance found throughout this region of the world, as well as what makes each of them unique and beautiful in its own way.

Water_puppets_2508154456_bbb0c9b315_bVietnamese Dance and Water Puppets

Water Puppet shows originated in the 12th century.  The puppets dance on the water, apparently of their own volition.   The puppeteers stand behind a split bamboo screen, waist high in water.  The puppets are attached to wooden plates with rudders, and long bamboo poles are used to move them.  Depending on the performance, it may take six puppeteers to control one puppet.

Each of the 54 ethnic groups from Vietnam has its own traditional dance, each graceful and elegant.  The dances depict various activities, such as harvesting or rowing a boat, but also a river flowing, or something similar.  The Lion Dance, which originated in China but has developed into a Vietnamese style, is performed at traditional festivals, such as New Year and the Mid-Autumn Festival.


Male or Female? Javanese Dance is Different

Javanese dance developed in the courts to entertain the royals.  There are three basic types:  Dances for men (Beksan putra), which are a sort of martial arts dance; dances for women (Beksan putri), which are mainly for entertainment or courtship; and Beksan Wayang, which are dances depicting poems or epics.  It is common for traditional dances to be performed at wedding receptions in Java.

Fan Lebfawnleb

Traditionally from the north of Thailand, Fan Leb is the Fingernail Dance (Fan means dance, Leb means fingernail), with the dancers wearing bronze nails on every finger except for their thumbs.  Fon Tien, which translates to the Candle Dance, may be performed at the same time.  These dances originated in 850 AD when Thailand was founded and they were heavily influenced by Cambodia.  They are performed by groups of dancers, usually during the day.  The female dancers typically wear their hair in a chignon, with a chain of jasmine woven into it.

Bali-Danse_0704aTraditional Dance in Bali

Often called tribal dances, the traditional dances of the common people generally involve men and women dancing together (much less formal than the court dances).  The Legong dance of Bali is the heavenly dance of divine nymphs, and is considered the epitome of femininity and grace.  So highly is it thought of that girls as young as five years old aspire to become Legong dancers.

Traditional Cambodian DancesDanseuses_kmer_(2)

Kymer Dance, or Aspara Dance, depicts a story or message.  There are now four genres of this type of dance: Classical, Shadow, Lakhon Khol (all-male masked dance-drama) and Folk Dance, which may be ceremonial or theatrical.  Surprisingly, most of the traditional dances seen nowadays were only developed in the 18th century onwards.

Shadow dance is fascinating because it uses puppets that are either big black puppets, which are more common in Cambodia, or small ones with moveable joints.  The puppets are held in front of a light source, casting a shadow that moves in time to music, while a narrator tells a story.

 No visit to Southeast Asia would be complete without seeing traditional dancing, so do make a point of seeing it and enjoying it, as you will not be able to experience these dances anywhere else in the world!

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