Ubud, known the artistic capital of Bali, is the place to catch a traditional dance performance. Even the most modest of shows seems to be all gold and flowers and meters of colourful fabric.

Pretty, no?

Pretty, no?

Every night of the week you’ll find yourself overwhelmed by the choice of different dances and all the different troupes performing them in different venues.

Being edgy and adventurous, Yf and I opted for the fire dance. Fire means there’s no way the show would be dull.


They don’t call it the fire dance for nothing.

We bought our tickets from one of the many sellers around town and found our venue one the grounds of a small temple. Although the surroundings were beautiful in a more humble way than, say, the royal palace, I felt a bit like we were in a makeshift tent in a parking lot alone on our plastic chairs.


So many men making such strange sounds.

Luckily more audience members arrived and the show was stunning. No instruments to create the music- just about a hundred men going “chacka chacka chacka” and “op op op!”. I was very close to being hypnotised several times, but camera flashes from the audience snapped me out of it frequently.


My favourite character. Also, the guys cracking themselves and each other up in the background when they thought no one was paying attention to them.

There were three dances for that night’s programme: the monkey dance (Kecak), the little girls’ dance (Sanghyang dedari) and the horse dance (Sanghyang jaran). The narratives were quite complicated and I didn’t follow the plot, but it was never dull.


Horse dance. Watch out! Those burning coconut husks are hot and they fly under the dancer’s feet.

A couple of nights later, I dropped into another dance show on a whim. This one was inside with glossy tickets and an opportunity to have your photo taken with the dancers afterwards.  I enjoyed the fact that the show and orchestra were all women, but it did feel much more tourist-satisfaction-driven, with many short pretty dances and a big barong beast and a bunch of little monkeys at the end. Fine, I’ll admit that that was cool. I do like elaborate costumes.

The stage was brightly lit so pictures were easy to take. I’m glad I saw it, though, to get a taste of the variety of shows and styles (this one was barong and legong dance, a classical and more ‘beautiful’ dance).


Everything that sparkles.




Little boys watching the performance and pissing their pants laughing when the monkeys came out. Maybe their friends were performing?

Knowing absolutely nothing about dance other than what I learn from TV and movies (namely Dance Academy and Center Stage, which doesn’t give me any credibility, granted) and even less about classical balinese dance, I think the best review I can give you is: if you have the chance to see the horse dance, go!

They burn a stack of coconut husks and then a guy riding a horse puppet (think a bit more basic than War Horse) dances on the embers in his bare feet. The programme notes explain it pretty well: “An entrance boy dance on a horse (jaran). Behaving like horse. He dance around a bonfire made from coconut busks. If the sanghyang song leads him to fire, then he will dance on the fire.”

Skip the glitz and go with the show with the horse. A good motto to live by, really.

Reaction shot:

Looks like we were quite happy with the experience, inspired to hold our fingers more elegantly in future, and just so slightly confused (manifested in the weird angle of the shot).

Looks like we were quite happy with the experience, inspired to hold our fingers more elegantly in future, and just so slightly confused (manifested in the weird angle of the shot).