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Dance and drama have an important role for the Balinese people. They learn to dance since their childhood through their own Banjar.

Dance and dramatic performance form an important part of nearly every ritual on Bali. They are seen as an integral part of Balinese religion and culture and are employed as an expression of one's devotion to the gods as well as a means of instilling centuries-old values in each generation of Balinese, through the medium of movement, music and words.

The most important aspect of dance is that of taksu or "divine inspiration" - the electrifying presence that mesmerizes audiences and transports performer and viewer to another time and place. Taksu can transform a plain-looking dancer into a great beauty and a technically deficient one into a great artist. A dancer studying Topeng will often sleep with a mask above his bed so he can study and absorb its character. Masks have their own special taksu. One who lacks taksu is likened to a "weak flame" - and dancers pray to the god of taksu before each performance. It doesn't always come though; even the Balinese have "off" nights.

Dance in Bali are both secular and religious, and are divided into three types ; namely wali, bebali, and balih-balihan, depending on which part of the temple they are performed. Wali dances such as the baris gede and sanghyang are the most sacred and are performed in the inner sanctum of the temple. Bebali dances are ceremonial - performed in the middle courtyard of the temple, and these are mostly dance dramas whose stories derive from the Hindu-Javaese epics. These include Gambuh and Wayang Wong. Balih-balihan dances are secular and performed in the outer courtyard of the temple. Into this category fall a number of classical and modern form like Legong, Baris, Arja, Kebyar, Sendratari and others. However this distinction is not strictly adhered to and the time, place and occasion may dictate the performance of a particular dance.

In Balinese society, therefore, dance performs many functions :

  • as a channel for visiting gods or demonic gods, the dancers acting as a sort of living repository. These trance dances include the Sanghyang Dedari , with little girls in trance and the Sanghyang Jaran, a fire dance.
  • As a welcome for visiting gods, such as pendet, rejang and sutri dances.
  • as entertainment for visiting gods, such as the topeng and wayang.

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