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What is Kecak Dance? A Guide to Bali’s Most Famous Performance

Published on January 19, 2024

The Kecak dance is a traditional Balinese dance that has captivated audiences for decades. With its unique vocal percussion and mesmerizing movements, it is a must-see for anyone visiting Bali. But what exactly is the Kecak dance, and what makes it so special? In this article, we will delve into the history and intricacies of this mystical dance.

What is the Kecak Dance?

The Kecak dance, also known as the "monkey chant", is a traditional Balinese dance that originated in the 1930s. It is a form of ritual dance and drama that tells the story of the Hindu epic, the Ramayana. The dance is performed by a group of men, usually numbering around 50-100, who sit in a circle and chant "cak" repeatedly while moving their arms and hands in unison.

The Origin of the Kecak Dance

The Kecak dance was created by a German artist named Walter Spies, who was living in Bali at the time. He was inspired by the traditional Sanghyang trance dance, which is performed by a group of men in a circle, chanting and swaying to drive out evil spirits. Spies combined this with the story of the Ramayana and added the vocal percussion to create the Kecak dance.

The Performance

The Kecak dance is usually performed at night, in an open-air amphitheater, with a fire burning in the center. The dancers, dressed in traditional Balinese costumes, sit in a circle around the fire, with the leader of the group in the center. The performance begins with the leader of the group telling the story of the Ramayana, while the other dancers chant and move their arms and hands in unison.

As the story progresses, the dancers become more and more animated, with their movements becoming faster and more intense. The climax of the dance is when the monkey army, led by Hanuman, helps Prince Rama defeat the evil king Ravana. This is depicted through the dancers' movements and vocal percussion, creating a dramatic and captivating performance.

The Vocal Percussion

The most unique aspect of the Kecak dance is the vocal percussion, or "cak" chant, that is performed by the dancers. This chant is a combination of different syllables, such as "cak", "cok", and "chak", that are repeated in a rhythmic pattern. The dancers use this vocal percussion to create different sounds and rhythms, mimicking the sounds of the gamelan, a traditional Balinese musical instrument.

The Role of the Leader

The leader of the group plays a crucial role in the Kecak dance. Not only does he tell the story of the Ramayana, but he also leads the vocal percussion and directs the movements of the other dancers. He is responsible for creating the rhythm and tempo of the chant, and the other dancers follow his lead.

The Symbolism of the Kecak Dance

The Kecak dance is not just a form of entertainment; it is also a ritual with deep spiritual significance. The circle of dancers represents the circle of life, and the fire in the center symbolizes the eternal flame of life. The vocal percussion is believed to drive out evil spirits and bring harmony and balance to the performers and the audience.

The Role of Hanuman

Hanuman, the monkey god, plays a significant role in the Kecak dance. He is seen as a symbol of courage, loyalty, and devotion, and his character is central to the story of the Ramayana. The dancers who portray Hanuman are considered to be the most skilled and experienced, as they must lead the monkey army and perform complex movements and vocal percussion.

The Impact of the Kecak Dance

The Kecak dance has had a significant impact on Balinese culture and has become a popular tourist attraction. It has also been featured in popular culture, with references in movies, TV shows, and music videos. The most famous example is the Kecak dance scene in the 1982 movie "Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom", which brought the dance to a global audience.

How to Experience the Kecak Dance

If you are planning a trip to Bali, experiencing the Kecak dance is a must. The dance is performed in various locations throughout Bali, but the most popular and authentic performances are held in the village of Batubulan. You can also catch the Kecak dance at the Uluwatu Temple, where the performance takes place against the backdrop of a stunning sunset.


The Kecak dance is a unique and mesmerizing form of traditional Balinese dance that has captivated audiences for decades. Its vocal percussion, symbolic meaning, and dramatic performance make it a must-see for anyone visiting Bali. So, if you want to experience the mystique of the Kecak dance, make sure to add it to your itinerary when planning your trip to Bali. 

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