The expressive power of dance as an art form has endured for centuries, in many different parts of the world. Malaysia, with her rich intermingling of cultures, has a particularly rich and varied dance heritage.
Whether performed by Malays, Chinese, Indians or by the people of Sabah and Sarawak, each performance is a rich tapestry which weaves together exquisite costumes and equally delicate and expressive movements. Whether telling a story, celebrating life itself, the Dances of Malaysia are among our most cherished and cultural traditions.
Indian dances are many and varied, some express a more spiritual angle, others express the simple joys of village life. Indian dances can be divided into classical and folk styles.
Of the seven classical styles, perhaps the best known is Bharata Natyam, mastery of which can take many years due to the many intricate hand, leg and eye movements which must be learnt in order to perform this time-honoured and venerated dance in full, unforgettable splendour.
Kathak dance is another form of classical dance. The word Kathak is derived from Katha, meaning "the art of story telling". From its early form at a devotional expression dedicated to the Hindu Gods, Kathak gradually moved out into the courts of the rulers.
Chinese dances, on the other hand, use simple props such as Fan, Umbrella, and Handkerchief as extensions of the dancer's own emotions. For instance, the fan is used to express joy and happiness. The umbrella is used primarily to express passionate feelings, either between a male and female or between an individual and his or her surrounding. Many Chinese traditional dances are an important accompaniment to key festivals and are accompanied by the pounding of the gu (drums) and bo (cymbals).
Traditional Malay dances are steeped in history and legend. The Kelantanese Tarian Asyik is supposed to represent the flight of the birds - and the fluid grace of the dancers, as they sway gently to the sound of traditional instruments such as the serunai, gambang and rebab, certainly takes the imagination on a flight of fancy. Equally mesmerising is the Tarian Zapin, which has Persian roots and has now developed many forms across the states of Malaysia. One of the more intriguing variants is the Zapin Tenglu from Mersing, which depicts the ebb and flow of the tides and the lives of the local fisherfolks.
Dances of Sabah and Sarawak
Perhaps the region of Malaysia which is most blessed with forms of dance is Sabah and Sarawak. The sheer variety reflects the many different ethnic groups of the land. The Sumazau is often regarded as the state dance of Sabah. It is simple, yet graceful and evocative, as the dancers, clad in authentic Kadazan black velvet sway like birds to the sound of gongs. In the neighbouring state of Sarawak , Datun Julud, a female dance of the Orang Ulu tribe of Sarawak is performed with typical grace and beauty with a distinct costume that include feathers that are attached to the hands giving the impression of birds in flight. The movement vocabulary simply focuses on changing weight from one leg to the other in an almost pedestrian manner making it earthbound while the use of the arms gives it a lifted and light impression. As for Kanjet Ngeleput, this dance is also from the orang Ulu tribe of Sarawak. The dance of a male warrior is largely improvised deriving and depicting the activity of hunting. The manner of placing and transference of weight is particularly interesting, beginning with the heel and through the outside of the foot while the arms maintain a gentle swaying quality but is fairly straight.