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The Barong

Bali - The Barong Dance

The Barong Dance is a powerful battle of good and evil.

I don't mean that metaphorically. The dance is actually a battle. The Barong costume is sacred, imbued with the soul of the Barong. It performs a kind of exorcism every time it dances.

The dance is, to us, an entertaining show; full of humor and action.
To the Balinese, also, it is an entertaining show. In addition, it is an opportunity to keep the cosmos in balance. The Barong battles the evil Rangda.

There is a story line to the Barong dance, but really, at it's heart, it's the Ultimate Grand Prix Wrestling match between two heavyweight champions who never go down.

This is one show that the Balinese always watch.

In addition, Barongs will do solo dances.
The best Barong solo dance I've seen was in Ubud, during a festival.

Two Barongs danced, trying to top each other, until one came out and did a comical version of the fan dance.
This is particularly remarkable when you consider that the Barong has no hands.
He had to handle the fan with his feet!

He picked it up, opened it, fanned himself with his left foot, fanned himself with his right foot, then continued his dance.

A Barong Fan Dance

In one Barong story line, a princess is kidnapped by the forces of evil (backed by Rangda) and must be saved by the forces of good (backed, of course, by the Barong).

The Barong and Rangda do battle in a number of scenes building and building to a climactic scene when a number of warriors surround Rangda with knives and attack him.

Rangda uses magic to force the warriors to turn their knives on themselves.

This is when things get interesting.

It's hard to tell what is going on here. We can see the performers stabbing themselves, sometimes very hard with these knives, but the Barong's magic protects the warriors.

At the tourist shows, performed everyday, we can see that some performers are not stabbing so hard. However, there are those who seem to reach a state of fervor, or 'trance'.

These guys really get into it, but don't draw blood. As the show ends, some don't stop. Only when a priest intervenes with holy water do they stop.
At festivals, it's not uncommon for near-riots to break out, and for audience members to go into trance states.

Real, professional anthropologists and psychologists have spent time trying to explain this, and they've failed.

The Kris Dance

So I won't bother trying.

In the end, neither side wins. They fight to a draw, because there is no good without evil. Both are needed in the Balinese Universe, for balance.
It is a great show, though...