Archives For gamelan

This week I had the fabulous opportunity to learn how to do Indonesian Dancing. The class was taught by dancers from ‘Soeryo Soemirat’, who are an Indonesian dance troupe based at the Mangkunegaran Royal Palace in Surakarta. The class was part of a UK tour for the troupe who are promoting their artistic heritage and culture through a series of events called “Discover Indonesia”.


There were eight students, including myself, from varying dance backgrounds from a complete beginner to a ballerina. But we were all new to this style of dance and the enthusiasm of the teachers created a brilliant atmosphere over the two hour short course. Their laughter, cheerful smiles and abundance of encouragement provided us with the confidence to give each move and stance a try. Especially when we had to hold a pose which included what I can only describe as a combination of a power squat, a ballet plié, flexed wrists and head rolls.


The Dancers Performing In The Mangkunegaran Royal Palace

We began with a basic warm up, in which we learnt two hand positions whilst performing the ‘squat plié’ with a banana curved back (please excuse my description of the poses). It was quite tricky to sustain but the professionals looked elegant and poised.

We then learnt the traditional woman’s dance which started in a seated position. The teachers were very strict since we were an intimate class. It was marvellous to receive immediate intricate feedback into the positions and how each one moulds into the next.

The biggest difference I found from other dance styles was that their head movements lead with the chin and consist of diagonal positions rather than vertical ones. Arm movements aren’t harsh but they are straight and precise and often originate from the back of the wrist with the fingers flowing to create shapes and transitions between movements. Feet are often in a turned out position but more horizontal than ballet and can be flexed from the toe joints.


Their youngest students begin learning this traditional dance from the age of five. They breakdown the basics to allow students to build up their muscular strength so they can progress to harder movements.

Another aspect of the dance style is that you can wear masks. These masks are not held on with elastic or other fastenings, instead the dancer has to bite on to them to keep them in place. This forces them to breathe through their noses which is extremely difficult in fast dances as the mask is in close proximity and requires finese to control. It is also tricky and the dancer needs great spacial awareness as these masks only have very small slits to see through which restricts their vision during each performance.

RCS Gamelan Performance

It was an incredible experience and I’m so glad to have been able to get involved. The troupe will be performing some of their signature dances accompanied by the entrancing Royal Gamelan Orchestra on Friday 11th September at 7:30 pm at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland and I hope to go to see the performance.

Well my second year at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland has finished and I’ve learnt so much that at least I have the summer now to digest it.


One of the units I took this year was in gamelan music, it was a four week immersion into the music and culture of Indonesia and formed part of the practical musicianship module which ran throughout the school year. Gamelan is an orchestra of percussion instruments. I had never heard of gamelan before taking this class and it was a great way to experience music from the Indonesian culture and explore the sounds and vibrations.


Balinese ladies playing Gamelan music during a Hindu festival.

The Indonesians use the music in many of their traditional dances and during their festivals. My favourite instrument was the ceng-ceng ( pronounced cheng-cheng ) which I loved to use in the practice sessions.


Ceng Ceng ( Cheng Cheng )

Ceng-Ceng consist of a set of four small cymbals mounted inverted on a wooden frame, which are struck with a pair of small cymbals held by the fingers to create crashing and shimmering punctuation along with the drummer – the Ceng-ceng player is often the drummer’s apprentice. The ceng-ceng is a deceptively difficult instrument to play well.

Dr J Simon van der Walt taught us the module and lead the ensemble into different tempo relationships a bit like a conductor.  We played whilst sat cross-legged on the floor with shoes off, there were 30 of us on the course.

J Simon Van Der Walt

Dr J Simon Van Der Walt

He made the group sessions entertaining and interesting for us all.  We began by learning different chants which we would then perform on instruments. So each word referred to an instrument. It was a lot if fun but the chants were fast and like tongue twisters it was so hard to keep up with at times.

In the last session I got to lead the Ceng-Ceng which I enjoyed tremendously and it was a fabulous way to end the course.

Sadly I didn’t think to get a photograph of our group but if you take part in a gamelan music group then I would love to see your photographs of an actual active group of gamelan musicians.

The RCS will be running a summer short course from the 8th to 12th September 2014 and if you are interested you can find further details on their website

I found this video on YouTube of a Gabor ( welcome ) dance which uses gamelan music and Balinese dancers which I hope gives you the flavour of the music and how it’s used.