Women’s Dances from the Javanese Court

Writer : Michi Tomioka
Year : 2012


Srimpi and bedhaya, danced by women at the Javanese court, developed into court rituals from the end of the 16th century. The choreography of these dances expresses ideas like the peace and order of the cosmos, the unity of good and evil or of God and man. These dances were first made available to the general public through a national project called the PKJT in 1970. This project did not just revive the dances, it also shortened and adapted them for a modern audience in the belief that the traditional dances were boring and monotonous. The new versions are widely known through recordings and are taught in art colleges. However, few dancers now know the original, full-length versions of the dances. I discuss how the meditative quality of these dances was lost when they were simplified. New ways of explaining the dances are now needed if they are to be understood and appreciated by modern audiences.


Two kinds of dances were performed by women in the Javanese courts: srimpi, which are danced by four females, and bedhaya which are danced by nine. These dances date from the Mataram Dynasty, which was established in central Java at the end of the 16th century, and which, in 1755, divided Java into two principalities: Surakarta and Yogyakarta, each of which had its own court. The two types of dance were performed at both courts, but the routines were different.

The most sacred of the dances was performed at the court at Surakarta. It is called Bedhaya Ketawang and was devised by Sultan Agung, the third and most powerful king of the Mataram dynasty, in 1643 (Warsadiningrat: 1987: 80-83). Until recently this dance was only performed for the coronation of the king of Surakarta and for the anniversary of his enthronement (jumenengan), but it was rehearsed every thirty-five days, on Tuesdays (Kliwon). The dance was so sacred that practicing it was almost a ritual in its own right, with incense burned and food offerings placed next to the stage during each rehearsal. The other court dances were less sacred than Bedhaya Ketawang but were also performed for rituals or ceremonial occasions at court.

In both srimpi and bedhaya the choreography expresses ideas like the peace and order of the cosmos, the unity of good and evil, or of God and mankind. The dancers wear identical costumes. They begin and end each performance by raising their joined palms in front of their faces in a gesture of prayer while sitting on the floor. This posture is called mangenjali. They repeat a certain number of movements, facing in either two or four directions in symmetrical formations. Court dances include symbolic battle scenes which are usually said to depict the conflict between good and evil, or the process of subduing individual desires. It is said that the number of dancers, either four or nine, represents the number of vortices or chakras in the human body, the points of the compass or the classical elements of the cosmos.

Although the Mataram was an Islamic dynasty, the courtly arts were influenced by the Hinduism and Buddhism of previous rulers. Wedha Pradangga, the most famous source of information about the Javanese gamelan (a musical instrument), stresses that Javanese arts were influenced by those of India, and traces the origins of bedhaya, srimpi and the gamelan itself back to a mythological age in India (Warsadiningrat: 1987). In the Javanese version of Hinduism, the king was believed to derive mystical powers (sakti) from having sexual intercourse with female dancers (Anderson: 1995 p.420). From childhood, women who were to become dancers lived in the inner palace, some of them becoming the king’s concubines.

Allowing outsiders to study the women’s court dances

The court of Surakarta lost its political power after Indonesia became independent in 1945, but King Paku Buwono XII (1945-2004), maintained the concubine system as well as the tradition of court dances. In the early 1960s the courtly arts were facing extinction, partly because the court could not afford musicians and dancers, and partly because young girls who might once have trained as dancers went to school rather than living at court.

Outsiders were first allowed to study the female dances of the Surakarta court in 1969/1970 as part of a national initiative called PKJT, which was a project to promote the arts in central Java. The only dance they were not allowed to study was the sacred coronation dance, the Bedhaya Ketawang,

It was therefore not until 1969-70 that the SMKI Surakarta (the Indonesian High School of the Arts in Surakarta which was established in 1950) and the ASKI Surakarta (the Indonesian College of the Arts in Surakarta which was established in 1964) were permitted to teach srimpi and bedhaya dance routines. In other words, up until 1970 the dances performed at the court of Surakarta had not been subject to any outside influences.

On the other hand, as early as 1918 outsiders were permitted to study the dances of the court of Yogyakarta so that dancers for the court could be trained, and a private dance school, the Kridha Beksa Wirama, was established by Prince P.A.A.Tedjokoesoemo (Koentjaraningrat: 1994 p.307).

Shortening and re-arranging the court dance routines

The revival of srimpi and bedhaya was known as penggalian which means ‘excavating’ or ‘reviving’. However, under the Five Year Plan of the then newly- appointed President Suharto, the PKJT project set out to create new versions of the traditional court dances that would be suitable for present day audiences. The then director of PKJT was Gendhon Humardani (1923-1983), who later became the head of ASKI. The two organisations got together and developed shortened forms of srimpi and bedhaya, marketed cassette recordings of the dances and included the dances in the curricula of the art colleges.

The PKJT called these shortened versions of traditional dances pemadatan, which means ‘contraction’ or ‘short form’. In fact the PKJT insisted it simply reduced the number of times moves were repeated while still retaining the essentials of the original choreography. The pemadatan version of Bedhaya Duradasih (cassette Lokananta, ACD-224) lasts for thirteen minutes and eighteen seconds, while the short forms of the Srimpi Gondokusumo (Kusuma, KGB-011) and the Srimpi Ludiramadu (Kusuma, KGB-010) last for sixteen minutes forty seconds and eighteen minutes ten seconds respectively. These timings include the time it takes the dancers to enter and exit the stage. When I produced a full-length recording of Srimpi Gondokuusmo in 2006, the total duration of the performance was sixty-seven minutes and seventeen seconds and this included the seven minutes ten seconds it took for the dancers to come on stage, and another seven minutes ten seconds for them to exit.

In my view, the use of the term pemadatan is inaccurate because, as well as reducing the number of times moves were repeated, the PKJT also introduced new elements into the dances that did not exist in the originals. This means that the PKJT versions are actually new routines; they have lost some of the essential elements of the original choreography and destroyed the meditative atmosphere of the dances. Other scholars do not seem to have recognised this.

Previous research

Bedhaya Ketawang, the most sacred of the dances, was almost unknown until Tirtaamijdjaja (1967) did research on the dance and its performance on the anniversary of the king’s coronation in 1966. Anderson (1995: p.420), Tirtaamidjaja’s co-researcher (1967), mentions the bedhaya in his discussion of Javanese culture and politics, especially in his piece on the mystical power of sakti that the Javanese king derived from having sex with his dancers. Kustantina Dewi (1993) also researched the Bedhaya Ketawang and the ceremonies celebrating the anniversary of the king’s enthronement.

Western Javanologists wrote about Javanese court dance in the 1920s and 1930s. Lelyveld (1931) described the srimpi and bedhaya dances of the Surakarta court and produced photos, but his is one of very few studies of courtly dance because the court at Surakarta was closed to outsiders at that time. No article on Surakarta court dance was included in Robson’s work (2003), which consists of essays originally published between 1921 and 1941 by the Java Institute in central Java. Holt (1967) discussed Indian influence on Javanese court dance, comparing it with examples in Candi Borobdur, based on her research in the 1930s and 1950s. She gave examples of dances from the more open Mangkunegaran Palace (which was owned by a branch of the family at Surakarta court).

The study of Javanese courtly arts has developed since the PKJT project started, but the study of the dances came later because video was not available in the 1970s. Florida (1992) has analysed the texts of the songs that accompany the Bedhaya Ketawang. Becker (1993) has investigated much of the terminology used to describe Javanese music and dance which is derived from that of Tantrism and Sufism. Brakel (1992) investigated the form and structural characteristics of the versions of the bedhaya danced in the two courts based on an analysis of the texts of songs found in old manuscripts. Brakel (1995) has also studied the terminology of Javanese dance. Ishida (2011) has analysed the newly-discovered transcripts of the music for the Bedhaya Handuk and transcribed it into modern Javanese notation. Generally speaking, these authors have researched static elements of the dances. They do not comment on the way the court dances have been transformed to suit modern tastes, perhaps because they felt it was more important to study the documentary evidence when it became available.

My own approach

I am a dancer, and I have learned and mastered the full-length traditional forms of all the ten srimpi and both the bedhaya dances listed below, I took private lessons for five years from the late Sri Sutjiati Djoko Suhardjo (1923-2006), better known as Bu Djoko when I was a special student at STSI between March 1996 and May 1998, and again between February 2000 and February 2003. During those five years I also attended the regular rehearsals of srimpi and bedhaya which were held every Sunday at the court of Surakarta. I have also studied with Sulistyo Tirtokusumo in Jakarta since July 2003. Martopangrawit (1975) collected the music that accompanies the ten srimpi and twelve bedhaya, but the choreography of the other ten bedhaya has been lost.

(1) Srimpi Lagu Dhempel
(2) Srimpi Ganda Kusuma
(3) Srimpi Gambirsawit
(4) Srimpi Sukarsih
(5) Srimpi Tamenggita
(6) Srimpi Sangupati
(7) Srimpi Lobong
(8) Srimpi Glondhong Pring
(9) Srimpi Ludiramadu
(10) Srimpi Anglir Mendhung
(11) Bedhaya Pangkur
(12) Bedhaya Duradasih

All the srimpi and bedhaya I learned are listed above and I have already written about them (Tomioka 2008). I will now discuss the characteristics of this genre of dance from a choreographer’s point of view. These dances share similar concepts and use a similar vocabulary. Moreover, some bedhaya were actually rearranged into srimpi (Warsadiningrat: 1987). Indonesian researchers seem to have shown little interest in doing any comprehensive or comparative research into the dance routines. Unlike Brakel (1992), I am more interested in the relationship between the musical structure and the dance movements than in its relationship with the text of the songs because this seems more important in relation to the study of Javanese choreography.

I am also concerned about the way srimpi and bedhaya choreography has been altered and in the cultural and social context of the dances. I have discussed western influences on the PKJT versions of srimpi and bedhaya (Tomioka: 2005). I have reported the results of my project to produce musical recordings, public performances and video recordings of full-length versions of the Srimpi Gondokusumo and Bedhaya Pangkur, involving students, amateur musicians and senior dance instructors from several institutions (Tomioka: 2009). I have also written about the conflict between the ways the ‘modern West’ and ‘traditional Asia’ dealt with Humardani’s criticism of the Ramayana Ballet in 1970. Humardani was then the director of the PKJT (Tomioka,: 2010a), (Rustopo 1991: 98-118). Additionally, I have described the different interpretations of traditional forms of srimpi and bedhaya at Surakarta court, the SMKI (art high school) and the ASKI/STSI (art college) (Tomioka: 2010b).

In this paper, I explain how the original srimpi and bedhaya dances were transmitted, the characteristics of the choreography of these dances, and I analyse the difference between the PKJT short forms and the originals. I also discuss the issue of how to approach intangible heritage in modern society without destroying its essential qualities.

The people who informed me about srimpi and bedhaya

The full-length versions of srimpi and bedhaya were mainly inherited and transmitted by S. Ngaliman (1919- 1999), (better known as Pak Ngali) and Bu Djoko. They were senior instructors at SMKI and could make dance notations themselves. They were the people who were usually contacted by teachers at STSI (formerly ASKI) when they were working on research projects on srimpi and bedhaya. Nonetheless, these teachers did not always use the information they were given in their lessons.

Bu Darso, a former bedhaya dancer, was invited from Surakarta court to teach in the PKJT project, along with Bu Lomo who was a bedhaya dancer there but later moved to Pakualam Palace. Pak Ngali and Bu Djoko had mastered all ten srimpi, and Bu Djoko had also mastered two bedhaya dances. As a result, the Bedhaya Pangkur (full version, sixty minutes) and the Srimpi Gondokusumo (short form by Bu Djoko, lasting fifteen minutes) were included in the curriculum, but later the Bedhaya Pangkur was shortened to forty-five minutes to fit in with the length of classes.

Some full versions of srimpi and bedhaya are also taught outside Surakarta. In Yogyakarta, Indah Nuraini (1956-) succeeded Pak Ngali and Bu Djoko in teaching some full-length forms of srimpi in ISI (the Indonesian University of the Arts) in Yogyakarta between 1980 and 1996. She also attended the private lessons with Pak Ngali and Bu Djoko taught by Bu Lomo at Pakualam Palace. Bu Lomo taught srimpi in the Surakarta court style at Pakualam Palace, but only the latter parts of the form, out of deference to the Surakarta court.

While in Jakarta, Sulistyo Tirtokusumo (1953-) a former Surakarta court dancer, directed both full- length and half-length versions of srimpi and bedhaya performances. His primary source was Pak Ngali who was regularly invited to Jakarta by Dinas Kebudayaan DKI (of the Culture Services of Jakarta City) and others in the mid-1980s when there was a growing tendency for Javanese dancers in Jakarta to want to learn the original forms of courtly dance. Tirtokusumo also studied with his aunt, R.Ay. Laksmintorukmi, a concubine of Paku Buwono X who had moved to Jakarta 17.

The Surakarta court itself benefited from the PKJT project, and the regular rehearsing of srimpi and bedhaya was restarted at the instruction of the young Princess G.R.Ay. Koes Murtiyah Wirabumi (1960-) a daughter of Paku Buwono XII (1945-2004). She established the Yayasan Pawiyatan Kabudayaan Karaton in Surakarta in 1993 to preserve the art of courtly dance (Haryanti 2001: 38-39). She also taught dance herself and attends the rehearsals every Sunday. The court dancers she trains have to be virgins. As public performances are now often given at Surakarta court, short versions of the dances are regularly rehearsed. However, half of the routines revived by the PKJT project were no longer being practiced in the court when I took part in the rehearsals.

Even though Pak Ngali and Bu Djoko taught full- length versions of the srimpi and bedhaya of Surakarta court, the transmission of these forms was limited to the personal efforts of individual dance instructors. In Surakarta, less attention seems to have been paid to the full versions of the dances because they were too long to practice in class or to perform on stage.

The original forms of srimpi and bedhaya

Here I give basic information on this genre of dance based on my earlier studies (Tomioka: 2008), and compare the short forms of the dances introduced by the PKJT with the original forms of Javanese court dances.

Each performance of a srimpi or a bedhaya consists of three parts: entrance, main dance performance and exit. The entrance and exit are accompanied by pahtetan music (a kind of tuning-up similar to netori for the Japanese gagaku) accompanied by men singing.

Appendix 1 shows the flowcharts for the main dance routines of all the srimpi and bedhaya dances that I learned from Bu Djoko. These are my original notes to show the outline of the choreography. Using these flowcharts, an experienced dancer of srimpi and bedhaya would not find it difficult to remember the choreography of the dances.

Dance teachers do not all use the same terminology. They may use different terms for a certain sekaran (main movement, see below), or have more than one term for the same sekaran. In Appendix 1, I standardise the terms for sekaran. Many of these terms are in common use, but some are terms that only Bu Djoko and I used. Actually, many sekaran seem not to have had proper names, but that is not important here as we have used common terms to identify various moves.

In srimpi and bedhaya choreography, between two and four pieces of music are arranged into one or two sections, and each is repeated a set number of times. A piece of music that is divided into sections by the striking of a gong is called a gongan. There are several kinds of musical structures and these are illustrated in Appendix 2. As for gendhing structures such as ketawang gendhing, gendhing kethuk 2 kerep, gendhing kethuk 4 kerep, the first part is called the merong. The merongs of Srimpi Gambirsawit and Srimpi Sukarsih have ngelik / lik (which means a high tone) part of the structure of which is the same as that of the merong. The merong is followed by a section called the inggah. Some gendhing, like Srimpi Lagu Dhempel and Srimpi Ludiramadu have their own inggah, but others borrow one from another musical composition. The inggah is often followed by other musical compositions with a different structure or structures, such as the ladrang or ketawang. As a rule, the various musical compositions are arranged in order, descending from a big scale to a small scale, such as gendhing → ladrang → ketawang. The ladrang and ketawang usually consist of two parts; umpak (which means low tone) and ngelik / lik (high tone) and each part consists of one or more gongans.

The tempo remains steady in each musical composition except during the transition from one section to another. As long as the music has not stopped, the singing of the choir (also called bedhayan) does not cease but moves on from one musical composition to another without a break. Bedhayan music is a characteristic of both srimpi and bedhaya.

Dance movements can be divided into two types: the main movement called a sekaran and connecting movements. Sekaran come in eight, sixteen or thirty-two beats, in other words in multiples of eight beats. Generally speaking, in srimpi or bedhaya dance, and in other classical Javanese dances as well, one gongan is represented by one sekaran, which means that I can make flowcharts of the choreography like the one in Appendix 1.

A comparison of the PKJT shortened forms of dance and the originals

In Appendix 3 I compare the short form and the original form of the first part of Srimpi Gondokusumo.

In the short form, dancers begin with mangenjali (the prayer position) and a gong strikes in the opening music. This is now a common way of reducing the length of traditional Javanese dances.

In all the PKJT versions of these dances, the prayer in mangenjali lalas (the second prayer position) has been eliminated, and the dancers stand up as the gong strikes. Purists find this very strange because mangenjali laras is a movement that is supposed to lead on to mangenjali (prayer) with the gong. The gong is the most important instrument in Javanese gamelan music, and prayers are always performed on the stroke of the gong. According to Agus Tasman, who made pemadatan versions of the PKJT dances under the supervision of Humardani, he cut the second prayer position because it was a repeat. In Javanese tradition, standing up at the striking of the gong gives the impression that the srimpi is not very important.

Laras kanan/ laras kn. (the right laras) is repeated three times in the PKJT form, but this is not found in the original dance. In laras kiri/ laras kr (the left laras) of the PKJT version, the dancers face the audience as in a line dance. In the original form of srimpi the dancers face to the right for laras kanan/laras kn (the right laras), and to the left for laras kiri. In the case of Srimpi Lagu Dhempel, Srimpi Sangupati and Srimpi Lobong, the dancers do not do this, instead they face in all four directions. In other words, there is no line dance formation in any other part of the choreography of srimpi dances. This routine has been developed for the proscenium theatre. Traditionally, Javanese court dance was performed in a pendhopo (an open structure with four pillars in the centre) and the audience sat on all four sides.

The movement called golek iwak is performed to the first piece of music in the PKJT versions, but traditionally this movement is always put in the first inggah, as is obvious in the original forms of Srimpi Gondokusumo, Srimpi Gambirsawit, Srimpi Sukarsih and Srimpi Tammenggita. In the case of Srimpi Gondokusumo, the second piece of music is the inggah, but the movement should be performed in the first inggah.

Purists also find it strange that the movement called the ridong trap dahi is performed in the first inggah in the PKJT version. In the original dance, the dancers move after the golek iwak and first come face-to-face when they make the manglung movement. Although the dancers change their positions after the manglung, they maintain the face-to-face formation. This formation always begins with the second, livelier piece of music. Ukul karno in Srimpi Lagu Dhempel, manglung in Srimpi Gondokusumo, Srimpi Gambirsawit, and Srimpi Sukarsih, srisig maju mundur in Srimpi Tammengita and Srimpi Sangupati, and embat-embat in Srimpi Lobong, Srimpi Glondhong Pring and Srimpi Ludiramadu are all face-to-face formations. Before these movements, the dancers never face each other, they all face the same way or away from each other. In the case of Srimpi Gondokusumo there is no bedhayan singing during the first gongan of the inggah (A1), it begins in the second gongan (B lik 2) of inggah Ldr. bedhayan. Lik, (that is ngelik means ‘high tone’), and the music at this point changes dramatically from the solemn music of the first part. In other words, in the original court dance the ‘feel’ of the music changes between the first and second musical compositions and the dance movements relate to the two different types of music.

The ukel karno movement found in the second to last part of the first piece of music in the PKJT version is not, in fact, a part of the original dance. In the last part of the first musical section of the PKJT version, the dancers do not sit down to worship as the gong strikes, but continue to change positions (srisig) and then they sit down after the music is finished without assuming the prayer position. To traditionalists it seems very strange to see the dancers remain standing when the gong is struck and find that the dance ends without a prayer. In Javanese tradition, even dances that do not originate at court, like golek, begin and end with worship.

As for the accompanying music, the timing is altered in the PKJT dances. Javanese court dances follow a cycle, the movements change slowly and gradually until eventually the dancers return to where they began. However, the musical tempo of the PKJT dances is faster, but the tempo of the sirep (silent) scenes that come after the pistolan (fighting) scenes at the end is slower than in the original form. As a result, the rapid and dynamic changes of tempo create a dance that moves in a linear way through time to a final climax.

From the analysis above it is obvious that the choreography of the shortened PKJT dances makes them suitable for performing on stage, but the relationship between the musical structure, the dancer’s movements and the formations they make are apparently thought to be irrelevant. Pak Tasman agreed with this. However, Bu Djoko believes that this relationship between music and movement is of major importance. Wahyu Santoso Prabowo, a dance instructor at ASKI, criticised the PKJT forms because the movements for the inggah part are brought forward. Pak Ngali also criticised the PKJT forms. It is quite possible to follow the musical structure even in shortened versions of the dances. Bu Djoko made a short version of Srimpi Gondokusumo, but she managed to keep the relationship between the music and the dance moves, she did not change the formations and she retained the two prayers at the beginning (mangenjali and mangenjali laras) and the one at the end. For her, these are all essential elements of Javanese court dance. In spite of its brevity, her version still retains some of the meditative qualities of the original dance.

The PKJT versions are criticised by those senior dance instructors who have a good understanding of musical structure. Sal Murgiyanto, a dance critic, criticised the PKJT performance in Jakarta in 1979, saying that the ten-minute srimpi pemadatan was too rushed, and that they needed a good chef who could cook with traditional ingredients (Murtiyanto 1993). However, the dance instructors at ASKI/STSI believe that the PKJT project succeeded in making boring and monotonous Javanese court dances really attractive to an audience without losing any of their essential character.

The original dances

In the original form of Javanese court dance various movements are repeated and developed in symmetrical formations, through which harmony and balance and a meditative atmosphere are gradually generated as the music plays. The choreography of these full-length dances is so good that the dancers can easily become absorbed in their individual performances, and that in itself attracts the audience’s attention. Consequently the audience becomes absorbed, too. People would not be bored if they would really concentrate on watching the routines.

When they designed the short forms of the court dances, the PKJT believed that reducing the number of times moves were repeated would not affect the atmosphere the dances create. However, people need a certain amount of time to focus on themselves. This is why religious ceremonies and mantras often repeat phrases and movements. In the condensed PKJT forms of srimpi there is no space to generate the meaningfully boring time during which both performers and audience can lose themselves in the dance. Audiences no longer have time to reach this meditative state and so they relate to the dances in simpler ways, enjoying their novelty and variety.

This has happened with other meditative performances when people have tried to take out the allegedly ‘boring’ bits. For example, in the Japanese tea ceremony, the highlight comes when the host makes and serves a cup of thick green tea (koicha) to his guests; however, the full ceremony takes four hours in which a light meal is served and the fire is fed with charcoal before the tea is actually served. This practice is influenced by zen philosophy. Through all these preparations the host and guests gradually create a meditative atmosphere together. In this way the simple act of drinking tea becomes a ceremony. If the lengthy preparations were taken out of the ritual it would become meaningless as a ceremony.

New narratives and new social values

In the first part of this paper I gave a basic description of the choreography of srimpi and bedhaya. Given that the dances are often symbolic and full of metaphor some people may find it difficult to appreciate them. As a result of my own experiences, I feel it is important to find new ways of explaining the intangible arts so they can be understood by wider audiences.

The first part of this new narrative would be to recall the history of how dances from the closed world of the court were made available to the public. Even though they are derived from the court, their history in the public domain started as soon as the dances were shown to outsiders.

When I collaborated with a traditional performance group called Okazaki Shachu of Iwami kagura in Japan, the head of the group, Yasuo Mikamori, first told me how the sacred Iwami kagura, originally performed only by Shinto priests, was allowed to be studied and performed by the public in the Meiji era, because the new government had prohibited Shinto priests from performing the dances as part of their rituals. Iwami kagura are said to have been known in the 15th and16th centuries, nevertheless Mikamori emphasised their history after they were made available to the public. The Iwami kagura history from the Meiji era is now well known in the region and beyond.

In the case of Javanese court dance, the history of how the dance came into the public domain is not shared enough, even among artists and art students. Audiences need to hear this history and understand how it relates to them. If they could see court dance as part of their own heritage they might find it less tedious.

The second thing that needs to be explained to audiences is that classical forms and the classical tempo of the music can transport them into another dimension of time and space where they can get in touch with the lives of their ancestors. Like historic sites, paintings or novels, historical dance rituals give us a feeling for the past, we learn about the way people moved and what they saw as beautiful, just as if we were in a living museum.

I suggest that this knowledge is vital if contemporary audiences are to understand court dance. If they feel their heritage is dull it may be partly because they cannot see how it relates to them.

There is also another approach that might work. An acupuncturist who watched one of my srimpi performances in 2006 said to me:

‘I could enjoy the dance by rocking myself to the music and the movement of the dancers. I did not feel bored at all for an hour. From my point of view as an acupuncturist, the movements in Javanese court dance make the audience relax and meditate, as well as the dancers, and this is good for their health.’ (Tomioka 2009: 56)

In 2008, in Jakarta, I was interviewed by a medical student who was interested in the influence of traditional meditative dance on the human body and knew about my activities through the internet. Both of these people found a new significance in meditative dances.


Although the public has been allowed to study Javanese court dances since 1970, not many dancers have learnt the full versions of the dances. However, the short PKJT-ASKI forms are known through published cassette recordings and the curricula of ASKI (the art college). The approach of the PKJT at that time was to modernise or westernise the dances, taking out the ‘boring’ bits. Consequently, the essence of the dances in their original form, that is the meditative atmosphere they generate, was lost.

If Javanese court dance is to be more widely accepted by the public, we need a new way of explaining it, one which emphasises its social value and can explain the relevance of the dances to contemporary audiences.