Dance is a popular cultural form in Malaysia. Each ethnic group has its own dance forms which characterizes its culture. Malaysian cultural dances can be identified with certain regions or religious practices which are often performed in festive celebrations, wedding parties, cultural shows, religious ceremonies or other public events.
Below are the Malaysian cultural dances of the 3 major racial groups in our country
Malaysian Cultural Dances – MALAY
Tarian Melayu or Malay dance portrays the customs or adat resam and culture or budaya of the Malays. It depicts the true nature of the Malay people and their way of life.
Generally, Malay dances are divided into two main categories which are the “original” Malay dances and “adopted” Malay dances. The “original” Malay dances are indigenous to the Malay region, encompassing Sumatra, the Malay Peninsular, Singapore, the Riau Archipelago and Borneo, and its origins can be traced back to the early Malay civilizations. The “adopted” Malay dances are influenced by foreign cultures due to political and historical events. The various forms or styles of Malay dance are further categorized by its beats (rentak) and rhythm (irama)
The four basic genres of Malay dance are Asli, Inang, Joget and Zapin. Asli and Inang dances are categorised as the “original” Malay dances whereas Joget and Zapin are categorized as “adopted” Malay dances. The diagram below further illustrates:
The term Asli, meaning “original”, is the forerunner of the four basic genres of Malay dance. The dance movements and its songs can be traced back to the early Malay Kingdoms in the 14th century. Its beat and rhythm is slow-paced yet intricate and well defined. Its dance style is graceful and elegant as it depicts the charming nature of Malay ladies. There are numerous hand movements and poses, each with a different significance. Every movement of the Asli dance starts and ends with the gong beat in the count of eights.
Another form of the “original” Malay dance is the Inang. Historical accounts state that the word Inang is derived from the word “Mak Inang”, a nanny or chief lady-in-waiting who is responsible in looking after the royal children. The Inang song and dance is said to have been composed during the era of the Malaccan Sultanate, particularly during the rule of Sultan Mahmud Shah (1488-1511). At the time, the Inang dance was performed in various palace celebrations such as weddings.
The Joget dance (also called the Ronggeng) was introduced to the Malays in Malacca during the early 16th century. Its origins may be traced back to two popular Portuguese folk dances, the Branjo and Farapeirra. Throughout Malaysia, Sumatra, Borneo and the Riau Archipelago, the Joget has been known as a fast-paced popular dance and is performed at cultural festivals, wedding celebrations and many other social functions. Its catchy beat and cheerful combination of fast hand and leg movements appeal to both young and old alike.
The influence of the Zapin dance on Malay culture and arts started alongside the spread of the Islamic religion, beginning in the early 15th Century. The Zapin dance and music were brought and introduced by the Arab traders and missionaries from Southern Yemen particularly from the Hadramaut region. From its original form of Arabic Zapin (Zapin Arab), the dance assimilated itself into the Malay culture and thus gave birth to a localised version known as Zapin Melayu. Originally, Zapin performances were popular among the royalty. It is believed that every palace had its own Zapin troupe which performed at various palace functions and every rehearsal was done under the watchful eye of the Sultan.
Malaysian Cultural Dances – CHINESE
The term “Chinese dance”, which tends to be broadly used to refer to dance forms that have traditional Chinese origins, actually encompasses two main forms, Chinese classical dance and Chinese ethnic dance.
CHINESE CLASSICAL DANCE
The origins of Chinese classical dance date back to the Zhou dynasty. During this period, only members of the royal family and nobility had the privilege of being trained in dance. Depending on the student’s age, he/she would be taught different dances for various occasions and purposes. Every dance had its own set of performance standards and training was often rigorous. These dances would often be performed at major ceremonies, diplomatic events and even during religious ceremonies.
CHINESE ETHNIC DANCE
Chinese ethnic dance is a product of the historical progress of each ethnic community as well as their individual artistic creativity. The dances reflect the various regional specialties, cultural characteristics and religious beliefs of each ethnic group at different stages in history, infusing every dance with unique local flavour, thus making it widely popular with the masses. Many of the terms used in these dances are drawn from everyday life and even the props used are also day-to-day items and instruments. Ethnic dance performances are a staple at celebrations, religious ceremonies and major events, making them an integral part of every community’s identity.
Malaysian Cultural Dances – INDIAN
The dancing girl from Mohenjodaro, the broken torso suggesting a dance pose from the Harappan civilization, the metaphors and similies based on dance that exist in the Vedas, the reference to dance in the ancient Indian epics. There is an enormous amount of evidence to suggest that Indian classical dance existed and in fact influenced sculptural and literary traditions from about 2nd century BC to 19th century AD. The Natyasastra, the famous treatise of dance and drama, could only have been written in an environment in which these art forms were in existence and thriving. The history of Indian dance begins with this detailed text.