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Learn Traditional Balinese Dance in Ubud | Ummi Goes Where?

A Guide to Taking Bali Dance Lessons in Ubud for Foreign Travelers

I have always been in love with the uniqueness of the Balinese culture. You simply can’t find anything like it anywhere else in the world and not even in other parts of Indonesia. Even more fascinating is the fact that this Hindu island exists in the middle of a country that has the largest Muslim population in the world.

Religions aside, I was also particularly attracted to the traditional Balinese dances. There are many different varieties, the most popular ones being:

  • Kecak dance – the one you often see at Uluwatu temple, performed by 50 – 60 shirtless men and involves fire. Adapted from the Ramayana, this dance is a trance ritual that originated in the 1930s.
  • Pendet dance – a welcoming dance, often performed by several female dancers to welcome tourists or important guests. This is probably what you will see most often when there is any traditional dance performance.
  • Barong dance – a UNESCO-recognized dance involving a man in a giant lion costume. Depicting the never-ending fight between good and evil, this dance is said to have originated in the pre-Hindu times.
  • Legong kraton dance – a dance that was previously only performed for religious ceremonies in palaces. It  is derived from the story of a lost maiden being held captive by a king.
Kecak dance Uluwatu Bali
Credit: Muhd Rushdi Samsudin / Wikimedia Commons

My personal favorite is Tari Puspanjali, but in general, I like all Balinese dances that are performed by female dancers. The first time I saw one on YouTube, I immediately fell in love with their movements that were so graceful (look at their fingers!) and yet so strong.

Their facial expressions were haunting — eyes open wide and a smile that looked both sweet and menacing at the same time, as if suggesting that hey, I may seem nice but don’t mess around!


Then, when I was in Bali, I saw it performed live a couple of times — first in Jimbaran when I was having a sunset dinner on the beach and the second time in front of a shopping mall in Seminyak. The performers were mostly schoolgirls, barely past puberty, and I thought if they could do it, then surely I could too.

So, on my third visit to Bali, I decided to take a private dance lesson in Ubud.

Where to Learn Balinese Dance in Ubud

Ubud is often known as the cultural hub of Bali. Home to royal palaces and ancient temples, it is also the playground of some of the world’s most prominent artisans and art collectors. At almost every corner, you will see art galleries, studios, and local craft shops selling antiques, woodcarving, jewelry, textile, and paintings.

So, it is not surprising for Ubud to be one of the best spots to learn Balinese dance. The following is a list of places that offer traditional dance classes in Ubud:

The owner of the hotel where I stayed at showed to me where the dance schools were on the map. There were about three of them that were close enough to our place.

I selected the nearest one, which was on Jalan Kajeng (the street paved with mosaic art tiles). It was called Semara Rateh and this was how it looked like from the outside:

Semara Rateh Dance and Gamelan School Ubud | Ummi Goes Where?
Okay, I just realized you can’t really see how the place looks like in this picture. But it has a tall wooden gate.

How Much is a Balinese Dance Lesson in Ubud?

Different schools charge different rates, and not many advertise them on their websites. You have to call to inquire, but expect to pay around Rp100,000 – Rp200,000 for a basic one-hour lesson. Some schools offer full-day packages with lunch, makeup, and costume rental included. This can cost up to USD20.

Do You Need to Have Prior Dance Experience?

No. These classes don’t require you to perform any complicated or acrobatic move. However, they do involve a lot of squatting. So you might want to work on your half-squats and full-squats before you go.

If you’re unable to stand up from a squatting position without having to press on your knees, or if all your joints creak every time you try to squat, it might be a little embarrassing (speaking from experience).

Traditional Balinese dance class in Ubud | Ummi Goes Where?
That was about as low as I could go.

What to Wear to a Balinese Dance Class

Wear something comfortable that does not restrict movement. T-shirts, tank tops, or tube tops would be fine. Most Balinese dancers wear costumes that resemble tube dresses anyway, so you don’t really have to worry about covering those shoulders.

Tari Pendet. Learning to dance Balinese traditional dance in Ubud
Credit: Christopher Michel / Wikimedia Commons

For the bottom part, wear a sarong. Or bring it with you so you can wear it over your leggings or (loose) pants during the class. Don’t wear jeans! The schools usually provide sarongs too if you don’t have any.

What to Expect in a Balinese Dance Class

As soon as I arrived at the school, I was introduced to my dance teacher, Ayu. She was about my age but looked way younger. Ayu was thrilled to find out I was Malaysian as she had once worked with Malaysia’s famous Odissi dancer, Datuk Ramli Ibrahim.

I was then given a sarong, which Ayu helped drape around my jeans (not a good choice of pants for this activity, I know).

Learning Balinese traditional dance in Ubud | Ummi Goes Where?
With my dance teacher, Ayu.

Then, Ayu took me to the dance studio. It didn’t have mirrors on the wall like dance studios normally do. So, she had to face me while demonstrating the dance moves and I had to try to mirror her.

Ayu assumed that I was an experienced dancer who’s trying to add another dance skill into my repertoire. I should have warned her that that couldn’t be further from the truth, and that in fact I had two left feet. Maybe they were both right feet, because I couldn’t really tell left from right.

Traditional Balinese Dance Ubud | Ummi Goes Where?

Fortunately for me, she was a very patient teacher. She broke the lesson into manageable chunks so that I was able to follow at my own pace. Despite my total lack of coordination and dancing skills, I managed to learn the 2-minute dance routine (yes, it took me a whole hour to learn a 2-minute dance routine). 

The class took only one hour but my legs and arms were sore like I had been slogging off at the gym for days. Ayu did it all so effortlessly, while I had to constantly be reminded to bend my legs more, more, more, and more.

The Final Performance

At the end of the session, I did the routine on my own without my teacher dancing along. So, here you go — enjoy the show, but please excuse my stiffness. I had just climbed Mount Batur the day before, and my jeans were tight (excuses, excuses…)

Learning traditional Balinese dance Ubud | Ummi Goes Where?


Do you love dancing? What do you think of traditional Balinese dance? Comment below.

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    • ummi

      Eh, takde lembutnya, sis. Ni macam kayu kalau compare dgn instructor tu. 😆 Kalau sis ke Bali nanti, boleh la belajar Balinese dance. Kelas ni sesuai untuk semua orang. Tak perlu ada pengalaman, dan tak perlu commit banyak waktu utk belajar.

    • ummi

      Yup, the Balinese have such a beautiful culture. Hope you’ll get to visit someday, and maybe learn traditional Balinese dance in Ubud. 🙂

    • ummi

      Thank you so much, you’re too kind! I hope you’ll get to go to Bali once all this chaos is over, and maybe you can join this traditional Balinese dance lesson. 🙂

    • ummi

      You’re welcome. Yes, they train their kids from young. In school assemblies, they even make the students practice dance every morning. Fascinating to watch.

    • ummi

      Yes. The whole of Bali culture, I think, and not just the dance, memang penuh dengan mistik dan spiritual. But that’s part of the charm. Sangat menarik untuk dihayati. 😍

    • ummi

      Kecak dance saya tak pernah tgk live lagi, walaupun dah pernah pergi Uluwatu. Tak ingat kenapa tak tengok, sebab nak kejar sunset kat Jimbaran kot.

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