Dance of the spirit

Kuda kepang and barongan are the two popular dances among the Javanese in Johor. These two folk dances were brought in to Johor by Java migrants centuries ago and have spread among the Malays since then. The two dances have strong elements of trance and totemic worship and are performed at weddings and other cultural events. They are also popular Indonesia and Singapore. Kuda kepang consists of nine dancers or ‘horsemen’ who ride woven bamboo-made and colourful horses. When performing, the dancers often go into a trance. While in a trance, the dancers display unusual powers, such as peeling coconut husks with just the teeth and eating glass. Barongan, on the other hand, depicts the dance of a tiger and a peacock. The dance grew out of the legend of a tiger seeing a peacock spreading its train and shocked, peacock jumps onto the tiger’s back. The two dance together and when an escort of a princess spots them, he joins in. The dance harks back to prophet Sulaiman’s time when animals could speak. Johor folk have preserved both dance forms with the younger generation taking over the traditions, such as Kumpulan Barongan dan Kuda Kepang Warisan Gemilang Parit Bugis in Batu Pahat.

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