Do you like to dance or watch others do it? Yes, many of us do like it as well. Dance (and dancing) is the universal language of bodies moving in sequence to the harmony of the music or drum beats playing. It is actually one of humanity’s oldest forms of expression. Don’t believe us? Well, just think for a second about the traditional dance or dances right in your home state or country. It has been there like forever, right?
We know that dance has and still is, an important part of civilisation. People like to dance in celebration, in mourning, for religious worship, as a rite of passage or just for self-pleasure. Even from way back when our ancestors were wearing loin cloths and butting heads for fun, they still managed to create a ritual that expressed their culture and beliefs. A celebratory ritual of skipping, jumping and excited hooting – all to the sound of banging beats. It was also a tool for social interaction that promoted co-operation for essential survival back then.
As time passed, these ritualistic dances evolved by blending influences of historical events to preserve significant moments. So that future generations (yes, you millennials are included) will know what happened in a captivating way of storytelling.
Now the ethnic-diverse state of Melaka is one example of having traditional dances that has cultural traces of their colonial conquerors, together with local influences. Let’s see what stories each has to tell:
Hybrid: Portuguese + Malay. Originating from the Portuguese folk dance Corridinho from Algarve, South of Portugal.
Costume: As depicted in the picture. Sometimes the women will wear a Kebaya top and sarong skirt instead of the dress.
Dance Ensemble: A few couples paired together accompanied with music from the violin and rebana (Malay drum). Today, mostly modern instruments like guitar and keyboard are used. This style of dance is also preferred mostly by the older generation, as the dance is mid-tempo.
Occasion: Any large-scale celebrations at the Portuguese Settlement. At weddings, the elders will call out all the helpers to lead the Branyo dances. It’s their way of thanking them for all the hard work they’ve put into the wedding. Another festival is Introdu, the Sunday before Ash Wednesday where Branyo is the superstar.
Hybrid: Portuguese + Malay.
Costume: Similar to Branyo.
Dance Ensemble: Kind of like Branyo but faster in dance and music pace. “Jingling Nona” is normally the song of choice. No surprises that the younger ones prefer this style of dance.
Occasion: Also similar with Branyo. Both of these dances are meant to complement the songs and music which tell tales of their culture and how they celebrate life.
Joget / Joget Lambak / Chakunchak
Joget Lambak Dance with tourists
Hybrid: Portuguese Branyo + Malay
Costume: Traditional Kebaya for women and Baju Melayu for men, as shown in the picture.
Dance Ensemble: Joget has a few couples dancing together in a teasing, playful manner, whereas Joget Lambak has individuals in a large group dancing in unison. Instruments used to produce the tribal-like music are a violin, flute, knobbed gong and rebana. These days pre-recorded music is played as traditional bands are very small in numbers and hard to find.
Occasion: Usually at large village weddings or festivals. It’s a happy dance that is meant to bring communities together.
Hybrid: Malay + Peranakan (Straits-Chinese)
Costume: Similar to Joget, although the men are normally garbed in traditional Baba attire (Baju Lokchuan).
Dance Ensemble: A pair of singers, usually male and female, pit against each other with poetic songs while complementing the gentle sways of the female dancers. The obvious sounds of the violin, gong and rebana completes the hypnotic ensemble.
Occasion: Any family gatherings or festivals. Each singer will normally have their own cheering squad to lift their spirits. While the dancers move along to the rhythm, mesmerising the audience at the same time.
So, the next time you happen to be watching a traditional dance performance, remember to see it through a cultural lens and let the story unfold.