New year Issue 117: The Monkey Dance


I was lucky enough to watch a performance of this dance on one warm, moonlight night on the island of Bali back in about 1975.

Monkey Dance, Bali

The men form a circle, three, or more deep, and the dancers perform in the centre, accompanied by the chanting of the men, who are the monkeys. The men also change their position, sometimes sitting up, or stretching their arms and waving their hands, sometimes leaning forward so that they are almost flat. Their chant changes too, to reflect the action, slow, simple, complex, loud, soft, fast, layered rhythmic patterns or all in unison, varied pitches.

Here are some links:

This video is an 8 minute summary of the dance, which lasts much longer. At around 4’45” you can hear them singing the kind of melody that you would hear a gamelan orchestra playing.

This next video opens with stunning shots of the countryside – exactly as I remember it, with the gentle sounds of the gamelan. In the dance that follows, they just show the men. You can see how the leader directs the chants, and how they create stunning effects by the way they change their position. The temple at Borobudur  in Java, where the dance is being performed, is part of a World Heritage site. This video ends with more scenery; the volcanoes at Bromo, also in Java.

I’m now experiencing a serious attack of nostalgia. The time I spent out in Java (my parents worked and lived in Java, and then in Singapore, throughout the 1970s) is full of memories; art, music, dance, drama, colours, sights, smells (oh, the smells!). This was a time when old and new were just beginning to meet together, so everyday life was still full of the richness of the “old” culture, as well as the brave new world of electronics, hi-fi, and rock ‘n’ roll and western classical music and art.

Anyway, back to school – this all came back to me as I was thinking about the Monkey Business Chant, and wondering how to make it into more of an activity than just making rhythmic sounds in time to a pulse. It might well be possible to try using this kind of effect to accompany the telling, in mime, perhaps, of a story. Perhaps a fairy tale, or something topic based, or written by the children themselves.

Noisy monkey



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