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Type of Asian Dance

Updated on September 7, 2016
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Born & raised in Malaysia, Mazlan is proud of his Malaysian & Asian heritage & likes to share its mysteries, cultures & current issues.

Traditional Dances in Asia

The diverse cultural, religious and traditions of the Asian countries are reflected not only in their lifestyles, but also in their dances. Each country in Asia has several indigenous and ethnic groups within its own country. These groups have their own unique identities and traditions, which are also visible in their dances. Hence, this created several dancing diversities for each country.

The mythical stories, the tribal and religious rituals and from the everyday events that signify good and bad are what inspired some of these dances.

This article celebrates these diverse types of dances in Asia. It however, highlights only a small collection of dances from some of these Asian countries, for your enjoyment.

Asian Countries featured in this Dance Hub

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A markerTamil Nadu India -
Tamil Nadu, India
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B markerPhilippines -
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C markerBali Indonesia -
Bali, Indonesia
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D markerGansu China -
Gansu, China
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E markerMalaysia -
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F markerThailand -
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G markerJapan -
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H markerCambodia -
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Dunhuang dance from China
Dunhuang dance from China | Source

Dunhuang Dance China

Dunhuang Dance, a dance influenced by Buddhism and the images of Buddha, originated from the province of Gansu in West China. This is the gateway between China and Central Asia, Middle East and Europe. It is through this gateway, known as the 'Silk Road', that saw the introduction of new culture, arts, trades and religion to China. This included Buddhism.

Dunhuang and Silk Road

The 'Silk Road' connection had also made Dunhuang known worldwide for fresco paintings of the 4th - 14th century, many of which can be seen in over 1000 caves in the area.

The excellent images that reflected the daily life in West China became the inspiration for a dance form. Leading dance experts studied these fresco paintings and created the Dunhuang Dance in the late 1980.

Ribbon Dance

You probably have seen and watched Chinese ribbon dance either on stage or on television. The ribbons were originally part of the dancer's costume, but later became an integral component of the Dunhuang dance.

The cultural influences from Eastern Europe, Middle East and India can be seen in some of these cave's paintings. These are reflected in the Dunhuang dance where the hip movements is similar in characteristic to Middle Eastern dance and the body and hand movement are almost similar to Indian dance.

Dunhuang dance was well received by audiences not just in China, but also abroad for its elegant movements and images. It has also developed into more of a theatrical performance, which in some dances include acrobatic performance.

Barongan Dance from Indonesia
Barongan Dance from Indonesia | Source

A Short Video of Barongan Dance

Barongan Dance Indonesia

Barongan is a dance that has strong element of trance and worship, and originated from Central Java, Indonesia. It spreads to neighboring Malaysia in a slightly different dance form and performed in the southern state of Johor.

However, this dance is more prominent as a dance drama in the Indonesian island of Bali. The dance re-enacted the battle between the demon queen, Rangda and the lion, Barong. This is a fight between good and evil.

This mythical story is about Rangda, who practiced black magic and as a result condemned by her husband. When he died, their son Erlangga became king. Frustrated with this outcome, Rangda decided to take revenge. She summoned all the demons and evil spirits to attack Erlangga.

Unable to fight off the black magic troops who proved to be too powerful, Erlangga enlisted the help of Barong. After several magic spells and fights, Barong finally won the battle and Rangda ran off into the jungle.

It is said that during this dance, the dancers go into a trance and if they are weak, they can easily be hurt. Usually before the dance, a priest will offer prayer and blessing to all the sacred items, especially Barong and Rangda's masks.

The Joget, one of  Malaysia's favorite dance
The Joget, one of Malaysia's favorite dance | Source

Joget one of Malaysia's Favorite Dance

Joget Malaysia

Before the British ruled Malaya (old name for Malaysia), it was under the Portuguese and then the Dutch. However, it was only the state of Melaka that was occupied by the Portuguese and the Dutch, as it was the wealthiest and the most progressive of all the states, then.

The Portuguese occupied Melaka in the 16th Century and even after the Dutch and the British took over the rule, many of the direct descendants of these Portuguese soldiers and merchants continued to live in Melaka. They retain many of their own cultures as well as merging the cultures of the locals. Among the many influences of the Portuguese is the dance, Joget, one of Malaysia's favorite dances.

This is a lively dance performed by couples in a fairly quick and upbeat tempo. Watch the accompanying video to see this good humored and teasing dance among the dancing couples. Joget is now mostly performed during weddings, social and official functions.

Another variation of Joget is Joget Lambak, which is performed by a larger group instead of smaller group of 4-5 couples.

The popular Filipino bamboo dance
The popular Filipino bamboo dance | Source

Tinikling Dance Philippines

Tinikling Dance may be one of the oldest dances from the Philippines and is now considered to be the country's national dance. This dance originated from Visayan Islands, one of the groups of island that comprises the Philippines.

In the state of Sabah, Malaysia, the ethnic group, the Kadazan, have similar dance. This is probably due to the country's close proximity to the Visayan Islands.

Bamboo Dance

The dance involves two people that will clap, tap and slide bamboo poles against each other. One or more dancers will then step in between these bamboo poles in rhythmic movement, which will become faster as it progresses. Watch the accompanying video to see this dance.

The dance imitates the Tikling bird that try to dodge bamboo traps set by rice farmers.

There is no specific costume worn for Tinikling dance. However, men will generally wear the barong Tagalog, which is formal Philippine attire. Lady dancers may wear patadyong, which is a checkered skirt and traditional Philippine blouse made from pineapple fiber. The dancers will be barefooted for the dance.

Tinikling dance, also known as bamboo dance, is popular not just in the Philippines but elsewhere in other parts of the world.

Khon Dance Drama

Khon Thailand

The influence of Brahminism and Hinduism are very prominent in some of the dances in Thailand and Khon is one of them.

Khon is a masked dance-drama that tells the much beloved mythical stories in Thailand. It combines acting, martial arts, dancing and chorus singing in the telling of these stories. Originally performed for the royalties, the dance drama will also include the praising and support for the Monarchy.

The most popular and famous of these dance drama is Thailand's version of the Indian classic Ramayana, the Ramakien. It used to be performed by male dancers who will also play the female role. However, in 1800, both men and women were allowed to perform.

Besides the many masks worn by these performers to denote the good and the evil characters, colors also play an important part of Khon dance drama. For example, in the Ramakien epic, the hero will wear green, his loyal brother will wear gold and the monkey god will wear white.

Thailand's version of the story tells the tale of Rama, who is the heir to the Ayodhya throne and was sent to exile by his stepmother. In this long and complex tale, the good triumphs over evil and Rama regain his throne to rule Ayodhya again. This story is similar to Barongan Dance, which is also influenced by Hinduism.

Follow this link for Khon dance on Google Image.

Apsara dance from Cambodia
Apsara dance from Cambodia | Source

Aspara Dance from Cambodia

Apsara Dance Cambodia

Angkor, a region in Cambodia, was the seat of the powerful and influential Khmer Empire between 9th to 15th centuries. It was during these periods that they spread their influences to the rest of Cambodia and the neighboring countries of Thailand, Laos and Vietnam. These included art and culture.

The Khmer civilization was very much influenced by Hinduism and Buddhism. Many Indian scholars and artists were brought to Angkor and the Sanskrit language and literature flourished. This was the golden age of Khmer Empire.

However, when the Khmer Rouge took control of Cambodia, almost all of these art and cultures including classical dances were brutally wipe out and destroyed.

With the fall of this repressive regime, efforts were made to revive these lost art and culture of the Cambodians. Under the guidance and support of Queen Sisowath Kossamak, traditional dance experts studied the many drawings and etchings on the wall of Angkor Wat and other historical and ancient monuments. Their effort to revive and reconstruct these lost arts happened between the 80's and 90's.


What you see Apsara today, is the results of these intensive studies. It is a dance-drama love story with graceful and fine hand movements to portray emotions and feelings.

You will see similarities between Cambodia's Aspara and Thailand's Khon in terms of costumes and dance movement, and that is because both were under the Angkor Khmer Empire's influences.

Bharatanatyam Dance from Tamil Nadu, India
Bharatanatyam Dance from Tamil Nadu, India | Source

Bharatanatyam Dance

Bharatanatyam Dance India

Bharatanatyam dance is a classical dance from Tamil Nadu, South India and originally performed by maidens who dedicated themselves as temple dancers and musicians. It involves complicated and angular movement and is now practiced and performed by both male and female dancers.

Traditional Dance Music

Bharatanatyam, also spelt as Bharathanatyam, is known for its grace and sculpturesque poses. As with most Asian dances, Bharathanatyam dance encompasses traditional dance music and theatre. The name is derived from the basic concept of other dances, which are Bhava, Raga and Thaala.

Bharatanatyam Dance

The Bharatanatyam dance that you see now is no longer the original dance steps but based on the modern reinterpretation by the Thanjavoor brothers during the early 18th century.

Bharatanatyam Dance has its root in Chennai. However, as reported in the Aug 23, 2012 edition of The Times of India, many of the dancers left the city for better prospect and pay, elsewhere. Chennai has to reinvent itself to claim back the title as the dance capital for Bharatanatyam Dance.

Fan dance from Korea
Fan dance from Korea | Source

Fan Dance from Korea

Fan Dance Korea

Fan Dance from Korea originated and rise to prominence during the Joseon Dynasty (1392 until 1910), a period that saw the rise in art and culture, science, technology and trade in Korea. It was also during this period that Korea chooses Confucianism as its official religion instead of Buddhism, and Seoul was adopted as the capital city of Korea.


This Fan Dance, also known as Bucheachum, is performed by women, with a breathtaking display of fan as its main feature. The fans come in an assortment of colors and patterns such as flowers and butterflies. The movements are displays of natural phenomena such as blooming flowers and natural sea waves. The choreography is also closely related to their religious beliefs.

The dancers will wear the dangui, which is a dress with long, flowing sleeves. They will also wear a headdress, called jokduri that look like a golden tiara.

Bon Odori

Bon Odori Japan

One of the popular and famous Japanese dances is Bon Odori. It is a dance to welcome the ancestor's soul and to express gratefulness to them. This is held during the Bon week, which is usually in August and celebrated in every city in Japan. One of the largest Bon Odori celebrations that are held outside Japan is in Shah Alam, Malaysia. This is probably due to the large Japanese expatriate community there.

Beside song, dance and food, memorial services are also held during this Bon week. This practice originated from the Chinese Buddhist's culture and tradition.

During the Bon celebration, people will gather at park or open spaces and does the Bon Odori dance, performed in circles around a raised podium where the musician will usually be. It is usually held at night, as they believed that the ancestors' souls would come back during the night.

The dance step is simple and it reminded me of group stretching exercise. See the attach video.

My Favorite Dance Is:

My #1 Dance is

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Asian Dances in Danger

Asian dances are also in danger of moving in the direction of extinction. UNESCO realized this problem and formed a special unit under the Intangible Cultural Heritage Program to revive and preserve heritage such as dance, songs, languages, etc. For article on the endangered Asian dances that received assistance from UNESCO, read 'Preserving Asian Dance'

I hope you enjoyed reading these small collections of Asian Dances. If you need more information, you can buy these excellent books on Asian Dances on


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    • greatstuff profile image

      Mazlan 8 months ago from Malaysia

      Patricia, thanks for dropping by and commenting.

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      Mazlan 24 months ago from Malaysia

      Hi Leah M. If you have problem with your knee, bamboo dance may not be that suitable. It is a fun dance though and it is hard to resist. The Indonesian or Malaysian traditional dances are more gentle on the knee. Give it a try.

      Thanks for dropping by and I hope you have a great time doing all the many selections of Asian dances.

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      Leah M 24 months ago

      There are some many Asian dances that I would like to practice! I already started the bamboo dance using my Slip On Dancers since I have this problem in my knee.

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      Mazlan 3 years ago from Malaysia

      Eve Marie, thanks for the read and your compliments. Enjoy the weekend!

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      eve marie ronna D masongsong 3 years ago


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      Mazlan 3 years ago from Malaysia

      @idigwebsites, yup, bamboo dance looks easy, but it is not esp. when the tempo goes more upbeat. However, it is a fun dance to watch. Fan dance? Now that's difficult and need a lot of grace and good poise, but I am sure you can handle that. Thanks for dropping by and commenting

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      idigwebsites 3 years ago from United States

      Very fascinating hub! Tried participating on a bamboo dance once and I was quite amused as the bamboo snapped my clumsy footwork. Hahahaha. I really enjoyed the experience.

      The Korean fan dance looks really elegant and beautiful. Someday I will actually get to try that if ever I visit South Korea. This might be actually more difficult than it looks :)

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      Mazlan 4 years ago from Malaysia

      @dindy cabsag, thanks for dropping by and I am glad you loved the photos

      @mizjo, Thank you for the compliments and I think all the dances are great. The Malaysian Joget is also a great dance and we used to learn that in primary school. I can't remember the steps now and even if I do, I don't think I dare give it a try. I will probably make a fool of myself!

    • mizjo profile image

      mizjo 4 years ago from New York City, NY

      Beautifully done, Mazlan. Asia has so much art and culture in its make-up, going back centuries. It is heartening that they are not allowed to die out, as it almost did in Cambodia at the bloody hands of Pol Pot.

      One can see the influences of Buddhism and Hinduism in the dances of Bali, Thailand and Cambodia, in the similarities of costume and dance movements (particularly the hands) and the story of the Ramayana.

      I liked all the dances you showed, but the Tamil one is the most ornate, and the Filipino bamboo dance the most joyful.

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      dindy cabsag 4 years ago

      this picture is beautiful...

    • greatstuff profile image

      Mazlan 5 years ago from Malaysia

      @Derdriu, thanks for your insightful contribution and detail explanation to the history of Dunhuang. This will certainly help readers who are keen to know more on Dunhuang dance.

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      Derdriu 5 years ago

      Greatstuff, Although I enjoy all the above-mentioned dances -- particularly so since my graduate advisor specialized in Malaysia and Myanmar -- I have particularly special feelings for the Dunhuang dance.

      Dunhuang and the Gansu Corridor are more anciently Celtic and Persian than Chinese. The name Dunhuang relates to the old system of fire or watch towers by which messages were relayed in the ancient Celtic and Persian worlds. (An example of the practice -- in another context -- can be found during the attack on the White City in The Return of the King segment of the Lord of the Rings trilogy.)

      Buddhism was introduced into China by the descendants of the Tarim Basin's Celtic peoples, known to history as the Tokharians and Yuezhi and about whom I've shared three hubs written as a trilogy of odes and descriptions opening with original photography by fellow Hubs-Pages-er Fordie, who lives with his family in China.

      After being defeated by the Yiongnu and expelled from Dunhuang and the Gansu Corridor, some of the Celts stayed in the Tarim Basin areas of Cherchen, Loulan and Subeshi. Many moved from mountain communities ever southwestwards until they settled in northern India, from whence some of their descendants returned to the Tarim Basin and then on to Dunhuang and the Gansu. From there, they introduced Buddhism into China and left gorgeous cave paintings attesting to their cultural presence.

      Respectfully, and with many thanks for sharing, Derdriu

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      Mazlan 5 years ago from Malaysia

      CassyLu1981, You should write a hub on that festival, and we can link them! Thanks for the vote and share

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      CassyLu1981 5 years ago from Spring Lake, NC

      We just went to an internation folk festival here in NC and I actually saw some of these dances!!! Excellent hub! Voted up and shared!

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      Mazlan 5 years ago from Malaysia

      @teaches12345 : you can write to the US Korean embassy as they sometime will bring in cultural performances as part of their activities. Or check their website. Alternatively the Korean association in USA

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      Mazlan 5 years ago from Malaysia

      Om, the bamboo dance is very popular and I thought it is only in the Philippines and Eastern part of Malaysia, didn't know you have it in Thailand too!

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      Dianna Mendez 5 years ago

      I would love to see a fan dance and ribbon dance in person. I think they are beautiful. I don't know where you would be able to catch any of these in the states. Maybe some day I will get to visit these countries to enjoy them in person. Great hub post and well done.

    • Om Paramapoonya profile image

      Om Paramapoonya 5 years ago

      This is an amazing hub, greatstuff! All these dance styles are very beautiful and intriguing. My grandmother loved watching khon performances. The bamboo dance is also quite popular in Thailand. Never knew it actually originated from the Philippines. I performed it once when I was a kid. I remember being quite worried that if I did it wrong, my ankles might get hurt by the bamboo poles. lol

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      Mazlan 5 years ago from Malaysia

      @aDayInMyLife1: there are several dances in Asia and this is just a small selection. Thanks for reading.

    • aDayInMyLife1 profile image

      Amanda S 5 years ago from CA

      Interesting Hub on Traditional Asian dances. Asians also have common dances they preform at parties. Thanks for this sample.