Malay Dance Forms

Category: Performing Arts

The traditional dance forms of the Malay communities in Singapore are wide-ranging and diverse, and they include zapin, joget, asli and inang. Most of these traditional dance forms were already popular in Singapore during the early 20th century. They are performed at festive events, staged as productions, and also taught to the younger generation through performing arts schools.

Dancers at Hari Raya Open House at Malay Heritage CentreDancers at Hari Raya Open House at Malay Heritage Centre. Source: Roots.sg

Zapin is believed to have been introduced to the Malay Archipelago during the 14th century by Arab Muslim communities. The dance is practised today in various countries including Malaysia, Indonesia, Brunei and Singapore. Traditionally performed only by men, the dance has evolved to include both male and female performers.

Zapin performances are usually accompanied by musicians playing violin, gambus (pear-shaped plucked lute), gendang (two-headed drum), accordion and rebana (drum). The traditional dance form has been adapted to suit different regions and each adaptation features different moves and styles of dance.

Joget is known for its lively beats and fast-paced rhythm. It is believed to draw influences from the Portuguese folk dance, which spread to the Malay Archipelago during the period around 16th century. Joget is usually accompanied by violin, gong, flute, rebana (drum) and gendang (two-headed drum). This traditional dance is usually performed at festive events such as weddings, festivals and gatherings.

Asli is a dance form that is slow-paced, with intricate, well-defined movements and poses. The asli dance would usually start and end with gong beats. In comparison, inang, is a relatively fast-paced dance involving graceful movements. It is commonly performed by pairs of women and men at social events.  


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