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Kecak in Bali, Indonesia. Image courtesy of Mike Aquino.

Nothing reveals the tension between tradition and modernity like dance, and so it is with dance performances in Southeast Asia. Yes, many places perform dance moves little changed over centuries, while others create movements that combine the old with the new – or go completely with the latter!

We asked a few travelers about their favorite, all-year-round dance performances in the region, and the experiences they shared shows how that push and pull between past and future plays out…

Bali, Indonesia: Kecak by Sunset

Kecak may be one of Bali’s most renowned dance performances, but there’s a reason why it’s performed night after night to standing-room crowds: the dance and chant performance takes place around a burning brazier, combining movement, rhythm and comedy… Live Travel Teach‘s Mike Still (Facebook|Twitter|Instagram) explains how it turns out.

The Kecak Fire & Trance Dance was such an amazing musical experience that I decided to go back a second time on my trip to Bali, Indonesia. We first heard about it from the receptionist at our hotel and were blown away by the percussive vocals of dozens of men sitting around a flame. Their movement and chanting hypnotized me while sending them deeper into a trance.

Dancers came out wearing brilliant costumes displaying ancient animal deities as the fight for good and evil unfolded. The story was complete with kidnappings and battle scenes to keep you entertained in an artistic performance that would surely be popular in theaters around the world.

Like I said, I enjoyed this so much that we went back a second time so I highly recommend adding this to one of your evenings on you visit to Bali. Just be sure to get there early and find a seat in the front row!

Pattaya Cabaret in Thailand. Image courtesy of Pujarini Mitra.

Pattaya, Thailand: A Surprising Cabaret Show

Bollywood music, fancy dresses and feminine-looking dancers with a surprising secret: the “Alcazar Cabaret Show” in Pattaya, Thailand offers a scenic night on the town that entertains till the house lights turn back on. MySoulTravels‘ Pujarini Mitra (Facebook|Twitter|Instagram) tells us more:

A cabaret show had always been in our bucket list as we wanted to witness the grandeur and the energy of such a performance. So, when we visited Pattaya in Thailand, we just couldn’t miss the ‘Alcazar Cabaret Show’. The stage and the props are state of art and the interesting choreography keeps you glued in.

We were completely spellbound for the hour by the amazing lights and sound effects. The whole show is a cultural extravaganza but our favorite part was the Bollywood song performed in the end. After the show, the elegant dancers come outside the theatre and you can get pictures clicked with them.

What intrigued me the most was that this show is performed mostly by transvestites and if you are not aware you may think all the dancers are ladies. It is very enlightening to see that the transgender community is well supported and given an equal status in the society.

This lavish show has definitely been a once in lifetime experience for us and it is a must-see when in Thailand.

Filipino traditional dance. Image courtesy of Patricia Feaster/Creative Commons

Manila, Philippines: Dance and Dinner Combined

The Philippines’ capital Manila may not be a favorite of foreign tourists, but that’s their loss: explore its older corners and you’ll find a dance performance that draws from all corners of the island nation. Aleah Taboclaon, the Solitary Wanderer (Facebook|Twitter|Instagram) shares her first-hand experience:

Not a lot of tourists spend time in Manila. They arrive in the city, spend the night in a hotel, and then leave for the islands the next day. Nobody can blame them; the Philippines does have world-class beaches and island hopping experiences.

For those who are interested in culture, however, it can be worth it to stay an extra day or two in Manila. The Walled City of Intramuros is a well-preserved district in the Philippine capital that highlights the country’s history under the Spanish colonial rule.

If you prefer cultural shows instead, you can find a highly recommended folk dance performance in Intramuros. Just across San Agustin Church is Barbara’s, a restaurant offering buffet style Filipino cuisine and dance performances afterwards. The highly trained dancers will perform several well-known and well-loved dances, including tinikling (dancing over bamboo poles), kuratsa (courtship dance), and binasuan (balancing glasses on their heads and hands).

These folk dances aren’t practiced much anymore in the Philippines, so having a place where you can eat good Filipino food, and get a glimpse of Philippine culture through dance, is indeed a good opportunity I would always recommend to visitors.