Saman (dance)

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Saman dance

Saman (or the dance of thousand hands) is one of the most popular dances in Indonesia. Its origin is from the Gayo ethnic group from Gayo Lues, Aceh province, Sumatra, and is normally performed to celebrate important occasions.[1] The dance is characterized by its fast-paced rhythm and common harmony between dancers. These two elements are key figures of Saman, and are among the reasons Saman are widely known and practiced in Indonesia, beside being relatively easy to learn.

On November 24, 2011, UNESCO officially recognized Aceh's traditional Saman dance as a Masterpiece of Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity, which needs UNESCO's urgent protection.[2][3]

The ASEAN Tourism Association (ASEANTA) named Saman dance as the best ASEAN cultural preservation effort at the 25th ASEANTA Awards for Excellence 2012.[4]


The dance is done by a group of people forming a line accompanied by a music player. Originally, the group was exclusively male, but it is now more common to see female Saman dancers. The music player plays percussion instrument, such as kendang, and leads the song before it is followed by the dancers. The music contains various verses with folk and Islamic elements, both of which can be fully sung or not depending on the performer's decision. A short song (which leads to a short dance) can last for approximately 15 to 20 minutes.


A typical Saman performance is usually constituted of the followings elements: After a brief greeting from the music player, the dancers enters the stage and immediately form a single line while sitting in a form equivalent to the Japanese seiza. The song then starts to play, with the lyric at the beginning commonly telling the generals of Gayo culture at medium pace. The dancers then begin to move their hands in a rhythmic manner, following the movements while singing as their music player does. As the dance progress, the movement is also performed with arms, head, and the general upper body. Also, the pace becomes faster, and the seat position may change. The key element here is that every player must move at the same time, creating a homogeneous, continuous, line of movement that are often described as the defining feature of Saman dance. As the music became faster and the movement more energetic, the music will abruptly end, and the players exit the stage.


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