Saman Dance Aceh Indonesia – History and Development

traditional danceSaman dance is one of Aceh’s most famous dance until now. The dance came from the Highlands region of Gayo. In the past, Saman is usually done to commemorate important event in the customary culture of Aceh people. The dance is also usually done to commemorate the birth of the Prophet Muhammad.

During the period of Saman Dance in the Sultanate region of Aceh, there is a decree that state Saman Dance can only be done on the celebration of the Birth of the Prophet Muhammad in the mosque area near Gayo.

However, in its development, the dance then also allowed later to be played at public events such as birthday parties, weddings, circumcision party, and other important events till today.

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On the other hand, the name “Saman” is obtained from one of the greatest Islamic scholars of Aceh, named Syech Saman. Saman dance usually performed using the attribute of musical instruments, the form of a hand drum and the usage of the sound of the dancers and patting their chest and hands. Both are usually combined with a chest patting and thigh slapping while they perform in synchronization and threw their body in different directions at the rhythm.

In addition, especially in the current condition, this dance is performed also on occasions of an official nature, such as the visitation of the guests between the district and the state , or the opening of a festival and other events that transpire in the region. Among the diverse dances from all over Indonesia, saman dance that is included in this category of dance was deemed very interesting.

The unique property lies in the Saman dance motions that were so amazingly in sync. The saman dancers can move in uniform to the rhythm of music harmony. Movements are in sync as the body is moved, danced with a harmonic flow, following the dynamic of the songs. Very interesting indeed, with many Saman dances captivate the audience on TV and not just from Indonesia, but also from abroad.

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The rule of Saman dance is that it is guided by a leader, commonly called Syekh. Thus, the uniformity of the formation and time synchronization that are a main attraction in this dance performance thus the dancers are demanded to have a high concentration and rigorous exercise in order to perform perfectly.  At first this dance is only regarded as a normal folk game aptly called Pok Ane. Seeing the great interest from people of Aceh in this art then by the Sheikh intentions to insert the songs with poems containing praise to God almighty.

Then, Saman dance become a media propaganda at that time. Formerly Saman Dance exercise was conducted under the under a mosque so that they will not miss a prayer in congregation. Then when the Aceh people got involved in war conflict, the sheikh then added fighting poetry  to enhance the spirit of the people of Aceh.

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Saman dance continues to grow according to their needs. Then, nowadays, this dance has been a regular in more show in festivals and state inauguration. At first, Saman dance was originally received less attention because of limited communications and information from the outside world.

Then, Saman dance started rocking out on stage during its performance at the Weekend Aceh Culture (PKA) II and the official opening of Taman Mini Indonesia Indah (TMII). Saman Dance rumble the crowds in TMII and electrify them and also excited the whole archipelago and to many countries. The reverberation of Saman Dance is utterly outstanding.

Dance Movements

This dance is usually done in groups, singing song with by kneeling and doing sitting position in horizontal seating among themselves without using tools for musical attribute. Because of the rigorous rhythm of the dance motion, this dance are usually done by many men, but today development has permitted to use many dancers that are danced by women as well as a mix between a male dancer and female dancers.

On the other hand, this dance is danced by approximately 10 people, with the formation of 8 dancers and 2 dancers as a cue giver while singing. For connoisseurs of the art of the dance, Saman has become one of the excellency in the show performance. In each appearance, in addition to garner great attention from viewer the dance also garner fans from another country’s dancer.

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Saman dance is also one of a dance that is quite unique, because they only show applause movement and other body parts movements, such as chest movement and head and body position. Another unique property can be seen in a seating position the dancers performed and moving bodies that are put to the left or to the right, when the poetry are sung.

This dance is usually played by a dozens of men, but the numbers must be odd. However, in further development, this dance is played also by women or mix gender between men and women. As well as with modification of other dance motion.

People sometimes wonder how the dancers can simultaneously performed a motion of a dance that is fast in synchronization? In addition to the rigorous exercise of course, so there must be certain type of formation in particular that put each dancer so as to that the motion and the balance look harmonious and dynamic while in dancing.

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Almost all Aceh people dances are performed with many dancers. This kind of dance requires cooperation and mutual trust between the sheikh (leader in dance) with the dancers. However, what are the conditions that make this dance became so beautiful in motion, rhythm and synchronization are something that not everyone know.

Now, let us begin to discuss the supporting condition in saman dance. Maybe when we know all the aspects existed in this dance, thus we can better understand. Then it will get not just the beauty but also the philosophical meaning of position, movement, poetry that were sangs when performing Saman Dance.

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In each performance of the dance, all the motion is synchronized so that everything was in uniform motion that create amazement from the crowd. So the strength of Saman dance lies not just in its singing poetry alone but also the sync motion that accompany the song that hold more value in the dance. It should be achieved by the compliance of the dancers in playing each of its own role.

This many info about the formation function, the type of motion, the origin of music attribute and singing song during the Saman dance performances. Hopefully beneficial to you in understanding the Saman dance.

To adjust the synchronization of the movement of dancers, then dance Saman will usually led by two person that are named sheik. The Sheik is a leader of the rhythm motion of the dance while at the same guiding the singing motion or poetry that accompanies this dance.

Movements in the Saman dance is generally divided into several type, namely the movement of applause and a patting chest motion, shaking motion, chest motion, thigh-patting motion, and some added motion.

The names of all these movement in this Saman dance comes from Gayo. Which makes the Saman dance so unique and often bring admiration to those who witnessed it due to the harmonization and synchronization of the movements in this dance that flows quickly with rhythm poetry and accompanying dance. Many people abroad are even more familiar to the Saman dance than Kecak or Pendet dance that originated from Bali

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Traditional dance, saman dance, Indonesian danceSaman dance uses two rules of the dance motion that becomes a basic tenets in the saman dance ritual, that is the applause and the patting of the chest.

Its thought that during the spread of Islam, Sheikh Saman learn the dances from old Malay, then bring back the motion accompanied by poems by spreading Islamic message while also preaching. In the present context, the religious ritual dance is still used as a medium to convey messages propaganda through performances in the dance art.

On the other hand, among the variety of traditional dance originating from various Indonesian tribes, Saman dance is one of the traditional dance that fall into the category of very unique. unique property of Saman dance not just lies in the uniform motion of the dancers that are in sync, but also on harmonization of the song and the chorus that follows the movements.

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Moreover, this unique property is what makes the dance that come from Aceh that has become so popular, not just domestically, but also in several other countries in the world. Then, now we will explore the unique property of Saman dance ranging from the history, origins, movement, song, choir and dancers costumes.


The Choir and Saman Dance songs are different to other ethnic dance in general, at the original Saman dance performances, you will not find the movement rhythm accompanied of any musical instrument. The only rhythm used to align the sync movement of the dance is the voice of the dancers themselves. They would clap, patted their chest, thighs, and the floor or sometimes sing the poem of the songs to synchronize the movement of one dancers with the other dancers.

For the poetry song was sang at Saman dance is usually come from a meaningful wisdom that’s so deep. The poetry contain moral messages of Islam that should be listened to by any audience. For a sheikh or the guide dancer, singing the songs in Saman dance should also not be done recklessly. There are five rules or standard method to be followed in this Saman dance singing events.

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Before Saman Dance is started, there exist a kind of a Preamble or opening, showing an old traditional leaders to recognize the local population to give out speech that is beneficial to the players and viewers. Songs and poems speech are spoken collectively and continuously, the players then consisted of men who were still young by wearing traditional clothes. Presentation of the dance can also be performed, completed among a group of people usually two groups. The dance rhythm emphasis on the ability of each group to follow movement, dance and song (poetry) that are presented by the opposing party.

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In addition to a sitting position and body movement, hand gestures are very dominant in the Saman dance. Because they serves as a motion for a music. Its called second-hand clap which done in uniformity and unidirectional. There is also a motion name cilok, namely a motion index finger as if the hand take something lighter of an objects like salt. And Tepok is the performance in different positions (horizontal / back and forth / like a propeller blade). Head movements such as nodding in slow to fast tempo and head spinning like propeller (Girek) is also a group of motion in Saman dance. The synchronization of all these rules that add beauty and harmony in the saman dance movement.

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Because Saman Dance is done without any musical instrumentation, then bodily motion is used as an attribute for the movement. There are a few ways to make the sound though.

  •  Clapping both hands. The tempo is usually moderate but went up quick slowly.
  •  Punching both hands. It done into the chest with high upbeat tempo.
  •  The clapping of one hands.  It also done to the chest with a generally moderate upbeat.
  •  The friction of a thumb. Done with a middle finger also known as Kertip with moderate tempo.

And singing of the song of the dancers will add the dynamism of Saman dance. In which there are 5 ways to singing songs in Saman Dance :

  • Rengum, which is the roar that is preceded by a sound lifter.
  • Ringing, the Regnum note that is soon to be followed by all the dancers.
  • Redet, which is a short version of a song with a short sound sung by a dancer in the middle of the dance.
  • Syek, the song sung by a dancer with a long high-pitched voice, usually as a sign of changes in motion.
  • Saur, the song that is repeated by all dancers after it is sung by a solo dancer.

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The meaning and importance of Saman Dance Apart from a variety of its unique property, saman dance for the people of Aceh has a symbolic and deeper meaning. This dance symbolizes the high standard of behavior, teachings, solidarity, group loyalty and the testament of the people of Aceh that are religious. Islamic messages contained in each song poetry also has its own value.

Solemn advice with the hidden meaning that is so full in this dance song lyric. Well, that is the information about the unique property of the legendary Saman dance from Aceh. Hopefully with this article, we are becoming increasingly aware that the cultural heritage of our ancestors proved to have a very great prestige and of high value. The obligation for us to continue to preserve and introduce the next generations so that it is not lost by the time.

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Saman dance certainly has the main characteristic that stands out from other regional dances thus becoming a symbol or a special type of the arts. The list of property that are used in the saman dance is as follows:
1. Clothing : Clothing of the dancers consist of tops, sarongs, and underpants in the form of pants.
2. Headband : A circular ornament worn on the heads of the male dancers,
3. Hijab : Become a part of the customary costumes of the women dancers who identify themselves as a Muslim woman.
4. Musical Instrument : Musical Instruments that are used in the performance of Saman dance is usually a tambourine that also signify the Islamic culture that come from the middle east.

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Achievement in worldwide

Since 24 November 2011, Saman dance has been designated as one of the Cultural Heritage from Indonesia by UNESCO in the sixth proceedings of the Intergovernmental Committee of State that was held in Bali. The dance is also known in English as “Dance of the Thousand Hand” . Then, up to now still continue to be preserved, not just by the Aceh Gayo tribe, but also by the whole world who admire its unique property.

At first, The dancers and the Movement in Saman dance was only performed by the men who are no more than 10 people, 8 as a dancer and 2 as the cue giver. However, in its development, realizing that the dance would be more alive when performed by more dancers, then it was decided that Saman dance can be danced by more than 10 dancers. In addition, the women who were not initially allowed to play this dance now also be allowed to play.

Saman Dance is also featured on a Film project ‘Amazing Day’ of Coldplay showing various destinations and world culture which makes Aceh people proud. Coldplay, the world’s top bands who is headed by Chris Martin, Jonny Buckland, Guy Berryman and Will Champion. More recently, they released a film project’s latest single ‘Amazing Day’ in the Album A Head Full of Dreams. In the video, the visible range of destinations and cultures of different countries are shown. Indonesia was represented by Tari Saman, Mask Dance of Java and some women in Bali with their trademark clothes.

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Saman Dance greatly introduces Indonesia various culture. Its throughout the world with unique people that honored the different of population that fills this vast archipelago. Hopefully, by spreading the message through the dance then can take its meaning and enhance the humanity affections towards other people.

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