The Umbrella Dance of West Sumatra: Is it Really the Dance of Love?

The Umbrella Dance or “Tari Payung” is a traditional dance from Minangkabau, West Sumatra, Indonesia. It is popularly known to symbolize love and courtship. However, there are different traditional interpretations of what the dance originally symbolizes. Moreover, its true origins have been questioned, is it really a dance from Minangkabau, West Sumatra?

Tari Payung for blog upload
                                                   Courtesy of Sigit, Sawahlunto

Payung in Indonesian means umbrella. In the dance, typically, the male dancers swing the umbrellas they are holding around their female partners. The opened umbrella in Tari Payung is said to be a symbol of protection and affection from a husband to his wife so that the family will always be happy and spared from negative things. The female dancers typically wears a selendang or a scarf that symbolizes union, true love, and loyalty.

Tari Payung is usually accompanied by the song “Babendi-bendi ke Sungai Tanang” in the background which tells a story of a couple on their honeymoon. The song starts with a slow tempo which gradually increases throughout the song until it hits a quick tempo, where the dancers shift to dynamic moves, reflecting the journey the couple will take throughout life. Traditionally, you can watch a Tari Payung dance in wedding ceremonies or other traditional rituals.

It is interesting that according to a number of sources, the rural areas of Minangkabau do not perceive the Tari Payung dance as part of the Minangkabau culture. This dance is said to have originated in the cities or the rantau areas, where there is a fusion of Melayu and Minangkabau people. Thus, this dance is considered to be a Melayu Minangkabau dance. The slower movements reflect its Melayu origins and its fast-dynamic movements reflect the influence of Minangkabau martial arts. Here, there is also a slightly different interpretation of the dance, a more urban and modern one. The dance is said to be about the tale of romance between a young city girl and boy on a rendezvous at Tanang River.

In contrast, in some parts of West Sumatera, the Tari Payung dance was originally performed as part of a ritual of when a baby is taken out of the house for the first time and is bathed in the river, adding to a completely different interpretation of the dance.

It is also interesting to know that in 1920s, the dance was performed by a group of all female dancers as there was a time when women and men were not allowed to dance together, in fact once women were barred from participating in public performances.

Over time, the dance is performed by women and men and on other occasions aside from ritual events, such as in cultural festivals and community festivities, as well as to honor guests.

Today the dance tends to have a different function. It has shifted from a dance which had a ritual purpose to a dance with commercial entertainment objectives. For artistic or commercial reasons, the dance moves have been altered over time by dance choreographers. The meaning of the movements is now subject to the interpretation of dance professionals and may have lost some of its traditional elements.

While these dance innovations may be viewed as a progressive way to maintain the existence of a traditional dance through the generation, it does not sit well with those who believe that tradition should not be altered for the sake of art or entertainment. What do you think?


Tari Payung

Tari Payung Kesenian Tradisional

Syafrayuda, Diah Rosari (2015) Eksistensi Tari Payung sebagai Tari Melayu Minangkabau di Sumatera Barat Ekspresi Seni, Jurnal Ilmu Pengetahuan dan Karya Seni Vol. 1 No. 2.

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