Saman Dance

Saman (or the dance of a 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. 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, besides 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.

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


Saman dance in Lokop, East Aceh Regency during Dutch colonial period The dance is done by a group of people without musical instruments.

Originally, the group was exclusively male. In performing this dance, the player sings some songs while doing some attractive movements. 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 following elements: The dancers enter the stage and immediately form a single line while sitting in a form equivalent to the Japanese seiza.

The singer then begins to sing, with the lyrics at the beginning commonly telling the general attributes of Gayo culture at medium pace. The dancers then begin to move their hands in a rhythmic manner, following the movements.

As the dance progresses, the movements are also performed with arms, head, and the upper body. The pace becomes faster, and the seat positions may change.

The key element is that every dancer must move at the same time, creating a homogeneous, continuous, line of movement that is often described as the defining feature of Saman dance. One thing that makes this dance quite unique is that the original Saman dance which comes from Gayo Lues is not accompanied by any musical instruments. .

The Saman dance is part of the cultural heritage of the Gayo people of Aceh province in Sumatra.

Boys and young men perform the Saman sitting on their heels or kneeling in tight rows. Each wears a black costume embroidered with colourful Gayo motifs symbolizing nature and noble values. The leader sits in the middle of the row and leads the singing of verses, mostly in the Gayo language. These offer guidance and can be religious, romantic or humorous in tone.

Dancers clap their hands, slap their chests, thighs and the ground, click their fingers, and sway and twist their bodies and heads in time with the shifting rhythm – in unison or alternating with the moves of opposing dancers.

These movements symbolize the daily lives of the Gayo people and their natural environment. The Saman is performed to celebrate national and religious holidays, cementing relationships between village groups who invite each other for performances.

The frequency of Saman performances and its transmission are decreasing, however. Many leaders with knowledge of the Saman are now elderly and without successors.

Other forms of entertainment and new games are replacing informal transmission, and many young people now emigrate to further their education. Lack of funds is also a constraint, as Saman costumes and performances involve considerable expense.


Saman Dance is a typical Gayo tribe dance performed to celebrate important events in adat. Here are the facts about Saman dance that you can learn.

— 1. Can only be played by male dancers
In contrast to some other dance, Saman dance should only be played by young male dancers. This has been around long ago. They will be singing, clapping, clapping their chest and groin to a certain rhythm, accompanied by the body in all directions. It takes concentration and high stamina to play this dance.

However, in further development, this dance is also played by women. Another opinion said this dance is danced less than 10 people, with details of 8 dancers and 2 people as a giver of cue while singing.

— 2. Often being mistaken with Ratoeh Duek dance
Saman and Ratoeh Duek dance does have some similarities. Therefore, many people are mistaken and think that both are the same dance. The difference lies in the dancer and the language used.

The Saman dance should only be played by male dancers, while Ratoeh Duek on the contrary, danced by the women. The language used in Saman dance is Gayo language, while in Ratoeh Duek dance is used in Aceh language.

— 3. Breaking MURI record with the most number of dancers
On 14 August 2017, MURI set a new record on this Saman dance. If there are 5,054 dancers in 2010 playing Saman dance simultaneously, then this year the number more than doubled, that is 12.272 people. This number exceeds the original plan of only 10,001 people.

— 4. Recognized by UNESCO as an international cultural heritage
There are four requirements for a culture wants to be recognized by UNESCO: originality, uniqueness, universal philosophical value, and the power of the people to the public. One of the Indonesian cultures that has all four things is Saman dance. Another Indonesian culture that has been recognized by UNESCO among others is, puppets, keris, batik, and angklung art.

— 5. Used as da’wah media
In terms of history, Saman Dance has existed since the 13th century and developed by Sheikh Saman. Initially, this dance is used as a medium to spread Islam religion and provide education, advice, to teach about compactness. Saman Dance now has a broader function as entertainment and art show for the wealth in the country.

Before the Saman began, the custom leaders appeared to represent the local community. Adat leaders provide useful advice to the players and the audience. The poetry in Saman dance also contains advices and dakwah.

— 6. Originated from the name of the Saman dance creator
This dance is called Saman because it was created by a Gayo cleric named Syekh Saman in about XIV century AD, from the Gayo highlands. Initially, this dance was just a folk game called Pok Ane.

However, then added the accompaniment of poems that contain the praise to Allah SWT, and also accompanied by a combination of the tap of the dancers. At that time, saman dance became one of the da’wah media.

— 7. Popular in the countries over the world
Saman dance is very interesting. Saman dance shows are not only popular in our own country, but also popular in foreign countries such as Australia and Europe. Recently saman dance in the show in Australia to commemorate the great tsunami disaster on December 26, 2006 ago. Therefore, we should be proud of the arts we have, and preserve them from extinction.

— 8. Originated from Aceh
Saman Dance is a dance that comes from Gayo tribe, Aceh. Usually this dance is performed to celebrate important events in adat. The poem uses Gayo Language. This dance is also shown to celebrate the birth of Prophet Muhammad SAW.

— 9. It doesn’t need any musical instruments
Usually, saman dance does not require the accompaniment of a musical instrument. This dance is only accompanied by the sound of the dancers and their applause. It is then combined with a chest and groin strike as a counterweight and flung the body in different directions.

— 10. Need high concentration for the dancers
This dance is guided by a leader called a sheikh. Because uniformity of formation and timeliness is a must in performing this dance, then the dancers must have a high concentration. They have to practice seriously in order to perform perfectly.

— 11. Requires a compactness
It is said that the first dance saman played by men because this dance “rough” mean mean here is very rarely found movement that requires grace movement because of clapping motion and precision is needed. Saman dance is a dance that requires extraordinary cohesiveness and trust from every dancer and musician.

— 12. Unique costume
The costumes used in saman dancers are in the form of Malay clothes, trousers, socks, hats, sashes, b>elts, songkets and hoods. Then, the veil is relative because some of the dancers are some who use a veil and some are hair in cepol or dikonde upwards. And to make up on the dancers relative saman depends on each team each.

— 13. Performed at the happy situation
Saman dance is usually displayed on certain ccasions, such as memorial Maulid Prophet Muhammad SAW. Saman Dance can be displayed on any occasion of a crowd and excitement, such as birthday parties, weddings, or other celebrations. For the place, Saman dance is usually done at home, field, and some are using the stage.

All in all, Saman dance popularity has been spread in all over the world. We as Indonesians should be proud of those facts. It means that Saman dance add the list of cultural heritage in Indonesia.