This traditional dance is a type of folk dance from Wonosobo, Central Java and surrounding. The dancers were men and there is a philosophy about this. This kind of dance has been known for almost one century in Central Java. This performance was initially pioneered in Giyanti village by traditional art fibure from Kecis village, Selomerto district, Mt Gondhowinangun 1910.
60 years later this dance was developed by Alm Ki Hadi Soewarno and this made this performance more attractive than refined Solo and Yogya style. Lengger dance was more like East Java dance and it said that this was originally from Kediri Kingdom. According to Giyanti local artists, lengger term derived from ‘elinga ngger’, means ‘, an advice to be aware, to remember. This dance has moral message to remember God, and do good deed to others.
The story of the performance starts when King Brawijaya lost his daughter Dewi Sekartaji. He held a contest that anyone could fine Dewi Sekartaji and brought her home will be rewarded to be the husband of Dewi Sekartaji if it was a man, and if it was a woman, she will be the sister of Dewi Sekartaji. This contest had many participants from knights all over the kingdom and surroundings. Two knights left to find the princes were Raden Panji Asmoro Bangun that under covered as Joko Kembang Kuning from Jenggala Kingdom. And the other one is Prabu Klono from Sebrang Kingdom that made the princess ran as she was arranged marriage with him by her father. In his search, Joko Kembang Kuning was accompanied by his guards, and they disguised as dancing troupe from place to place. The dancers was trans dress as female dancers in mask, with simple instruments. In every performance, people was so excited. And then later this performance is called as Lengger derives from ledek (dancer) and ger or geger means uproar. Until oneday, lengger performance could attract Dewi Sekartaji from her hiding place. But Prabu Klono found her existence first, and sent her sister Retno Tenggaron and soldiers to propose Dewi Sekartaji. But Dewi Sekartaji rejected him, and Retno Tenggaron and Dewi Sekartaji fought. Dewi Sekartaji won though.
Prabu Klono and Joko Kembang Kuning felt they they found Dewi Sekartaji and asked for the reward to the king. King Brawijaya decided that both contestants should fight for the reward. In this final contest, Joko Kembang Kuning was represented by Tawang Alun Knight and he could kill Prabu Klono in that fight. In the end of this story, Joko Kembang Kuning and Dewi Sekartaji married in glorious wedding and entertained by lengger dance performance.
When Islam came to Indonesia, lengger dance was used by Sunan Kalijogo, one of nine saints (wali songo) to spread Islam in Central Java. Sunan Kalijaga was an ullema that loved arts and traditions.
In its progress, this performance has negative image as it was used to tempt men and audience can enjoy the dance when they were drunk. Realizing this, Sunan Kalijaga disguise as female dancer and wore mask and dance lengger dance, but when the men audience began to be drown in the performance, Sunan Kalijaga released his mask. With this method, Sunan Kalijaga ,made speech about values, knowledge, norms of Islam. It turned to be a positive event from negative image, and until today lengger is known to be derived from elinga ngger, a dancing to teach human to remember God.
Lengger dance survive until 21st century and performed by two dancers, the male dancer wears mask and the female dancer wears traditional costume as Javanese princess in the past. Every sequence is performed in 10 minutes with instrument of gambang, saron, kendang, gong, and other instrument.
There is another dance performance that is adopted from lengger dance, one of this was Kenyo Lengger by Ngesti Laras troupe. The founder, Mulyani stated that Kenyo Lengger was performed by 5 women wearing sunglasses. The philosophy of this was that human should not be blinded by the world ( wealth, woman and position) , so they wear sunnies.
Currently, this performance is performed on wedding celebration, circumcision, thanks giving ceremony and other folk celebration events. This performance has also magic side that entertains people more.