Malay Dance Forms

Intangible Cultural Heritage

Malay Dance Forms

The traditional dance forms of the Malay communities in Singapore are wide-ranging and diverse, and they include zapin, joget, asli and inang, amongst others. Most of these traditional dance forms were already popular in Singapore during the early 20th century. Today, they are performed at festive events, staged as productions, and also taught to the younger generation through performing arts schools.

Geographic Location

Zapin is believed to have been introduced to the Malay Archipelago during the 14th century by Arab Muslim communities. The dance is practised today in various countries including Malaysia, Indonesia, Brunei and Singapore. Traditionally performed only by men, the dance has evolved to include both male and female performers.

Joget is believed to have drawn influences from the Portuguese folk dance, which spread to the Malay Archipelago during the period around 16th century. Joget is also practised by the Peranakan community.

Similarly, dance forms such as asli and inang are performed in the Southeast Asia region.

Communities Involved

Malay communities in Singapore as well as various Malay dance groups are involved in the practice and transmission of Malay dance forms. For example, Era Dance Theatre organises workshops and education programmes to share on Malay dance forms to the wider public.

Associated Social and Cultural Practices

Zapin performances are usually accompanied by musicians playing violin, gambus (pear-shaped plucked lute), gendang (two-headed drum), accordion and rebana (drum). The traditional dance form has been adapted to suit different regions and each adaptation features different moves and styles of dance.

Joget is known for its lively beats and fast-paced rhythm. Joget is usually accompanied by violin, gong, flute, rebana (drum) and gendang (two-headed drum). This traditional dance is usually performed at festive events such as weddings, festivals and gatherings.

Asli is a dance form that is slow-paced, with intricate, well-defined movements and poses. The asli dance would usually start and end with gong beats. In comparison, inang, is a relatively fast-paced dance involving graceful movements. It is commonly performed by pairs of women and men at social events.

Present Status

Though the traditional dance pieces are often still performed, Malay dance groups and choreographers have also taken inspirations from different dance classics, and creating reinterpretations and new works.

As Malay dance groups continue to stage productions and performances, and with the range of Malay dance educational programmes available, Malay dance heritage looks set to be continually practised and appreciated by the Malay community in Singapore.


Reference No.: ICH-010

Date of Inclusion: April 2018; Updated March 2019


Beamish, Tony. The arts of Malaya, Singapore: D. Moore, 1954.

Koh, Jaime and Ho, Stephanie. Culture and Customs of Singapore and Malaysia. ABC-CLIO, 2009.

Md Nor, Mohd Anis. Zapin: Folk Dance of the Malay World, Singapore: Oxford University Press, 1993.

National Library Board, “Musical Practice of Malay ‘Traditional’ forms”, Accessed 15 May 2018.

Rasheed, Zainul Abidin and Saat, Norshahril. MAJULAH! 50 Years of Malay/Muslim Community in Singapore. Singapore. World Scientific Press, 2016.

Said, Nabilah. “Celebrating Malay dance heritage”, The Straits Times, 31 May 2016.