Most people know Lengger dance as dancing wearing mask. But do you know that the dancer is a man wearing woman dress? Man in this dance has certain philosophy and purpose. Lengger Mask dance is a traditional dance which also well known since a century ago in central java. Long ago, this dance was introduced by an artist from Kecis, subdistrict Selomerto , Mr. Gondhowinangun in 1910.
Then, in 1960’s this dance was improved by Ki Hadi Soewarno, become more attractive than the old dance from Solo or Yogya. The dance was lean to be like East Java dance from Kediri. According to a Giyanti artist, Lengger come from java language "elinga ngger" means "ingatlah nak" (remember kid). There is message in this dance, every person must remember to the almighty creator and always do a kindness to every one.
Once upon a time, this dance was start when King Brawijaya lost his daughter, Dewi Sekartaji. He threw open to a prize contest, “For anyone who can found my daughter, I’ll make him become husband of my daughter or make her a sister”.
This contest was followed by many warriors, until only two left. They are Raden Panji Asmoro Bangun who undercover as Joko Kembang Kuning from Kingdom Jenggala and Prabu Klono from Kingdom Sebrang. Prabu Klono was the man who make the daughter escape because her father made a match with him.
During the searching, Joko Kembang Kuning and his guardian act as nomadic dancer move from one village to other village. The dancer was a man wearing a mask, dressing girl dress with simple musical chairs. In every performance this dance gets welcome mat and ovation. That why, they called it Lengger, from ledek (dancer) and ger or geger (noisy and sensation).
Until one day, in a village, Lengger dance attract Dewi Sekartaji from her shelter. But at the same time, Prabu Klono also knew her existence. Prabu Klono commands his sister, Retno Tenggaron and warrior women to propose Sekartaji. The propose was rejected by the princess.
While Prabu Klono and Joko Kembang Kuning still demand their right to the king. The king was confused and decided them to fight in a contest. Joko Kembang was represented by Tawang Alun warrior kill Prabu Klono. At the end of this story Joko Kembang Kuning and Dewi Sekartaji were marriage and the party was splendid with Tari Topeng Lengger (Lengger dance).
According to Dwi Pranyoto, Lengger artists from Setyo Langen Budoyo studio, Lengger had improved when muslim kingdom start to established. Previously Lengger dance was Ledek geger then changed become Syiar Islam by Sunan Kalijaga.
In its progress, Lengger dance found time to had negative assumption. It because the dance was performed to attract voluptuous feeling. The spectator can watch it while drunk. Watch this condition Sunan Kalijaga passing of as Ronggeng wearing a mask and dancing.
In this way, Sunan Kalijaga teach courteousness and magnanimity. Now, this dance was well known as "elinga ngger", a dance which teach to always remember to God.
Lengger Dance still exists until now. This dance can be performed by two persons, the man wear a mask and the women wear traditional dress like Java princess in the past. This dance performed about 10 minute musical chairs from gambang, saron, kendang, gong, and other traditional instruments.
In fact, some artists try to improve and create new dance adopted from Topeng Lengger. One of it was Kenyo Lengger, from Ngesti Laras studio. According to the creator, Mulyani, Kenyo Lengger was performed by 5 women wearing sunglasses. Message from this dance is as a human, don’t chase after wealth including throne, women and property, that’s why they wear sunglasses.