Kretek Dance

The Portrayal of Kretek Laborers’ Lives

To be claimed as a country with cultural diversity, Indonesia has thousands cultural heritage from the tangible to the intangible ones that spread around the nation.

Traditional dance is one form of culture that Indonesia has. The type is diverse; Each tribe has its own traditional dance.

Each traditional dance contains philosophical meaning and values. This time, we will discuss about an Indonesian traditional dance that is related to cigarette.

What is that? Yes, it’s kretek dance.


Kretek Dance History

Kretek Dance is a traditional dance originating from Kudus Regency, Central Java. The emergence of this dance cannot be separated from the fact of Kudus as the first clove cigarettes producer city in Indonesia.

The dance was called Mbatil Dance at first. However, because the name ‘mbatil’ was apparently not very popular among the community, the name was later changed to kretek dance.

Created by Endang Tonny, the owner of the Sanggar Seni Puring Sari, this kretek dance tells the story of the traditional cigarette making process carried out by cigarette workers, starting from the process of tobacco selection to the tobacco marketing process.

Accompanied by Javanese gamelan music, kretek dance can be performed with a minimum of five dancers. The dance is usually performed by female dancers, who represent the mbatil laborers, and a male dancer who represents the foreman.

The mbatil laborers are the ones whose job is cutting and tidying the cigarettes, while the foreman is the one who supervises those cigarette laborers and has the power to sort cigarettes made by the workers.

For this dance performance, the female dancers should wear typical Kudus clothes, caping, and hold a tampah (winnowing tray). Meanwhile, the male dancer wears blangkon.


The story line of this dance will start with the foreman entering the stage to prepare all the devices for the cigarette laborers and then waits for them to come.

Then the female dancers who act as the cigarette labors will visualize through the dance how the process of making kretek cigarettes, ranging from selecting tobacco, tidying cigarettes by cutting the edges, delivering it to the foreman to be examined.

The graceful movements of the dancers’ hands illustrate how skillful the laborers are in making and rolling each kretek cigarette.

Sometimes, they will tuck some flirtatious movements in the women dancers in which it presumably portrays the way the female cigarette laborers attract the foremen in real life in order to make their cigarettes pass through the sorting process.

Through the kretek dance, if the foreman satisfies with the cigarette quality, he will smile, and the cigarette laborers will show such a relief expression as their cigarettes pass the examination.


The kretek dance was firstly performed at the inauguration of the Kretek Museum on October 3, 1986, initiated by the Governor of Central Java at that time, Soepardjo Roestam.

In that event, kretek dance was performed by 500 dancers at once. This dance clearly shows that kretek is Indonesian culture. Ironically, traditional dance has slowly begun to be forgotten and abandoned.


Indonesia Kaya. (n.d.) Gemulai dan Rancaknya Tari Kretek.

Membunuh Indonesia. (2016). Tari Kretek.

Merah Putih. (2016). Sejarah Tari Kretek Representasi Buruh Rokok di Kabupaten Kudus.

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