#123) Trance and Dance in Bali (1936-1939, 1952)


#123) Trance and Dance in Bali (1936-1939, 1952)

OR “Bali, Hi!”

Directed by Gregory Bateson and Margaret Mead

Written by Margaret Mead

Class of 1999

The Plot: Narrated by Margaret Mead, the film is a documentation of a traditional Balinese dance featuring Rangda the witch, Barong the dragon, and several natives in a trance-like state.

Why It Matters: The NFR calls the film “groundbreaking”, and includes a link to the Library of Congress’ digital gallery of Margaret Mead.

But Does It Really?: The film gets a pass for its introduction to Mead and Bateson (but mostly Mead) and its depiction of Balinese culture that, while not completely accurate, is a good starting point for further study.

Everybody Gets One: Both Bateson and Mead were already respected anthropologists by the time they traveled to Bali, their photography evolving into filmed documentation. Margaret Mead was best known for her somewhat controversial study of Samoan sexual orientation, and Gregory Bateson was one of the scientists responsible for the double-blind study.

Seriously, Oscars?: No Documentary Short nomination for “Trance and Dance”. Instead they gave the award that year to the super artsy Canadian film “Neighbours” (which really isn’t a documentary).

Other notes

  • If nothing else, this film gives you the great SAT word “somnambulistic”.
  • Wow, so much text before the actual film. This clip needs a lot of set-up.
  • Why are the witch and the pregnant woman played by men? There are women involved in the rest of the dance, why not here?
  • The Witch dresses like George Clinton.
  • The dragon worshipers follow the same rules with the witch as Super Mario does with a ghost; you can only attack when their back is turned.
  • I love that Margaret Mead always explains when the footage goes to slow-motion. As if no one would know just from watching.
  • The dancers are great at trances. They must be the best audience for a hypnotist.
  • This may be the only Registry entry that ends with suggested publications. I assume all of these titles are long out of print.


  • Thanks to the work of Mead and Bateson (among others), Bali became a tourist destination for Western culture. There goes the neighborhood.
  • Though they were just married during filming, Margaret Mead and Gregory Bateson were divorced by the time “Trance and Dance in Bali” was finally released. The two continued their distinguished work in anthropology (among other fields) until their respective deaths in 1978 and 1980.
  • Margaret Mead may be one of the few filmmakers on this list with her own trading card!

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