Erotic Triangles Sundanese Dance and Masculinity in West Java
by Henry Spiller
University of Chicago Press, 2010
Cloth: 978-0-226-76958-5 | Paper: 978-0-226-76959-2 | Electronic: 978-0-226-76960-8
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226769608.001.0001


In West Java, Indonesia, all it takes is a woman’s voice and a drum beat to make a man get up and dance. Every day, men there—be they students, pedicab drivers, civil servants, or businessmen—breach ordinary standards of decorum and succumb to the rhythm at village ceremonies, weddings, political rallies, and nightclubs. The music the men dance to varies from traditional gong ensembles to the contemporary pop known as dangdut, but they consistently dance with great enthusiasm. In Erotic Triangles, Henry Spiller draws on decades of ethnographic research to explore the reasons behind this phenomenon, arguing that Sundanese men use dance to explore and enact contradictions in their gender identities.

Framing the three crucial elements of Sundanese dance—the female entertainer, the drumming, and men’s sense of freedom—as a triangle, Spiller connects them to a range of other theoretical perspectives, drawing on thinkers from Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, Lévi-Strauss, and Freud to Euclid. By granting men permission to literally perform their masculinity, Spiller ultimately concludes, dance provides a crucial space for both reinforcing and resisting orthodox gender ideologies.


Henry Spiller is associate professor of music at the University of California, Davis, and the author of Focus: Gamelan Music of Indonesia.


“This is a highly original and illuminating study of Sundanese performing arts and gender ideology. Theoretically challenging and historically rich, Erotic Triangles frames men’s improvisational dance as the playful working out of gendered identity relations.”

— Andrew N. Weintraub, University of Pittsburgh

“In Erotic Triangles, Henry Spiller takes a bold new direction in the interpretation of a whole tradition of dance, incorporating many genres in his discussion and applying an intriguing framework for analysis built from a synthesis of approaches. The scholarship is quite impressive from every angle in this thought-provoking book that will quickly grab the attention of scholars in a range of disciplines.”--R. Anderson Sutton, University of Wisconsin-Madison

— R. Anderson Sutton

“Spiller’s book is a finely nuanced ethnography and offers an excellent model for integrating analysis of music and dance.”
— Matthew Isaac Cohen, Asian Theatre Journal

“An extraordinarily unified work, rich in detail and theoretical depth. In fact, [Henry Spiller] provides the most in-depth description of music-dance relations I have ever read. . . . a complex and original ethnography.” 
— Sydney Hutchinson, The World of Music


List of Figures and Tables



1. Discourses of Sundanese Dance

2. Drumming and Power

3. Ronggeng and Desire

4. Dance Events and Freedom

5. The Erotic Triangle of Sundanese Dance

6. Triangulating Sundanese Dance