Skip to main content

Erotic Triangles

Sundanese Dance and Masculinity in West Java

Erotic Triangles

Sundanese Dance and Masculinity in West Java

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.

264 pages | 8 halftones, 9 musical examples, 14 line drawings, 13 tables | 6 x 9 | © 2010

Chicago Studies in Ethnomusicology

Anthropology: Cultural and Social Anthropology

Asian Studies: South Asia

Music: Ethnomusicology


“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

Table of Contents



Chapter 1. Discourses of Sundanese Dance

Chapter 2. Drumming and Power

Chapter 3. Ronggeng and Desire

Chapter 4. Dance Events and Freedom

Chapter 5. The Erotic Triangle of Sundanese Dance

Chapter 6. Triangulating Sundanese Dance


Reference List



Society for Ethnomusicology: Alan Merriam Award
Honorable Mention

Be the first to know

Get the latest updates on new releases, special offers, and media highlights when you subscribe to our email lists!

Sign up here for updates about the Press