Indian Dance Forms: A Brief Introduction to the Classical, Folk and Bollywood Dance Forms
Indian Classical Dance Forms: Bharatnatyam
Dance can be a profession, it can lead to stardom. Of course it can. But it can also be a process of meditation. It can be therapeutic. It can be a way to grapple with our own inner fears and demons. It can be a purely physical endeavour. It can be a purely mental journey. It can be a self-realisation of one’s cultural roots. It can lead to spiritual fulfillment. Indian classical dance is all this and so much more! Little wonder that even the gods danced in India. They too probably realized that it added value to their bliss in heaven!"
- Geeta Chandran
A Brief Introduction To The Classical Indian Dance Forms:
Anyone familiar with the Indian culture, must be familiar with the significance of the classical music and classical dance forms in India.
Many styles of dancing have emerged and evolved over the years, but nothing can replace the traditional and classical dance forms.
The term classical or ‘Shashtriya’ signifies ‘Natya Shashtra’ based performing art and it’s various styles.
Classical dance performances, traditionally feature a story or a dance drama.
The ‘Nritya’ or the dance, uses facial expressions and ’Mudra’ or the hand gestures, to narrate the story or to demonstrate concepts, such as particular objects, weather, aspects of nature and various emotions.
Classical Indian dance is also known as ‘Natya’, which includes singing and acting or ‘Abhinaya.’
Different dance forms, have originated in different parts of India, according to the local traditions and culture.
How many Classical Dance Forms are there in India?
The national academy for performing arts, ‘Sangeet Natak Academy‘ has recognized eight styles of traditional dances, as Indian classical dances. These might or might not have origin in religious activities of ancient times.
- Bharatnatyam (Tamil Nadu)
- Kathak (Uttar Pradesh)
- Kathakali (Kerala)
- Kuchipudi (Andhra Pradesh)
- Manipuri (Manipur)
- Odissi (Odisha)
- Mohiniattyam (Kerala)
- Sattriya ( Assam)
- All these dance forms may look similar, at the first glance, but they are quite different from each other, in theory and performances. They have originated in different states of India and have different history from each other.
- In ancient India, there were no dedicated auditoriums or theatres for dance performances. Dance was normally a religious or spiritual activity, and was performed in temples, to worship the Gods and the Goddesses.
- The most revered Hindu deities, such as Lord Shiva, Goddess Kali, Lord Krishna, Lord Rama are represented in classical Indian dancing. ‘Shiva's Tandava’ and ‘Krishna's Raas Lila‘ are some of the examples.
- In these dance forms, each part of the body is involved, and the expressions are mostly by the eyes, the head and the hand gestures, in coordination with some disciplined foot movements.
- The dancers spend a whole lifetime to learn, practice and then preach the classical dances, with deep passion and perseverance, which is unmatched.
Dance is for everybody. I believe that the dance came from the people and that it should always be delivered back to the people."
~~ Alvin Ailey
Indian Classical Dance Forms: Kathakali and Kathak
Indian Classical Dance Forms: Manipuri and Odissi
A Brief introduction to the Indian Classical Dance Forms
One of the most popular classical Indian dances, Bharatnatyam has it’s origin in the South of India, in the states of Tamil Nadu and Karnataka.
Bharatnatyam dance is almost 2,000 years old, and it’s believed, that it was revealed by Lord Brahma to Bharata, a famous sage, who then codified this sacred dance form, in a Sanskrit text, called the Natya Shastra.
Kathak as an Indian classical dance, originated in the North of India, and is derived from the word katha, which means story telling in an artistic way.
There were Kathakars or bards, who used to recite religious and mythological stories, accompanied with music, hand, eye gestures, with disciplined foot movements, in this elegant dance form.
This classical dance form from the Indian state of Kerala, is popular for it’s unique make up, and heavy costumes. Kathakali means dance drama or story play.
Kathakali is recognised, as one of the most creative and wonderful dance drama form. The Indian epics such as the Ramayana, the Mahabharata and other mythologies are portrayed in this most popular classical dance form.
Kuchipudi derives its name from the Kuchipudi village of the state of Andhra Pradesh, in the Southern part of India. It has it’s origins, as old as the 17th century.
Kuchipudi enacts dances, from the Hindu Epics, mythological characters, and it is a pleasure to watch the combination of wonderful classical music, dance and abhinaya (acting).
Manipuri dance, as the name suggests, has it’s origins, in the state of Manipur, in the North East of India.
The Manipuri dance form is unique and graceful, due to it’s delicacy in dancing, light foot movements, the music and the costume. Just like the simple people of Manipur, it signifies simplicity and poetic beauty.
A classical dance form of Kerala in Southern part of India, Mohiniattam is a combination of two words. Mohini, which means beautiful women, and attam which means dance.
It is a beautiful feminine style of classical dance form, with graceful body movements. Mohiniattam dance form is in line of tradition of the Devadasi system, which later evolved and attained the classical dance status.
Odissi as an Indian classical dance form originated in the state of Odisha.
Almost 2000 years old, this dance form, has the distinction of being highly sensuous, ecstatic and passionate style of dancing, and has it’s origins in the Devadasi tradition of ancient India.
Folk Dances of India
Folk Dances and the Tribal Dance forms of India
Folk dance forms and the tribal dances of India are those dances, which are usually performed in groups, and have their roots in the villages and various tribal areas.
These dance forms are performed, to express their everyday work, the festivals, the seasons, the rituals and many other celebrations. These dance forms are part of their life. Therefore, one can see people dancing on the weddings, child birth, harvesting etc.
Some of the folk dance forms, which are performed in different states of India, can be listed as under:
- Bedara Vesha, Dollu Kunthia (Karnataka)
- Garba, Dandiya, Ghodakhund, Gagari (Gujarat)
- Ghoomar, Raasiya (Rajasthan)
- Bhangra, Gidda (Punjab)
- Chholiya (Uttarakhand)
- Bihu (Assam)
- Sambalpuri (Odisha)
- Neyopa, Bacha Nagma in Jammu and Kashmir
Like other dance forms, these folk and tribal dances also have definite costumes and accessories, which distinguishes them, and gives them identity.
Mostly, people learn these dances by watching others perform, and not like classical dances, which need theoretical as well as practical training, and also qualify in examinations, related to their dance training. .
- Bollywood refers to the Cinema and film industry in Mumbai (Earlier Bombay).
- The dances in the Indian cinema, are not confined to a particular style of dancing.
- They can be a combination of Indian classical, folk dance, tribal dance, contemporary style and Western style of dancing.
- Normally, it is to express a part of the script through dance, drama, lyrics. These Bollywood dances are choreographed by the artists, well versed in many styles of dancing.
- What comes out, is amazing, because it has all the attractions, which can keep the attention of the audience.
- The costume, the ornaments, the music, the props, the scenery, whether outdoor or indoor, all add to the charm of a popular Bollywood dance performance.
- It is difficult to imagine an Indian film, without a song and dance sequence. People love it, and the film makers make it, in keeping with the trend, and loved by the movie watchers.
Which style of Indian Dance do you like the most?
To Sum up:
- Indian Classical Dance is an ancient cultural tradition in India.
- Across the country, huge group of men and women can be found dancing at the festivals and the weddings, child birth and other occasions to celebrate.
- This is the way, they express their happiness, and love for their rich culture and traditions.
- This is the reason, why dance and song feature heavily in the Indian films as well.
For further reading:
Everything in the universe has rhythm. Everything dances.
Bharatnatyam dance, source: Youtube
Manipuri Dance: source: You tube
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2015 Chitrangada Sharan