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Dance styles

Indian classical dance | Bharata natyam | Kathak | Bollywood dance

Indian classical dance

(You will find Indian classical dance on DVD 2, tracks 19–21)

Indian classical dance communicates emotions and stories. It has a devotional function and is also danced at festivals and ceremonies and for entertainment in theatres. In New Zealand, Indian classical dance confirms a sense of identity and belonging to the Indian community. It provides a sense of tradition and continuity of Indian culture.

Indian classical dance can be traced back to the Natyasastra, a treatise on Indian dance written between AD 100 and 200. Most Indian classical dance forms originated in the temples, and the content is usually spiritual.

Each region had its own style. Bharata natyam comes from Tamil Nadu, Kathak from Uttar Pradesh, Kuchipudi from Andrha Pradesh, and Mohini attam from Kerala. All these dances use hand gestures or hasta mudras for each of the nine rasas (emotions):

  • sringara: love
  • roudra: heroism
  • hasya: humour
  • bhibasta: distain
  • bhayanak: fear
  • vira: courage
  • karuna: compassion
  • adbhuta: wonder
  • shanta: peace.

Indian classical dance is usually performed with an upright body and the knees bent, giving it a grounded appearance. The head and eyes often move laterally (sideways). Many of the dances are solos, and the dancers usually face the audience front on. Floor pathways are most often directly forwards or sideways.

Bharata natyam

(You will find Bharata natyam on DVD 2, track 19)

Bharata natyam comes from Tamil Nadu, where nattuwanars (dance teachers) and devadasis (temple dancers) have handed it down through the centuries. Women perform this style more often than men do. Although it is based on the theme of love, it is devotional. It places equal emphasis on the three components that make a dance: bhava (expression), raga (melody), and tala (rhythm). Natyam means 'dance', and the prefix Bharata is thought to be an acronym comprising the first few letters of 'bhava', 'raga', and 'tala', so this dance form is incomplete without these components. Students first learn the movements and then the appropriate expression; finally they synchronise the two.

The female costume is a sari, which is made from 6 metres of cloth. The sari is worn over a bodice called a choli. The long end of the sari is called the pallu and is usually draped over the left shoulder. The elaborate make-up is used to show facial expressions clearly from a distance. The jewellery and ornaments worn by the dancers also accentuate their appearance. They are made of silver embedded with semi-precious stones and polished with a gold coating.

The candles in the candle dance represent the importance of light and are also a symbol of glory and prosperity. Candles are used on important occasions and also in the Diwali festival, which is the 'festival of lights'. The movement from darkness to light signifies the triumph of good over evil.

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(You will find Kathak on DVD 2, track 21)

Kathak comes from Uttar Pradesh in north India. The word 'kathak' is derived from 'katha', meaning the ancient art of storytelling. In its early form, this style was a devotional expression to the Hindu gods. It later moved out of the temples and into the courts of the rulers. Tatkar is the basic footwork of Kathak. The deity Lord Krishna was considered the best dancer, and it is believed that the sounds 'ta' (body), 'thei' (Earth), and 'ei' (Lord) became part of the dance when Krishna danced on the hood of a monster serpent.

Related websites
Art India. www.artindia.net/index1.html

World Arts West. www.worldartswest.org/index.html

Bollywood dance

Bollywood is an Indian cinema form that is as old as Hollywood. Bollywood dance evolved from the Bollywood movie industry. Dancers have incorporated African-American moves into Indian classical dance, mainly due to the influence of satellite television and MTV. In India, these moves are often referred to as 'Western' or 'modern'. Bollywood dance is an example of fusion because Indian classical dance has fused with Western genres.

Bollywood dance usually provides a backing for musicians and singers and enhances the glamorous status of the movies' lead men and women. It is usually performed to lively popular music with a strong beat. The dancers often perform in unison and are grouped in parallel rows. They move their torsos, including their shoulders and hips, more than in Indian classical dance. The women often include hand gestures and eye and facial movements from Indian classical dance. The men include movements of dropping down to the knees, which originate in Punjabi folk dance and appear similar to some break-dance moves. The men and women sometimes gesture to each other with hand movements and communicate with facial expressions.

In New Zealand, many young Bollywood dancers improvise their own moves based on ideas from dance videos and Punjabi movies. Bollywood dance enables young Indians to establish their identity as a new generation who have access to Western cultures.

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