Can you distinguish a Kathak dancer from a Kuchipudi dancer? Pondering whether to have your daughter (or son!) learn an Indian classical dance?  Which one should it be?  We present here a brief primer.

You’ll be interested to know that according to the Sangeet Natak Akademi (the national level academy for performing arts set up by the Indian Government) there are 8 Indian dance forms conferred with classical status.  Here they are (in no particular order):

1. Bharatanatyam

Origin:  Tamil Nadu
Dress:  Traditional costume has 3 fans of unequal length ( cascading between the legs)
Notes:  Considered to be the “fire dance” – where the dancer’s movements mimic a dancing flame; soft and sculptured poses; accompanied by Carnatic music, it is considered a devotional dance – the embodiment of music in visual form

2. Odissi

Origin:  Orissa
Dress:  The head piece (mahkoot) is unique to Odissi dance.  Dancers typically wear their hair in a bun and the headpiece consists of a flower-decorated backpiece as well as a longer piece that rises above the crown.  An elaborate silver belt is also worn.
Notes:  The concept of Tribhangi is a signature feature – it divides the body into 3 parts (head, chest and pelvis) and there are independent movements of these parts; accompanied by Odissi music

3. Kuchipudi

Origin:  Andhra Pradesh
Dress:  A single, long center pleat (between the legs); also has a katcham at the back and many times a side pleat
Notes:  More rounded poses as compared with Bharatanatyam; brisk movements; the Tarangam (where the dancer dances with feet set in a brass plate) is unique to Kuchipudi

4. Mohiniattam

Origin:  Kerala
Dress:  White with gold brocade border; sari appears more skirted
Notes:  Mohiniattam litterly means “dance of the enchantress;” subtle gestures and sensual, coy eye movements; typcially performed as a solo recital by a woman; accompanied by vocal music, with lyrics being a mixture of Sanskrit and Malayalam

5. Sattriya

Origin:  Assam
Dress:  Resembles a saree, with the pallu worn in a criss-cross pleat at the front
Notes:  The dance usually depicts mythological stories; originated in the monasteries of Assam; can be performed solo or in groups

6. Manipuri

Origin:  Manipur
Dress:  A tubular lehenga layered with a transparent silk pasuan, along with a transparent odhini through which the dancer’s facial expressions can easily be seen.
Notes:  The raslila (where Lord Krishna dances with Radha) is a central theme; delicate rounded movements where the dancers feet do not strike the ground hard; no ghungroos (ankle bells) are worn

7. Kathakali

Origin:  Kerala
Dress:  Very large, heavy and elaborate, accompanied by painting of the face; there are 4 basic divisions:  Heros (characterized by green makeup), Villains (green face with streaks of red on the cheeks, or red or black faces), Females (basic pink or yellow makeup – no mask) and Superhumans (like Hunuman – may have a white beard).
Notes:  Kathakali literally means story-play or dance-drama; primary purpose is to narrate a story; the characters themselves never speak, but the perfomance is danced to musical compositions containin dialouge and narration

8. Kathak

Origin:  North India
Dress:  There are 2 kinds of costumes:  a traditional lehenga-choli and a Mughal anarkali-style with a long skrited top and fitted chudidaar.
Notes:  Origins can be traced back to Kathaks (nomadic storytellers); dancer directly addressed the audience; slow and subtle movements along with vigorous footwork and pirouettes; performance starts off slow and progresses to a fast tempo, ending in a dramatic climax; 3 main gharanas (schools):  Jaipur, Lucknow and Benaras

Images via Google Images


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