During the first millennium BCE in India, many texts were composed which attempted to codify aspects of daily life.
In the matter of dance, Bharata Muni's Natyashastra (literally "the text of dramaturgy") is one of the earlier texts.
Though the main theme of Natyashastra deals with drama, dance is also widely featured, and indeed the two concepts have ever since been linked in Indian culture. The text elaborates various hand-gestures or mudras and classifies movements of the various limbs of the body, gait, and so on.
The Natyashastra categorized dance into four groups and into four regional varieties, naming the groups:
However, concepts of regional geography has altered and so have regional varieties of Indian dances. Dances like "Odra Magadhi", which after decades long debate, has been traced to present day Mithila, Odisha region's dance form of Odissi (Orissi), indicate influence of dances in cultural interactions between different regions.
From these beginnings rose the various classical styles which are recognized today. Therefore, all Indian classical dances are to varying degrees rooted in the Natyashastra and therefore share common features: for example, the mudras, some body positions, and the inclusion of dramatic or expressive acting or abhinaya. The Indian classical music tradition provides the accompaniment for the dance, and as percussion is such an integral part of the tradition, the dancers of nearly all the styles wear bells around their ankles to counterpoint and complement the percussion.
Dance in India comprises the varied styles of dances in the country. As with other aspects of Indian culture, different forms of dances originated in different parts of India, developed according to the local traditions and also imbibed elements from other parts of the country. Sangeet Natak Akademi, the national academy for performing arts, recognizes eight distinctive traditional dances as Indian classical dances, which might have origin in religious activities of distant past.
Folk dances are numerous in number and style, and vary according to the local tradition of the respective state, ethnic or geographic regions. Contemporary dances include refined and experimental fusions of classical, folk and Western forms. Dancing traditions of India have influence not only over the dances in the whole of South Asia, but on the dancing forms of South East Asia as well. Dances in Indian films are often noted for their idiosyncrasies, and hold a significant presence in popular culture of the Indian subcontinent.
Origin of Dance in India
Shiva as Nataraja is worshipped as the Lord of Dance in Hinduism.
In Hindu mythology, dance is believed to have been conceived by Brahma. Brahma inspired the sage Bharata Muni to write the Natya Shastra, a treatise on performing arts, from which a codified practice of dance and drama emerged. He used pathya (words) from the Rigveda, abhinaya (gestures) from the Yajurveda, geet (music) from the Samaveda and rasa (emotions) from the Atharvaveda to form the Natyaveda (body of knowledge about dance). The best-known of Hindu deities--Shiva, Kali and Krishna--are typically represented dancing. Shiva's cosmic dance, tandava, Kali's dance of creation and destruction and Krishna's dance with the gopikas (cow-herd girls)--Rasa Lila--are popular motifs in Hindu mythology.
In ancient India, there were no dedicated auditorium halls or theaters, and dance was usually a functional activity dedicated to worship, entertainment or leisure. Dancers usually performed in temples, on festive occasions and seasonal harvests. Dance was performed on a regular basis before deities as a form of worship.
Even in modern India, deities are invoked through religious folk dance forms from ancient times.
Classical dance forms such as Bharata Natyam use mudras or hand gestures also to retell episodes of mythological tales such as the slaying of Kaliya by Krishna.
Gradually dancers, particularly from South India, moved from temples to houses of royal families where they performed exclusively for royalty.
India offers a number of classical Indian dance forms, each of which can be traced to different parts of the country. Classical and folk dance forms also emerged from Indian traditions, epics and mythology. There are many Indian folk dances such as Bhangra, Bihu, Ghumura Dance, Sambalpuri, Chhau and Garba and special dances observed in regional festivals such as Lohri and Navratri.
The presentation of Indian dance styles in film, Hindi Cinema, has exposed the range of dance in India to a global audience.
Indian Classical Dance
Classical dance in India has developed a type of dance-drama that is a form of a total theater. The dancer acts out a story almost exclusively through gestures. Most of the classical dances enact stories from Hindu mythology. Each form represents the culture and ethos of a particular region or a group of people.
The criteria for being considered as classical is the style's adherence to the guidelines laid down in Natyashastra, which explains the Indian art of acting. The Sangeet Natak Akademi currently confers classical status on eight Indian classical dance styles: Bharatanatyam (Tamil Nadu), Kathak (North India), Kathakali (Kerala), Kuchipudi (Andhra Pradesh), Manipuri (Manipur), Mohiniyattam (Kerala), Odissi (Odisha), and Sattriya (Assam).
The tradition of dance has been codified in the Natyashastra and a performance is considered accomplished if it manages to evoke a rasa by invoking a particular bhava (emotion). Classical dance is distinguished from folk dance because it has been regulated by the rules of the Natyashastra and all classical dances are performed only in accordance with them.
Dating back to 1000 BCE, Bharatanatyam is a classical dance from the South Indian state of Tamil Nadu, practiced predominantly in modern times by women. The dance is usually accompanied by classical Carnatic music. Its inspirations come from the sculptures of the ancient temple of Chidambaram. It was codified and documented as a performing art in the 19th century by four brothers known as the Thanjavur Quartet whose musical compositions for dance form the bulk of the Bharatanatya repertoire even today.
Kathakali (katha, "story"; kali, "performance") is a highly stylized classical dance-drama form which originated from Kerala in the 17th century. This classical dance form is particularly noticed for dancer's elaborate costume, towering head gear, billowing skirts, and long silver nails. Recent developments in Kathakali over the years include improved looks, refined gestures and added themes besides more ornate singing and precise drumming. Kathakali is performed regularly at festivals in temples, at cultural shows for connoisseurs and also at international events, occasionally in fusion dance experiments.
Originating from north Indian states, In ancient Indian temples Brahmin priests(pandits) used to narrate the stories of gods and goddesses through dance, they were known as ((kathakar)) and the dance came to be known as "kathak". Kathak traces its origins to the nomadic bards of ancient northern India, known as Kathaks, or storytellers. Its form today contains traces of temple and ritual dances, and the influence of the bhakti movement.
From the 16th century onwards it absorbed certain features of Persian dance and Central Asian dance which were imported by the royal courts of the Mughal era. There are three major schools or gharanas of Kathak from which performers today generally draw their lineage: the gharanas of Benares, Jaipur and Lucknow.
Dating back to 2nd century BCE it is a classical dance from the South Indian state of Andhra Pradesh. Kuchipudi is the name of a village in the Divi Taluka of Krishna district that borders the Bay of Bengal and with resident Brahmins practicing this traditional dance form, it acquired the present name. The performance usually begins with some stage rites, after which each of the character comes on to the stage and introduces him/herself with a dharavu (a small composition of both song and dance) to introduce the identity, set the mood, of the character in the drama. The drama then begins. The dance is accompanied by song which is typically Carnatic music. The singer is accompanied by mridangam, violin, flute and the tambura. Ornaments worn by the artists are generally made of a light weight wood called Boorugu.
Odissi, also known as Orissi, is one of the eight classical dance forms of India. It originates from the state of Odisha, in eastern India. It is the oldest surviving dance form of India on the basis of archaeological evidences. There are mainly three books of Odissi. The classic treatise of Indian dance, Natya Shastra, refers to it as Odra-Magadhi. 1st century BCE bas-reliefs in the hills of Udaygiri (near Bhubaneshwar) testify to its antiquity.
It was suppressed under the British Raj, but has been reconstructed since India gained independence. It is particularly distinguished from other classical Indian dance forms by the importance it places upon the Tribhangi (literally: three parts break), the independent movement of head, chest and pelvis and upon the basic square stance known as Chauka or Chouka that symbolizes Lord Jagannath. This dance is characterized by various Bhangas (Stance), which involves stamping of the foot and striking various postures as seen in Indian sculptures. The common Bhangas are Bhanga, Abhanga, Atibhanga and Tribhanga.
Sattriya, or Sattriya Nritya, is one among eight principal classical Indian dance traditions. Where as some of the other traditions have been revived in the recent past, Sattriya has remained a living tradition since its creation by the founder of Vaishnavism in Assam, the great saint Srimanta Sankardeva, in 15th century Assam. Satriya dance performance at Guwahati Rabindra Bhawan
Sankardeva created Sattriya Nritya as an accompaniment to the Ankia Naat (a form of Assamese one-act plays devised by him), which were usually performed in the sattras, as Assam's monasteries are called. As the tradition developed and grew within the sattras, the dance form came to be called Sattriya Nritya. Today, although Sattriya Nritya has emerged from within the confines of the sattras to a much wider recognition, the sattras continue to use the dance form for ritualistic and other purposes for which it was originally created circa 500 years ago.It also has recently become one of the Indian Classical Dances.
Folk and Tribal Dance Forms
Chholiya, the sword dance of Uttarakhand
Folk dance in India
Folk dances and plays in India retain significance rural areas as the expression of the daily work and rituals of village communities. These dances have their roots in religious and seasonal festivals that have become a background for such celebrations. They are mostly performed in groups.
Sanskrit literature of medieval times describes several forms of group dances such as Hallisaka, Rasaka, Dand Rasaka and Charchari. The Natya Shastra defines group dances of women as a preliminary dance performed in prelude to a drama.
Folk dances can be located according to the regions of their origin. Every state has its own folk dance forms like Bedara Vesha, Dollu Kunitha in Karnataka, Garba, Gagari (dance), Ghodakhund in Gujarat, Kalbelia, Ghoomar, Rasiya in Rajasthan, Neyopa, Bacha Nagma in Jammu and Kashmir, Bhangra & Giddha in Punjab, Chholiya dance in Uttarakhand, Bihu dance in Assam, Sambalpuri Dance in Western Odisha and likewise for each state and smaller regions in it.
Dance accompanied by Rabindra Sangeet, a music genre started by Rabindranath Tagore.
Contemporary dance in India encompasses a wide range of dance activities currently performed in India. It includes choreography for Indian cinema, modern Indian ballet and experiments with existing classical and folk forms of dance by various artists.
Uday Shankar and Shobana Jeyasingh are accredited as the pioneers of modern Indian dance. He was not trained in any classical dance form but developed his own style based on his study of Rajput and Mughal paintings.
Other well known proponents of modern dance in India include Ram Gopal, Mrinalini Sarabhai and Chandralekha. Poet Rabindranath Tagore developed a dance genre popularly known as Rabindra Nritya Natya--dance-dramas composed by him. These dance dramas and dances set on Rabindra sangeet (songs written by Tagore) are popular in Bengali culture.
Dance in Films
Hindi dance songs and Bollywood song and dance
Dance and song sequences have been an integral component of films across the country. With the introduction of sound to cinema in the film Alam Ara in 1931, choreographed dance sequences became ubiquitous in Hindi and other Indian films.
Dance in early Hindi films was primarily modelled on classical Indian dance styles and particularly those of historic North Indian courtesans (tawaif), or folk dancers.
Modern films often blend this earlier style with Western dance styles (MTV or in Broadway musicals), though it is not unusual to see western choreography and adapted classical dance numbers side by side in the same film.
Typically, the hero or heroine performs with a troupe of supporting dancers. Many song-and-dance routines in Indian films feature dramatic shifts of location and/or changes of costume between verses of a song. It is popular for a hero and heroine to dance and sing a pas de deux (a French ballet term, meaning "dance of two") in beautiful natural surroundings or architecturally grand settings, referred to as a "picturisation".
Indian films have often used what are now called "item numbers" where a glamorous female figure performs a cameo. The choreography for such item numbers varies depending on the film's genre and situation. The film actress and dancer Helen was famous for her cabaret numbers.
The influence of the dance sequences of films on popular culture is significant, with amateur dancers often copying such dancing moves during celebratory events and performances, such as during wedding parties or other urbanized festivals.
Often in movies, the actors don't sing the songs themselves that they dance too, but have another artist sing in the background. For an actor to sing in the song is unlikely but not rare. The dances in Bollywood can range from slow dancing, to a more upbeat hip hop style dance. The dancing itself is a fusion of all dance forms. It could be Indian classical, Indian folk dance, belly dancing, jazz, hip hop and everything else you can imagine.
Traditionally, dance as a profession or a hobby was discouraged among upper classes and higher castes in India. It was looked upon as a lowly activity and women from reputed households were prohibited from practising any dance form. Hence, in forms like Bhavai and Gotipua, men would take up the roles of female characters.
Rukmini Devi Arundale revived the classical dance form Bharata Natyam and in its modern avatar, it became an acceptable subject of training for women.
Shiamak Davar, a noted Indian choreographer, started the Shiamak Davar Institute for Performing Arts in 1985 and it has over 25,000 members.
Some traditions of the Indian classical dance are practiced in the whole Indian subcontinent, including Pakistan and Bangladesh, with which India shares several other cultural traits. Indian mythologies play significant part in dance forms of countries in South East Asia, an example being the performances based on Ramayana in Javanese dances.
Sangeet Natak Akademi organizes dance festivals around India.