Dance in India has a rich and vital tradition dating back to ancient times in traditional and non-traditional dance forms. Excavations, inscriptions, chronicles, genealogies of kings and artists, literary sources, sculpture and painting of different periods provide extensive evidence on dance.
English colonialism made traditional Indian dancing unpopular and some performers were proclaimed outlaws. However, after the 1930’s these dances saw a revival and today they are internationally known and admired.
Myths and legends also support the notion that dance had a significant place in the religious and social life of the Indian people. However, it is not easy to trace the precise history and evolution of the various dance forms known as the ‘art’ or ‘classical’ forms popular today.
Indian classical dance has a distinct character that reflects the great cultural and traditional endeavor.
Classical dancers have their music, literature and a codified grammar to begin their work from.
India has thousands of year old tradition of fine arts and classical and folk music and dances. Some of the world-famous dance forms that originated and evolved in India are Bharatnatyam, Kathak, Kathakali, Kuchipudi, Manipuri, Mohiniattam and Odissi.
Today Bharatanatyam is one of the most popular and widely performed dance styles and is practiced by male and female dancers all over India and abroad. Its variety of movements and balanced postures take this art form to a higher level.
The all time famous Bharatanatyam dancers are Rukmini Devi, Padma Subramanyam,Alarmel Valli, Yamini Krishnamurthy, Anita Ratnam, Mallika Sarabhai, Mrinalini Sarabhai, Meenakshi Sundaram Pillai.
Kathak dance form origin from the groups of poets of ancient northern India, known as Kathaks, or story tellers. It was a high class theatre, using instrumental and vocal music along with stylized gestures, to telling the stories.
Belonging to the Maharaj family Shambhu Maharaj, Acchan Maharaj, Lachhu Maharaj and Briju Maharaj alive today are the greatest Kathak dancers.
Kathakali dance form originated in Kerala literally means “Story- play”. Mahakavi Vallathol Narayan Menon gave Kathakali its present form. Padma Bhushan Kalamandalam Ramankutty Nair, Padma Shri Kalamandalam Gopi, Madavoor Vasudevan Nair, Chemancheri Kunhiraman Nair, Kottakkal Krishnankutty Nair are some of the famous Kathakali dancers today.
Odissi is the oldest surviving dance form of India on the basis of archaeological evidences.
The Manipuri dance style is inextricably woven into the life pattern of Manipuri people. The most striking part of Manipur dance is its colorful decoration, lightness of dancing foot, delicacy of abhinaya (drama), lilting music and poetic charm.
Mohiniattam, semi-classical dance of Kerala, performed by women. The word Mohini means a maiden who steals the heart of the onlooker. Legend says that Lord Vishnu took the guise of a Mohini, the arch enchantress, to enthrall people. Sunanda Nair, Jayaprabha Menon, Pallavi Krishnan, Gopika Varma, Vijayalakshmi and Smitha Rajan are some of the famous dancers.
Indian folk and tribal dances are simple and are performed to express joy. Since every festival is accompanied by celebration, folk dances have become an integral part of our social backdrop.
Modern Dance in India has a relatively short history and ironically neither is it ‘Indian’ or ‘modern’ in the simple sense. Since the perception of ‘modern’ or ‘contemporary’ can vary from dancer to dancer, this dance form cannot be defined as easily as the traditional dance styles of India.
Uday Shankar born in the early 20th century is widely accepted as “The Father of Modern Dance of India.”
In the recent years Dr. Manjushree Chaki-Sarkar created a dance idiom which she called “Nava Nrityam.”
With growing interaction between dancers nationally and globally, the awareness of important contemporary issues, have inspired many classical dancers to step into the realm of contemporary dance through exploration of one or many dance styles.
The base of modern dance is the imagination of the dancers themselves. Classical artists are breaking their domain to be closer to modern dance. These days anybody who learns martial art and combines a few dance steps with it, calls it a modern dance. But in reality modern dance is a new language, a language legible to all.
The audience like to watch modern dance form though they respect or care for traditional dance styles. Modern dancers are audience pullers.