India is a land of diverse cultures, traditions and languages. In India many dance forms have developed. Each dance is the specialty of a particular region or tribe. Each dance as its own particular set pattern of costumes & make-up. The classical dance forms have defined rules that have been followed traditionally over the years.
Classical Dance in the South-Asian context refers to Kathak, Bharatnatyam, Kathakali, Odissi and Manipuri dances. These ancient Indian dances, representing particular styles, are associated with different regions. Thus, Kathak is associated with northern India, Bharatnatyam and Kathakali with southern India, and Odissi and Manipuri with eastern India. However, most dances are performed all over India and Bangladesh. Unlike other Indian provinces, Bengal had no particular dance styles of its own. Bengali artistes learned classical dancing from teachers coming from south India, Madhya Pradesh and Manipur. During British rule, Indian classical dancing was patronised by rajas, maharajas, nawabs and zamindars as well as by British sahibs who held `nautches` in their private chambers. Professional dancing girls, known as baijis, were brought from Lucknow to perform these dances, many of which were degenerate forms of the Kathak. As the quality of these dances declined, the dancers came to be held in disrepute.
In the past 2000 years 6 main classical dance styles have evolved in India. Bharata`s Natyashastra, is the most important source for establishing the characteristics of Indian drama (natya, meaning drama or theatre; shastra, a generic term referring to any authoritative text). Its date of publication hasn`t yet been agreed on, and currently lies between 200 BC and AD 200. Thus, an actor or an actress also had to be an expert in dance and music. This treatise lays down two aspects of dance, Nritta - pure dance and Nritya - or interpretative dance.
Nritta or pure dance is the expression of rhythmic movement primarily through use of the hands and feet often in specific poses. These movements are not designed to convey any particular meaning, emotion, or theme. Their purpose is to create a collage of rhythmic lines, forms and shapes for the sake of their own art - to share the beauty of the abstract form. The draw to the dance lies in the exactness of the interpretation of instruments through the mastery of the footwork and coordination with that of the hand and body.
Nritta helps in improving dancer`s stamina and his skill over rhythm. Both Indian music and dance are based on the concept of tala (cyclic rhythm characterized by the number of beats). The simplest manner in which to explain this is by way of time. Time is divided into units (minutes) and then into sub-units (seconds). Similarly tala can be divided into a units and sub-units. There are various types of tala and the total number of units contained usually distinguishes them from one another.
Nritya or interpretative dance is an effective tool to express the meaning of the song and convey its emotion. This form uses gestures and facial expressions as a language.
The various dance forms have also developed a particular form of make-up for the performance, which is a skill by itself. Several dance schools today, incorporate costume designing & make-up as special section of the curriculum. The costumes for all forms are elaborate & rich, but each form & style have their own traditional patterns set down. Jewels for the dancers are also specially created to suit their purpose. Flowers adorn their hair & in the case of portrayal of Gods, their necks as garlands. The hall is also richly decorated with flowers. Application of mehendi in various styles is also an essential part of the make-up in most forms.
Indian dance forms speak volumes of the great cultural endeavour of the country. Indian dance forms have captured global attention in all the cultural vistas of the world.