Indian Classical Dance and Social Issues Involved


India has a long history of developing culture and values ​​, including many variations of national dances. Indian classical dance is an identification of race and culture, it represents values, foundations, and relationships, passing them on through generations. The rich traditional culture of the Indian people began in ancient times. Dances play a very important role in the development of the culture of a person and a nation. Dance folklore occupies an important place in the life and culture of people around the world, being one of the most popular art variations. People have danced since ancient times, and both modern and traditional dances are self-expression, entertainment, cultural representation, and communication.

The classical dance styles were Indian literature and artworks, which later became a separate genre. The poems which are older than 5000 years old became the basis for the plot of the classical dances (Kumar and Kishore 2537). To understand Indian classical dance styles, viewers need to understand Indian national legends, myths, and the poems “Ramayana” and “Mahabharata.” Seven dance styles are recognized as classical in India, including Bharatanatyam, Kuchipudi, mohiniattam, Kathakali, Odissi, Kathak, and Manipuri (Pai 2). Thus, the dances of India present a wide variety of styles while being similar in some aspects.


Bharatnatyam originated and is performed with South Indian music. It is one of the oldest dance styles (Pai 7). Bharatnatyam is a ritual dance, which is considered to be a sacred art. It represents overcoming the limitations of the body and spirit (Thobani 8). Various dance poses copy the sculptures in the numerous temples of South India. Dancers follow the rhythms and melodies, and the body is used as an instrument for expressing the innermost movements of the soul (Pai 3). Bharatnatyam is a dance in which each part is referred to the historical art (Chakraborty et al. 253). The dance requires detailed performance from the dancer as it refers to a fight with a demon through dance, which is an important element of the national cultural myths. A perfect dancer should have ten qualities: mobility, stability, graceful lines, balance on pirouettes, eyes, hard work, intelligence, dedication, correct speech, and a pleasant voice (Mohanty and Rajiv 98). Throughout a long history, dance has become a representation of culture through movement.

Nowadays, Bharatanatyam is one of the most popular Indian classical dances. In South India, the place of its origin, this dance is usually performed at weddings, religious ceremonies, and dance festivals. The dance style can be considered ancient due to its long history, but it received distribution and popularity only by the second half of the twentieth century (Chakraborty et al. 253). Thus, the Bharatanatyam style can be referred to as a presentation of the history of India.

In ancient times, in Hinduism, there was a belief that every temple at any moment should be ready to meet the highest divine guest. Therefore, there were always musicians, singers, and dancers (Chakraborty et al. 252). This style of dance is a representation of the interaction of dancers and divine beings.

Bharatnatyam has its roots in Hinduism, and more specifically, in Hindu myths and rituals (Pai 6). Indian classical dance truly conveys the culture of the people (Pai 5). Bharatnatyam dance conveys many of the traditions, classical dance elements, performance ethics, and emotional atmosphere.

The Bharatanatyam style is most popular in India and most widely known abroad. This is one of the most ancient styles, which has survived and passed down to modern days, as the traditional dance is almost 2000 years old. Indian dances began with legends that the bored Gods decided to create dance and drama as entertainment. This was in the Golden Age of Indian mythology (Chakraborty et al. 254). For the classical dance performance, movements such as stomping, jumping, and turning are standard. The basic figures used in the dance give it linearity, and this style is equally suitable for both group and solo performances (Kumar and Kishore 2543). Thus, the dancer can choose the preferred way of expressing himself.


Kathak is a classical dance style of North India. This is the dance of the Brahmin priests, who expounded the history of their faith through dance and pantomime. The term “kathak” comes from the word “Katha,” which means “story” (Pai 7). In ancient times, the caste of storytellers in the temples of North India was called Kathakas. During the religious holidays, they performed drama and dance performances.

Further, during the historical development, dancers began to be invited to the palaces of the Hindu rulers. Indian girls were taught music, versification, and the refined art of dance at special schools (Stoltenberg 304). In Indian culture, there are two main techniques used in kathak: “nritta,” meaning pure dance, and “abhinaya,” meaning expression, pantomime (Pai 7). Dance is a combination of elements, including creativity in parallel with the representation of traditional expressions and history.

In this style, hand gestures are performed very slowly, very differently from those forms that are presented in other classical styles. The dancer follows the drumbeat rhythms, and the final of the dance is a rush with a drum (Pai 7). This style expresses the mutual influence of the Hindu and Muslim traditions (Stoltenberg 306). The Kathak technique is distinguished by an abundance of turns, and soft plastic movements of the hands. The dance is dominated by difficult footwork and fast rotations (Stoltenberg 303). Thus, the dance gradually develops and changes in style as it is performed.

To express the smallest details of feelings, a dancer must be a truly inspired, creative person. The dancer can convey the plot of the dance at different thoughtful levels that attract the audience’s attention. In a solo performance, the individuality of the interpretation depends on the age of the dancer, artistic taste, training, experience, and talent (Stoltenberg 304). Therefore, the dance depends not only on the dancer’s desire to perform but also requires experience.


Kuchipudi originated from South India and is usually performed by dancers with bright appearance and the ability to follow speedy dynamics set by Karnat songs. Kuchipudi dance follows the drama genre in which a woman-goddess goes through all the stages of love (Mohanty and Rajiv 98). The dance contains the main theatrical traditions of India, and during the presentation, the performers sing along with the dance. Therefore, the dance allows performers to present their dance and other areas of creativity.

In Kuchipudi, folk and classical dance styles are combined. Unlike other dances, this style of Indian classical dance is characterized by freedom and variation in the interpretation of performance (Pai 7). Due to dancing practice, Indians improve spiritually, promote their culture and develop aesthetic senses. In addition, body flexibility and muscle strength are increased (Mohanty and Rajiv 98). The Indian classical dance is complicated in the meaning of having many elements such as singing and dancing at the same time while serving as entertainment for the audience.


Manipuri, set on the motive of divine creatures, is a cheerful dance that originated in East India. Originally the dance name was coming from the word “jogai,” which refers to circular movements, therefore, all the movements within the style are rounded and soft, however, require physical strength and accuracy. In ancient scriptures, this dance represented the movement of the planets around the sun which represents the same style (Pai 9). Dance has long been an integral part of folk culture. By absorbing the gestures of communication, elements, and skills, it transmits information from one generation to another. At the same time, cultural and literary elements are preserved, but also creative, and new ones are added.


Odissi is one of the most ancient styles and is a combination of gestures and postures representing the sculptures of the gods in the temples of India. Smooth body movements characterize the dance. Initially, this dance requires good physical fitness and muscle strength to perform the elements (Pai 8). Thus, the dance is demanding, but its performance is a cultural representation of the national religion.


Kathakali is a dance style similar to a theatrical performance in a temple. Body movements are insignificant since the plot is told exclusively by facial expressions and hand poses. Due to this, performing this style of dancing requires physical skill and great stamina. Dance includes three groups of characters: rajasic or heroic, satvic or virtuous, and tamasic or destructive, diabolic characters (Pai 8). Therefore, the Kathakali dance is expressive and physically demanding.


Mohiniattam is a representation of the dances of the gods and is performed by a woman solo. The performer needs to be both physically strong, creative, expressive and at the same time seem relaxed (Pai 9). Thus, the Mohiniattam dance combines many elements from other classical dances at once. This allows dancers to choose between the styles presented to choose the most suitable physical and emotional characteristics.


In conclusion, the classical dance of India involves seven styles at once. The styles are variations of national creativity, allowing both viewers and performers to choose their preferred one. These styles have similarities, but at the same time, imply different elements in their performance. To understand the performance, each of them requires knowledge of the history of India and its features since each of the styles has references to mythology, sculpture, historical events, or elements of literature. Some styles include representations of gods from traditional mythology. Indian classical dance is physically difficult and requires preparation, but it is a cultural representation and entertainment element. The dance allows dancers to realize their creative skills, and some styles also allow the choice between pair and solo performance.


Chakraborty, Aishika, et al. “Dance (Bharatanatyam): The Art of Non Verbal Communication.” International Journal of English Learning & Teaching Skills, vol. 1, no. 3, 2019, pp.251-254. Society for Makers, Artists, Researchers and Technologists. Web.

Kumar, K. V. V., and P. V. V. Kishore. “Indian Classical Dance Mudra Classification Using HOG Features and SVM Classifier.” International Journal of Electrical & Computer Engineering (2088-8708), vol. 7, no. 5, 2017, pp.2537-2546. Academia. Web.

Mohanty, Aparna, and Rajiv R. Sahay. “Rasabodha: Understanding Indian Classical Dance by Recognizing Emotions Using Deep Learning.” Pattern Recognition, vol. 79, 2018, pp.97-113. ScienceDirect. Web.

Pai, Ruta. “Bridging The Gap: Exploring Indian Classical Dances as a source of Dance/Movement Therapy, A Literature Review.” Expressive Therapies Capstone Theses, vol. 234, 2020, pp.1-35. Web.

Stoltenberg, Hannah. “Sacred Movement: Connecting with the Divine Kathak as Axis Mundi.” Journal of Dharma Studies, vol. 1, no. 2, 2019, pp.303-312. Springer Nature. Web.

Thobani, Sitara. Indian Classical Dance and the Making of Postcolonial National Identities: Dancing on Empire’s Stage, Taylor & Francis, 2017. Routledge. Web.

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Premium Papers. 2023. "Indian Classical Dance and Social Issues Involved." January 3, 2023.

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