India & Dance!

taj indiaINDIA

 India is a country situated in South Asia with the second largest population in the world (1.2 billion).  It is the home of one of the oldest civilizations on Earth and the birthplace of four major religions in the world.   Given the diversity and multitude of landscapes, states, languages, religions, people, animals and more – India is not easy to describe.  Ya think?  What folks from India or those visiting will tell you about will often vary greatly.   Perhaps you will get a chance to travel the country and experience it for yourself one day?

In the meantime, here are a few resources on India that get into greater detail about the subcontinent:

  • The Wikipedia page on India (hey, it does a good job at covering everything)
  • India at a Glance from the Govt. of India’s website



“Every art is the expression of the ‘here and now’ when you celebrate its natural dynamics. Dance is movement, literature, archaeology, mysticism, music, painting, poetry and drama. It is a window to a larger life and culture.” – Chitra Visweswaran, well-known Bharatanatyam dancer, teacher, choreographer in India

When there are 28 different states and 7 union territories, and more than 150 languages spoken within the country, is it any surprise that the dance forms of India are so numerous and varied?   Well they are, and it’s a lovely, incredibly colorful feast for the senses!

There are eight officially recognized classical Indian dance forms such as Kuchipudi, Odissi, Mohiniattam, Kathakali, Kathak (classical = think dance forms like Ballet) In addition, there are numerous folk and tribal dances, not to mention many popular contemporary and fusion styles, Bollywood dance being one good example.

As you can imagine, it was an extreme challenge to select only four dances to highlight in our book.  In the end, we did our best in selecting dance forms that represent distinct styles and regions of India.

Here’s a little more on each with some more…links to visit!



photo by Raj Thillairajah
Bharatanatyam dancers photo by Raj Thillairajah

Bharatanatyam is an ancient classical dance form that is performed more popularly in South India, specifically the state of Tamil Nadu.  It was originally practiced as an offering in Hindu temples. Bharatanatyam brings together poetry, music, movement, and expression. The dancer tells stories, conveys ideas and emotion through his or her body movements, hand gestures and facial expressions. Like most Indian dance forms, Bharatanatyam is accompanied by music and lyrics that are often spiritual in nature.    But these days, a range of topics and themes are explored on the stage.

Want more?

  • Bharatanatyam on Wikipedia
  • A scholarly essay about Bharatanatyam by the editor of a prominent arts & culture magazine in India.  (in case you want to go there 🙂
  • An almost 8 minute video that captures the essence of Bharatanatyam created by a well-known professional dancer – Mythili Prakash


Dandiya Raas

Dandiya Raas is a traditional folk dance form from Vrindavan, India. Yet is most popularly known for being performed during the Navratri (meaning nine-nights) festival in Gujrat.  Lucky for us, many Gujarati communities have brought the tradition outside of India so that during festival time (varies according to the lunar calendar but between Sept and Nov), you might even be able to join in the celebrations and try Dandiya Raas for yourself!  The dance is ridiculously fun and characterized by men, women and children moving in circles and tapping the sticks they hold most often in either hand to a rhythmic pattern.

Want more?

  • Dandiya Raas on Wikipedia
  • Cool How-to Dandiya-Raas Video!
  • Type in “Dandiya-Raas” in youtube’s search and you can find tons of performances and celebrations to get a glimpse of.



Chhau is a type of tribal martial dance that is popularly performed in regional festivals in the Indian states of West Bengal, Jharkand and Odisha.  Chhau was perfect as one of the dances in the book because of its tribal roots and unique features.  There are three different types of Chhau – Seraikella Chhau, Mayurbhanj and Purulia that have developed in those respective regions.  The main difference involves the use of masks.  Yet there is also some fascinating history around the people who sustained the art form.  Chhau incorporates mock combat techniques, the graceful gaits of birds and animals, and movements inspired by chores in the village.  Cool, huh?

Want more?

  • Chhau on Wikipedia
  • Chhau’s listing on the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization’s (UNESCO) list of Intangible Cultural History of Humanity
  • Awesome UNESCO video on Chhau that sums it all up!



Bhangra is a very popular form of folk dance that originated in that state of Punjab.   Its forms have changed over time from its roots – to celebrate the harvest.   Its vigorous movements and incredibly high energy characterize the dance form. The dhol drum is very prominent in the music as well as other unique traditional instruments. Now, and especially after its export to communities all over the world, Bhangra performances often also incorporate complex group formations, western music and dance movements.  There are numerous Bhangra teams and competitions throughout the year in India, the U.K, and North America.

Want more?

  • Bhangra on Wikipedia
  • Bhangra in the Encylopedia Brittanica (has some interesting info about its development in the U.K.)
  • Here’s one clip of some excellent modern Bhangra (youtube has so many Bhangra performances, you can have a Bhangra-watching marathon if you want!)
  • Great (but kinda funny) how-to video for adults and kids (It’s in Hindi and English but give it a chance and its not hard to follow along and the kids hear a new language!)

Check out – Ways to Free Your (Indian) Dance!