Dance Styles
Bharata Natyam
Bharata Natyam is the subtle and sophisticated dance art of Tamil Nadu. Visually, it is a dynamic, earthy and very precise style of dance. A variety of movements with an emphasis on striking the floor with the feet, jumping and turning are typical of this style. The basic postures are balanced positions, with stretches that give it a linear quality. The style projects an amazingly equal measure of beauty and strength, of the slow and fast, of pure dance and mime. It is a style that lends itself to both solo and group performances.

As an art form, Bharata Natyam is multi-faceted. It includes melody, Natyam, poetry, drama and mime. In considerate the first aspect of the style, namely pure dance, one must first understand the body and the hand positions, the kinds of movements it displays and the musical context. rytham, a vital requisite for dance, entwines itself in the melody and so an understanding of the kind of music and the rythmes that
accompany pure dance is important too. Pure dance is the heartbeat of a dance style and mime its very soul. Melody, rthyam and verse are its constant accompaniment and inspiration.                            

The hand positions in Bharata Natyam usually frame the body in symmetrical lines. They include positions stretched above the head, through the positions around the body, to positions in which the hands are stretched downwards. The symmetrical patterns formed around the body of the dancer convey the relationship between the dancer and the universe around her.

The dancer in Indian classical forms is visually among the most attractive in the world. The Bharata Natyam dancer is no exception. Adorned from head to foot in such an elaborate and colorful array of costume and jewelry that one wonder how the dancer is able to move at all, let alone perform with abandon.   
Excerpt from "Rhythm in Joy" by Leela Samson & Avinash Pasricha

Manipuri dancer exercises tremendous restraint without freezing fluidity in movement. This is perhaps the key to the style. No matter how complicated or forceful the dance, the element of control is constant, and the dancer displays a unique ease of movement and an air of understatement. There are no sharp edges to ant movement. One merges into another, creating a sense of timelessness, and the smooth flow of the movements results in the fluidity and continuity of body line and mood so characteristic of the style. When interpreted by women, the style is extremely lyrical, gentle and soft. Although the movements of the male dancers are apparently effortless, they have behind them reserves of tremendous strength. Only the dances of the maibis are slightly different as they appear to have more regular swinging movements and leaps.

The style is never aggressive, but tender and reticent. An overstatement of mood through facial expression would be contrary to its norms. All movements , whether horizontal or vertical, are circular and flow from one rounded movement to another, forming spiral combinations. The hands and wrists have an amazing flexibility. There is no finality to any movement, mood or thought. Every movement is backed with
power. The greater the strength, the more the need  for control and restraint. Power is not a force spent but a force contained. It vibrates and renews itself. This is why a casual observer fail to notice the intensity and richness of Manipuri.
Excerpt from "Rhythm in Joy" by Leela Samson & Avinash Pasricha

Odissi is a lyrical style of dance and follows body norms quite different from those of other dance forms. Its subtlety is its key-note and the intimate relationship experienced between the poetry and the music in Odissi is a feature upon which the aesthetic of the style is built. What is interesting in Odissi is that a body position is not merely part of the vocabulary or frame work of the style. A posture by itself can convey a particular mood and message. It is a statement in itself.

Torso movements, a specialty of Odissi, conforms directly to the positions and movements of the lower half of the body. The lower limbs remain steady in relation to torso movement, and the hips do not move. Rather, the upper torso undulates gently in a vertical plane, the head moving in opposite deflections to the torso causing a visual effect of lyrical, undulating beauty. The movements in Odissi are lyrical, perhaps
due to the curved, rolling and spiral nature of the style. The neck movements follow a natural tilt of the head in relation to the angle of the torso and maintain a central line with that of the upper half of the body. The neck also moves sideways, as opposed to being tilted to the sides.

The hands are used in Odissi around the frame of the body in various ways. Circular Movements and semi-circular extensions of the arms moving downwards or upwards from the center of the chest to the sides are often seen. Often one hand is placed above the head, encircling it as it were and the other extended along the line of the leg, in a relaxed position, like that seen in sculptures all over India.

Dance is an expression of individual's joy through movement. This pure expression and release of energy, when in the classical mold, must strictly adhere to the codes of a systematized technique. Odissi bases itself on a wealth of such techniques and abounds in prescribed or hand-down codes. Positions of the feet, toe and heel contacts, body positions, deflections of the body, units of movements, graceful and
subtle. It would seem as though the body of the dancer constantly takes on attitudes that are visually a delight and aesthetically appealing.
Excerpt from "Rhythm in Joy" by Leela Samson & Avinash Pasricha

In Kathak, the dancer addresses herself directly to the audience. In an evening's recital the dancer goes through a series of traditional expositions, each demanding a high degree of technical skill and control. What is striking is the beautiful rendering of slow and subtle movements sometimes so slight that, unless keenly observed, they are missed, alternately, the execution of amazingly fast and vigorous footwork and pirouettes. This is the quietude and harmony of movement on the other.

Pure dance is a predominant feature in Kathak. The knees are not flexed outwards or forwards as in other Indian classical dance forms, nor does the dance use any extreme torso or waist bends. Pure dance Kathak is an expression of the pure joy of movement and what is immediately recognized as rhythmic abandon. The feet, with bells strung around the ankles, beat out a whole range of rhythmic sounds and deflections. Skill in rendering this is fundamental to the style.

There is no fixed order of presentation of items in Kathak. In performance, improvisation as the mood develops is usual. However, a set of variety of compositions is available to choose from and these are explored in no fixed order, but as the dancer fancies. Excerpt from "Rhythm in Joy" by Leela Samson & Avinash Pasricha

Kathakali, the vivid dance-drama of the rich and fertile southern state of Kerala, is the most explicit, passionate and colorful dance form of India. An art form of singular intensity an human warmth, it includes humorous comments and does not distance itself from any aspect of human behavior. It is drama in more ways than one. Even when enacting a sequence entirely on his own, the Kathakali dancer's poetic exposition creates an imaginative space rich in physical texture and extending into the remotest horizons of the emotional.

To be able to communicate his thought so effortlessly through gestures and facial expression, the Kathakali dancer has to undergo arduous training that stimulates him to use his body and mind imaginatively, giving him all the skills that he will later work with. In the basic sitting posture of the style, the knees are required to be spread wide apart allowing the dancer a broad base. The spine is curved backwards and takes the weight both of the expansive movements of the style and of the heavy head-dress. Apart from the body, every part of the face is systematically exercised, especially the eyes. This is exhausting as exercising other parts of the body as it requires more concentration.

Kathakali is total drama. The text is sung and the actor interprets this through gesture, expression, movement and acting. His mind, body and heart are simultaneously involved in the expression of the theme. He interacts with other characters and goes beyond the realm of formal drama by creating, through gesture and expression, the setting in which he wishes to be visualized.

A performance begins after dark, with the drums rolling out ornate rhythmic patterns, beckoning to the audience to witness the spectacle. The characters slowly emerge as the evening progresses. Time is not a constraint. Great enactments are done and superb virtuosity displayed. Through that magical night the audience is swayed from alertness to drowsiness and back again. A battle climax the night's performance.
The noise gets almost deafening. The audience is carried on the suspense of the outcome. There is furious activity on the stage, a flurry of costumes and swords wielded high. It is the grand world of drama. Reality comes with the dawn.
Excerpt from "Rhythm in Joy" by Leela Samson & Avinash Pasricha

Mohini Attam
The repertoire of Mohini Attam, when presented as a regular entertainment, consisted of five principle items, which, it is evident, follow the Bharata Natyam system closely. The dance in Mohini Attam partakes of the flavor of both Bharata Natyam and Kathakali, plus an overlay of the folks dances of Kerala. The knees are spread out; the steps are firm; the arms open wide; but everything is rounded and graceful. The hand gestures are derived from both the Kathakali and Bharata Natyam traditions. Some
items are preceded by the rendering of a short folk piece. Sometimes, abhinaya numbers incorporate, by way of adornment, mimed cameos, the most popular of which is that of playing with a ball. Another diversion with a small brass vessel held in the hand this is supposed to contain sandal wood paste, which the dancer sprinkles during the performance on the audience. Mohini Attam is essentially a solo dance.

The musical accompaniment for Mohini Attam is supplied mainly by the conductor, who sings and also plays hand-held cymbals and the drummer, who plays the madallam, and a wind instrument, such as nadaswaram. As in all the theater arts of Kerala, a tall metal oil lamp is placed in front at the place of performance. The face is painted a natural tint, with eyes and eyebrows boldly outlined in black. The costume is white, of ruffled material, with bands in gold at the border. The hair is drawn into a bun to the left of the head, and encircled with jasmine flowers. Ornaments, plated in gold, adorn the head, face, neck, front and waist. And inevitably, there are the ankle bells. Excerpt from "The Splendors of Indian Dance" by Mohan Khokar & Gurmeet Thukral

Andhra Natyam
Andhra Natyam is rather a new classical dance tradition that is slowly becoming popular in India. For a casual observer, it might seem to be a combination of Bharata Natyam and Kuchipudi. Andhra Natyam has it's own distinctive style and identity. Dr. Nataraja Rama Krishna is the leading exponent and teacher in this dance tradition. He researched and learned this dance traditions from the villages of Andhra and
revived this magnificent dance style. It has the purity and complexity of Bharata Natyam technique and the grace and fluidity of Kuchipudi. The dancer's costumes are one the most elegant and feminine looking. All the songs and verses are set is the language Telugu to the Carnatic music tradition.

Perini Shiva Tandavam comes from the same region as Andhra Natyam. This is in the tandava style, currently being learned and performed by males. It was known that, the soldiers before going into a war perform Perini dances to energize and  stimulate themselves. Usually performed by group of dancers, the fast rhythms, leaps and jumps create an unique mood.                                                           By   Padma Chebrolu

Kuchipudi is a perfect balance between three aspects- Nritta, Nritya and Natya, each being equivalent in nature. The Nritta is a rhythmic sequence that concludes a song or a verse; the Nritya or sabdams in which the rhythmic passages are followed by interpretations alternately; Natya is a complete dance drama with a story-line and various characters.

Unlike Bharata Natyam (another dance form) which evolved from the Nattuva Mela School of dance, Kuchipudi originated from the Natya Mela School of dance and it was performed on special festive occasions. The wavy hand movements and the rapid tempo of the Kuchipudi dance distinguish it from Bharata Natyam.

The use of laya (rhythm), tandava (foot steps and rhythm) and abhinaya (expression) is common with the Kuchipudi artist. But Kuchipudi is characteristic for its abhinaya or expressions. Angika, vachika, satuka and ahaarya are the four types of abhinaya or actions.

A very charming form of abhinaya is the satvikabhinaya which includes three steps. It begins with facial expressions and eye movements, followed by hand gestures and eventually movements of the entire body.

The eighteenth century witnessed a tremendous impact of dance drama on Kuchipudi. Professional drama troupes had set foot into Andhra Pradesh. Their system of communication and use of the local dialect was received well by the masses and this was the simple reason for their immense popularity. But Kuchipudi was identified more with the gestural language which was very often difficult for the commoners to understand.

The exuberant performances of the dance drama became a major threat to Kuchipudi. The dance form, Kuchipudi, needed to refurbish its format. To reduce the popularity of dance drama some of the more famous pieces within the structure of the dance drama found a place in the Kuchipudi dance form. The proficiency of the artists in footwork and their perfect control over their limbs is apparent since the dance is performed over the rim of a brass plate with a vessel full of water on the head.

The dance and histrionic expressions that dominated the Kuchipudi format was overshadowed with dialogues (common with drama). Hence, Kuchipudi emerged in a new form with a blend of the theatre. The Natya Shastra, a treatise, reveals that the present form of Kuchipudi is an almost identical replica of the dance drama that was staged by Bharata before Indra.

Although Kuchipudi was pushed to the backseat with the advent of motion pictures in the 1930s, fortunately, the renaissance of the glory of Kuchipudi was possible with the dedicated and untiring efforts of the patrons of the arts. Kuchipudi is also loved by the West and this dance form has always fascinated them.

Kuchipudi, the dainty dance form of Andhra Pradesh is profoundly aesthetic and the experience of watching it live is most exhilarating and cannot be expressed in words !!
Excerpt by Gangavaram Se
There are seven major classical dance styles in India. Each has its own distinctive history, geographic origin, technique, & training philosophy.

Bharata Natyam Kathak
Manipuri    Kathakali
Odissi        Mohini Attam
Andhra Natyam
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