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Culture Focus

Kathak: A Story-telling Indian Dance style

I have been dancing since I was six years old. Throughout my years of dancing, I have taught myself with the help of TV, movies, and Youtube, learning many different dance styles such as salsa, Bhangra (traditional Indian dance, mostly done in Punjab), hip hop, and classical Indian dance.

Even though I learned how to dance to different types of genres from different nations, I mostly focus on Indian dances, such as Bhangra, belly dance, and classical. My favorite classical dance form to do is Kathak, which is one of the most popular and the oldest dance form in Northern India.

Recently, I saw a Bollywood dance video from a new movie to be released in April on Youtube. The dance genre the actress and the dancers were dancing to was Kathak, which is one of the eight major forms of Indian classical dance.

Before I talk more about Kathak, I would like to clarify that Bollywood isn’t a film and dance genre. The film industry, itself, has different movies (horror, comedy, romance) and dance genres. They cover almost any style of dance featured in these extravagant musical movies.

Some of the numerous styles of dance featured in films, either in fusion form or in pure form, include Kathak, Bharatnatyam, Odissi, Garba, and Bhangra. However, they also do dance style from other nations like belly dance, Latin, hip hop, contemporary, jazz, and many others.

The hardest classical dance for me to learn has been Kathak, which I am still working on. Kathak is sometimes tough because there are a lot of hand movements and footwork to do together. But, the most important thing is your facial expression. To be a good Kathak dancer, you need to be the most expressive person that you can be.

However, Kathak is more than a dance. The term Kathak is from the Sanskrit word Katha, meaning “story”, and Kathakar means “the one who tells a story” or “to do with stories.” The Kathakars are the dancers, and the dance form originated between 500 BCE and 500 CE in Hindu temples as a storytelling device for portraying the epic tales and mythology contained within the Hindu scriptures.

A Kathak performance tells various stories through dance, songs, and music, similar to opera. Dancers tell the stories through their hand movements, footwork, and facial expressions, and usually, tell the story of the Hindu god Krishna or famous heroes like Ramayana.

Soon Kathak dance spread outside the temples as well. Nomadic Kathakas or musical storytellers began to carry out the dance forms throughout the country. Due to this, Kathak wasn’t only a style for Kathakars anymore. Now many people from different regions around the world can do the dance form because they have access to it as I did by watching Bollywood movies and music videos.

Kathak isn’t only done by Hindu community though. Muslim communities have danced to this form too. They both wear costumes made from their respective communities. There are two types of Hindu outfits for female dancers. The first one includes a sari worn uniquely with a choli (short-sleeved blouse) or a blouse that covers the upper body and a scarf. The costume consists of a long embroidered skirt with a contrasting choli. Male Kathak dancers usually wear a silk dhoti (long loincloth) with a silk scarf tied on the upper part of the body, which generally remains bare or may be covered by a loose jacket.

Women Kathak dancers always wear traditional jewelry, usually gold on their hair, nose, ears, and hands. Also, every Kathak dancers need to have dance anklets called ghunghru made of leather straps with small metallic bells attached to them which are wrapped around the ankles and produce rhythmic sounds while the dancers perform their fantastic footwork.

I bought my ghunghrus last month by saving up for them, and I love them. They are fun to dance with and make a lot of sounds due to the bells which are so loud that my mom can hear them from upstairs in my house.

I’m happy that Kathak is accessible to many different people around the world. Even though it’s a hard dance to learn in my opinion, it’s worth it and is a good exercise. The reason I like Kathak is that I can express my emotions through dance and it also gives me the ability to be creative with it by making my own choreography.

So, if someone wants to learn a new dance, why not try Kathak? Even though it’s hard to master at first, learning it is a great experience. It has taught me to be patient, expressive, and creative. Also, I got to learn more about another culture through dance, then watching it on t.v.

It’s definitely worth a try because it’s a great opportunity to learn Indian culture and heritage in a active way and Kathak is a great way to be spiritual with yourself and focus on the happy and sad things in life. That’s why most people dance to Kathak to express their feelings because communicating through dance is better than 1,000 words.