September 20, 2018

sugar bound + Indian Dance

Dance in India has a long and rich history.

By Emilie Luckett

 Suchitra Mattai, Colosseum, detail, thread on on 19th century print, 2018

Image: Suchitra Mattai, Colosseum, detail, thread on on 19th century print, 2018

When most westerns think of Indian dance, the first thing that comes to mind is probably Bollywood. The word Bollywood is a combination of the words Bombay (the Indian city now known as Mumbai) and Hollywood, and it is the largest film industry in the world. However, in the West, Bollywood film is more well known for its beautiful, colorful dancing. So, where does this dance style originate from?

Dance in India has a long and rich history, dating all the way back to the Paleolithic and Neolithic periods. There are three main dance styles - classical dance, folk dance and contemporary dance. These then can be sub-categorized into various individual dance styles that are unique to local traditions, ethnic groups and geographic location.

Classical dance is based in theater and storytelling. The dancers use gestures and emotion to enact Hindu mythology. Styles and movements vary by the specific culture and ethos of each region. The difference between classical dance and other types of dance is that Classical dance must follow the guidelines Natyashastra, which outlines the Indian art of acting. There are eight different types of classical Indian dance, however, the Bollywood style is primarily based upon Kathak and Bharata Natyam.

Kathak is strongly influenced by the tradition of storytelling by the Kathakars, who are aptly known as the “storytellers” who traveled through northern India. The stories told through this dance style often are based on the Hindu god Krishna. This style can be characterized by its rhythmic foot movements with bell adornments, powerful upper body movements and emotional facial expressions.

Bharata Natyam, which originates from the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu, was ridiculed and suppressed by early British colonizers (along with most other dance styles). Now in post-colonial India, it has become the most popular form of Indian dance, and is most often what is recognized as “Indian dance” by westerners. Mainly performed by women, Bharata Natyam was used to express Hindu religious themes and spiritual ideas, specifically within Shaivism, which recognized Shiva as the supreme being.

Along with these forms of Classical dance, Bollywood also incorporates techniques and style from Indian Folk dance as well. Folk dance varies significantly, as most regions in India have their own style. Bollywood dance, since growing in influence around the world, has taken on Western styles of dance as well, such as modern dance, hip-hop and disco.


Check out our playlist on Bollywood and Indian dancing!


If you would like to experience the beauty of Indian dance in person, come join us at CVA’s event In the Margins: Dance Performance + Artist Talk on Friday, September 21st, from 4:30 - 7:00 pm. Sumitra Mattai will be leading an Indian Dance Workshop followed by a Semi-classical/Bollywood style dance performance. Afterwards there will be an artist talk where Suchitra Mattai and Sumitra Mattai will be speaking in depth about Suchitra’s exhibition sugar bound and their unique family history. The talk will be moderated by Jacqueline A. McLeod, Ph.D., J.D., Professor of History & Africana Studies, MSU Denver, who will provide additional perspective and expertise in Anglo-Caribbean cultures and histories.