Indian forms of Dance


Introduction to Indian Forms of Dance

Indian forms of dance have bewitched millions of people across the world with their intricacy, movements, expressions, and beauty. Take a sneak peek at some of the most beautiful dance forms of India!

Indian Classical Dances 

People who are familiar with the Indian culture are generally familiar with the importance and significance of the classical dance forms. Regardless of many dance forms evolving over years, no replacement has been found for the classical and traditional dance forms.

The word ‘Shastriya’ or classical signifies ‘Natya Shastra’ which is based on the performance of art and its various styles. Classical dance performances generally feature a dance drama or a story.

The ‘Nritya’ uses facial expressions, the ‘Mudras’ usually demonstrate concepts such as emotions, natural aspects, or particular objects.

Various dance forms have evolved in different places in India, according to the culture, customs, and local traditions.

Indian Folk Dances

Land of varied cultures and traditions and just one name pops up – India. The diversity across the Indian cultures make it distinct from others. The Tribal and the Indian – folk dances are the products of varied traditions and socio-economic setup.

The tribal dances and the Indian Folk are used to express happiness and joy and also are easy to perform. India, being a diversified land, we have festivals each day, and the variety of dance forms adds up to the richness of the Indian culture.

Each festival being accompanied by celebrations, the dances have become the chief part of our social environment.  

What makes Indian Forms of Dance unique?

India, being a land of prosperity, is very diversified. People from different traditions, castes, communities, and religions reside in different parts of the country. The dance forms that are found in India are exotic and unique.

The costumes worn by the dancers are of customary type. The sari, the material of the sari, the pleats that open, the wearing styles of the sari, the dhotis, kurtas, lehengas, and many more dressing styles, which are found solely in India.

The extravagant makeup was done by the dancers matching their costumes to add on to their beauty. The ghungroos that the dancers wear in their feet, make a melodious sound when they dance.

The variety of hairstyles done per dance form adds flavour to the looks of the dancers. Unlike dancing on the already recorded songs, Indian Dancers dance on the tunes that are played by the other artists, which is mesmerizing.


Origin of Indian Forms of Dance

The fundamental principle of the Indian Classical Dance trails their chronicle from Natya Shastra, written in 2nd Century AD. Based on it, Natya means Classical Dance which also includes dance, music, and drama.

Initially only being performed in temples (mandirs) as well as in the courts in front of the kings, it was later on that the performances were brought on to theatres and stages.  

In the vast majority, the classical dance forms were first originally started in temples. Worship being the pivotal aim, dances were also entertained.

Though each dance form has evolved from several regions, the roots of all the forms are the same. The roots of the dance forms can be traced down to Natya Shastra, the Sanskrit Text.

With the passage of time, there was an improvement in the performances of the dancers, which resulted in the dance forms being globally popular.

The chief aspects on which the Indian Classical Dances are performed are lasya and tandava, which means grace and rhythm respectively. Mudras are the poses that are usually given at the time of the performances.

The absolute aim of these classical dances is Rasanbhuti. The speaking of eight Rasas is classified under Natya Shastra. They are – Shringar (Love), Karuna (Sorrow), Veer(Heroism), Hasya(Humorous), Adbhoot(Wonder), Bhayanak(Fear), Raudra(Anger,) and Bibhats(Disgust).


Young beautiful woman dancer exponent of Indian classical dance Bharatanatyam

Bharatanatyam being a prominent Indian classical dance form undoubtedly the most ancient classical dance heritage of India is contemplated as the mother of other Indian classical dance forms. Customarily, it was started in the Hindu temples of Tamil Nadu and in the course of time flourished in South India, a solo danced by women.

The repertoire of this dance is classified into three types namely ‘Nritta’, ‘Nritya,’ and ‘Natya’ mentioned in ‘Natya Shastra’. ‘Nritta’ is considered as a technical performance. The women wear a charming tailor-made sari consisting of a cloth distinctively stitched in pleats, falling in the front through the waist.

The sari which is worn in an exceptional manner is well complemented along with traditional jewellery and make-up expressly highlighting her eyes, which becomes notable to the audience. Her hair is neatly plaited uncommonly and is generally glamorized with flowers. A jewellery belt furnishes her waist.

The music which is associated with Bharatanatyam is South India’s Carnatic style as well as instruments played including cymbals, a long pipe horn, a flute, a drum called veena and mridangam. 



Kathak is one of the chief genres of the medieval times and is traditionally regarded to evolve from North India. The three major sections are ‘Nritta’ and ‘Nritya’ which are mentioned in ‘Natya Shastra’. ‘While in ‘Nritta’, the dancer makes expressions with her eyes, eyebrows, nose and neck and speeds up slowly, in ‘Nritya’ they communicate a story based on a specific theme via slower hand and body movements. The female costume includes a sari draped in unique style along with a choli while at some places, transparent urhni along with a long – embroidered skirt is worn with a blouse. Traditional jewellery is complimented along with the costume, adorning her hair, hands, ear, nose and neck. Generally, the tabla harmonises well with Kathak. 


‘Kathakali’, one of the important genres, which is associated with the storytelling form of this art. It is a dance drama from the south Indian state of Kerala. Kathakali is typically structured around ‘Attakatha’.

It encompasses 7 fundamentals make up codes namely ‘Pacca’, ‘Minukku’, ‘Teppu’, ‘Kari’, ‘Tati’, ‘Payuppu’ and ‘Katti’. There are various kinds of beautifully designed costumes worn by the dancers. The colour code for women and monks is generally yellow.

Headgears along with the face masks help in emphasizing the make – up which is prepared from the colours which are extracted from the rice paste and vegetables.

Kathakali performance majorly includes three drums namely ‘Itaykka’, ‘Centa’ and ‘Maddalam’, ‘Cempata’.



Kuchipudi, one of the leading dance forms in India, originated in Andhra Pradesh. It is a dance-drama kind of a performance. The repertoire of Kuchipudi follows three major performance types namely ‘Nritta’, ‘Nritya’ and ‘Natya’ which are mentioned in ‘Natya Shastra’. ‘Nritta’ is a performance where stress is laid on pattern, form, speed and range. In ‘Nritya’, a spiritual story is conveyed through slower body movements and expressive gestures. ‘Natyam’ is generally performed solo or is performed as dance – acting. A beautifully pleated sari is worn by a female dance complemented by light make – up and jewellery adding up to her beauty. The male dancer wears dhoti. The musical instruments generally comprise of cymbals, flute, mridangam, tambura and veena.



Manipuri, a dance form especially counted on for spectacular themes such as ‘Radha Krishna’, ‘Ras Lila’, ‘Umang Lai’ during Manipuri festival ‘Lai Haraoba’ and ‘Vaishnavism’.

The repertoire and the pivotal play of this form of dance revolves around various seasons. It incorporates gentle, graceful and lyrical movements. The female Manipuri dancers resemble the Manipuri bride, the costumes known as Potloi.

The male dancers wear a bright colourful dhoti, covering his lower body from the waist is worn in a unique style which provides the flexibility to dance. The crown of the dancer is adorned by peacock feathers.

The musical instruments include Pung .ie. a barrel drum, flute, harmonium, sembong and Pena.


Odissi, one of the pre-eminent dance forms, originated in Orissa. The performance repertoire is sequentially Nritta, Nritya, Natya and moksha. A bright coloured sari is worn by female dancers, generally is Bomkai Saree or Sambalpuri Saree.

The front part of the sari is adorned by cloth stitched in front of the pleats to ensure flexibility of the dancers and also helps them showcase their excellent footwork. Silver jewellery is also worn to adorn her beauty in hands, neck, ear, arms and wrists. Her feet and palms are brightened by Alta.

Her hair is tied into a bun and kajal is worn for the eye movements to be noticeable. A dhoti is worn by a male dancer, covering from waist to toe, while his upper body remains bare.

The distinct feature of this form is the incorporation of the ragas both from the north and south parts of India.


Sattriya was introduced by consolidating various elements from different folk dances, having rare outlooks towards it. Started in Assam, there are two categories under it namely Ojapali and Devadasi, along with classical elements.

Ojapali, which is prevalent till date in Assam, Sukananni Oja Paali is classified under Sakti cult whereas the Vyah Goa OjaPali is classified under the Vaishnava Cult. The dancers that dance in Oja Pali not only dance in chorus but also sing along with their dancing, and are amazing at expressing their gestures as well as their stylized movements.

Taking into consideration the Devadasi dance, there is a lot of resemblance between an excellent number of the footwork along with the rhythmic syllables as well as the dance postures that go well with it.

The Sattriya dance form is strictly laid upon the principles developed in respect of music, footwork, hasta mudras as well as acharyas. There are two distinct streams regarding the tradition – the Bhaona which is related to repertoire which starts from the Gyan – Bhavnar Nach extended to the Kharmnar Nach, furthermore, the number of dances are independent like Jhumura, Chali, Nadu Bhangi, Rajagharia Chali, etc.

Amongst them, the Chali is distinguished by elegance as well as gracefulness whereas the Jhumura is decided by majestic beauty and by the vigour.


The Indian Classical Dance form, Mohiniyattam, evolved in the state of Kerala. It coheres to the Lasya type which showcases a more dignified, soft and feminine dancing form.

Customarily, the repertoire of Mohiniyattam is adhered by two performances, namely, ‘Nritta’ and ‘Nritya’ as mentioned in ‘Natya Shastra’. ‘Nritta’ is basically a technical performance in which the dancer bestows pure dance movements focusing on speed, pattern, range, form and rhythmic aspects.

Performing ‘Nritya’, the dancer – cum – actor enacts the story based on a spiritual theme via expressive gestures as well as slower body movements, along with the hand movements which keeps the audience engrossed throughout.

Instruments that are played during the performances usually comprise of Veena, Kuzhitalam; Idakka, an hourglass-shaped drum; flute, Mridangam, a barrel-shaped drum with two heads. 


Bhangra cites many forms related to the folk dance as well as music, which was initially originated in the region of Punjab. Bhangra is majorly performed during Vaisakhi, the harvest festival of Punjab.

Bhangra has exceptionally energetic as well as vibrant tone and also, the dance is uniformly vicious. Along with the fervour as well as pomp, the dresses that are worn by the female and the male dancers are very different, both reflecting the exuberant celebrations.

The female dancers generally wear Salwar Kameez, but at times some dancers also wear either Sharara or a Lehenga Choli. In addition to salwar kameez, the dancers wear a tikka on their foreheads tie parranda to their braids, with golden tassels at the end and the anklets worn by them beatifies the dances.

The golden gota work added to the border of the dupatta adds cherry on top. The male dancers wear a turban, which is a speciality of the costumes of Bhangras, which is also adorned by golden lace as well as a Turla, which opens up like a fan.

A necklace is worn on kurta and dhoti along with a waistcoat which does not have any buttons. The dancers wear scarves on their fingers, making their dance moves gracious. Dhols are generally played while performing Bhangra.



The dance form Garba, which originally started in Gujarat is generally performed on the occasion of Navratri which is a festival of 9 days where they worship Goddess Durga. Garba is generally performed with hands and feet going around in circular motions of the dancers. 

The female dancers wear Chaniya Choli which is a three-piece Gujarati outfit which comprises a blouse and a long-flared skirt known as Chaniya with an embellished dupatta.

It is characterized by beautiful mirror work and colourful designs. The costumes are adorned with Kamarband, big earrings, black metals or silver necklaces, maang tikka as well as juttis.

The men wear a round kurta with Pagdi and Kafni Pyjamas. The dances are performed on a special tune.



One of the folk dances of Rajasthan, Ghoomar is recognized for its upper-level difficulty, and also has been ranked fourth in India. Generally performed by women, it is performed in veils along with the ghagras, which are flowing dresses.

The dancers perform together in wide circles. While performing in groups, it involves stupendous skills required to maintain consistent distance throughout to look elegant as they perform together in a group.

There is no age restriction for the performance of Ghoomar, as women from any age groups can contribute to the dance form. The speciality of Ghoomar is its distinctive footwork. This dance form continues for many hours, even throughout the night since there is no time limit to it.

The steps of the dancers when synchronizing on the beats of the song, the cadence of the performance increases. 


Lavani, a dance form originated in Maharashtra, is a combo of dancing and singing simultaneously. It presents aspects of life like religion, love, romance, politics, etc in a very entertaining style.

The sarees that the women dancers drape are generally known as nauvari saree, which is usually wrapped around in kashta drape which is comfortable for the dancers and also allows easy movements during the dance. 

It usually measures to around 9 yards lengthwise.  The hair is tied into a bun, which is worn along the gajra. Jewellery includes earrings, nose ring, bangles and necklace. A Kamar Patta is also worn on the waist, adding to their beauty. Dholaks are generally played along with Manjeera, Tuntuni and Daf.


Bihu, one of the most in-demand folk dance forms originated in Assam, generally performed during the Bihu Festival. The female dancers performing Bihu generally wear Assamese traditional attire during the performance.

The upper portion is draped in Chador, which is worn on a blouse while Mekhela is an attire worn on the lower part of the body and is cylindrical.  The outfits of women are adorned by heavy and gaudy jewellery and the braids are decorated with pretty and colourful flowers, which matches their attire.

Gamocha and Dhotis are generally worn by the male dancers. Dhoti covers the lower half of the body while Gamocha is usually worn on the head as well as hand. Both the gamocha and the dhoti are brightly coloured and have eye-catching patterns and embroidery on both the ends.

The instruments generally played are toka, gogona, baanhi, pepa, Taal and xutuli.


Chhau, one of the most popular tribal dances which incorporates some elements involving martial arts along with its dance steps. It is predominantly performed in Jharkhand, Odisha and West Bengal.

The dance form, which is known as Purulia Chhau Dance, plays a chief role since it is majorly known for its distinctive costumes and sets. The women dancers usually drape a saree around them, which are bright and colourful.

Bright flared bottoms, colourful dhotis are worn by the male dancers along with kurtas which are beautifully obscured by the variety and vast amounts of jewellery, generally worn in the form of a necklace, which are usually very heavy.

The expressions, nature of the depicted character and the emotions, have to be covered, so Grecian Masks are worn by the dancers, which creates a special emphasis on the audience. These dance performances are not just performances, they enact the religious epics and along with them, the musicians play a vital role in making the performances a success.

The instruments played are Dhamsa, Dhol and Shehnai.


The folk dance, Rouf, is mostly practised by the women of Kashmir Valley. In this dance form, the women line up facing each other in two rows in beautiful costumes, mostly during the spring season.

It is generally performed during harvesting season, Ramadan, Eid, etc by beautiful Kashmiri girls on various occasions. The women wear attractive costumes, which suits a melodious piece of music. The effortless footwork of the dancers is not only an artistic indulgence but also an artistic one.

Various themes are performed and conveyed via the medium of dances such as sorrow, joy, spring songs, welcome songs and happiness.

Famous Folk Dance Forms of India

The famous dance folks of India are Bhangra and Giddha from Punjab, Jhumar from Haryana, Garba from Gujarat, Bihu from Assam, Hikat from Jammu and Kashmir, Lavani from Maharashtra, Kathakali from Kerala, Chhau Dance from Odisha, Raas Leela from Uttar Pradesh and Pung Cholom Dance from Manipur.

How to learn the Indian Forms of Dance?

The classical dance forms are generally to be learnt from the experts since the scope of the Indian Classical Dances is vast and it is not everyone’s cup of tea. The performers who have been performing since ages are the best people to rely upon for learning the proper steps and the rhythms according to the beats.

The new learners might initially face some difficulty in learning for the swift hand and leg movements, the coordination of the hand and feet but gradually, it all seems perfect. The proper mudras, the coordination, the expressions, everything must be learnt from a Guru, who has good experience in these dance forms.


India being an intricate land, which is diversified, makes our culture stand out as a whole. The performers and dancers of our land perform the dances with full zest, passion and vigour. Not only the Indians but also many foreigners are being inclined towards the Indian forms of dance such as folk and classical dance, in a hope to learn them.

The dance forms being unique, are regarded as one of the most difficult yet appealing dance forms. Although the themes, songs, dances and the dancers belong regionally, and most of the recitations and music is done in Sanskrit, it is also played and performed by various actors.

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