A Dance Step into Indian Culture

By Schofield, Meenakshy-Bhaskar | Social Studies Review, Fall 2005 | Go to article overview

A Dance Step into Indian Culture


Schofield, Meenakshy-Bhaskar, Social Studies Review


It was six years ago that Ms. Nina White, my daughter Gabriella's sixth grade social studies teacher at Edwin Markham Middle School, invited me to come in to her classes to demonstrate the classic art of traditional Indian dance. It was a pleasure to come in to the classes and share with the students that which is foreign to most American students, yet quite familiar to students in America who are of Indian descent. In fact, it is quite common for children of Indian descent to take formal training as dancers. Many come to my school in Folsom, California. In fact, many of my students are from nonIndian families. I am pleased to offer California social studies teachers some fundamental information about classical Indian dance, share photos of my daughter, Gabriela Bhaskar (who completed her arangetram in August 2004), demonstrating several basic dance positions, and provide internet links so that teachers may bring the music, the instruments, and even performing dancers into their classrooms.

The Tradition of Dance In India

In India, the arts have always been an important part of the culture. The patronage of the performing, visual and literary arts in India originated at the temples; kings supporting temples and temples supporting the artists. The importance of dance is depicted in the sculptures and frescoes on the temple walls in India, presenting dancing girls in various postures. However, through the years with all the foreign invasions of India, patronage of the arts became nonexistent and the arts were almost lost forever. Some enthusiastic critics and writers, with the help of leading families in India, revived them and restored the prestige connected with the arts as it was in the old days. The foundations of traditional dance, music and theater are preserved in several books composed up to 2000 years ago, namely, the Natya Sastra, Abhinaya Darpana, Abhinaya Chandrika.

Seven classical dance styles are still in existence in India today. They are Bharathanatyam, Kuchipudi, Mohlni Attam, Manipuri, Kathakali, Kathak, & Odissi. Each of these dance styles has its own format, characteristics, music, and literature to support it. The Indian dance styles are structured and because of its definite format, it is called classical dance. According to the Natya Sastra, there are 3 categories of dances. Pure dance; (Nritta), mime(Nritya) or dance drama (Natya). All the dances of the Bharatha Natyam repertoire fall into these categories. The masculine is called tandava, where the movements are bold and strong and the feminine is lasya, graceful and flowing movements.

Of all the classical dance styles in India, Bharathanatyam is the most faithful to the Natya Sastra, adhering closely to the rules mapped out in it. This article will focus on introducing Bharathanatyam to the new audience. If the reader has never seen traditional Indian dance performed, I suggest you read the article, then view the samples of the music and dance found on the internet links provided. Then read the article a second time. That which will have seemed most unfamiliar on first reading will be much better understood in the second reading.

Training

Originating from the Southern state of Tamil Nadu, Bharathanatyam is the most popular of all the dance forms of India. This is because the style is very adaptable for the new millennium. It is athletic, expressive, graceful, poetic and rhythmic, all at once.

The dances involve moving the body with grace; coordinating decorative movements of the eye & eyebrows, and movement of the neck and head. Some of the dances talk about the mythology of India and the hands play an important part. There is an elaborate symbolic language comprised of hand gestures, 28 single and 26 double hand gestures, which can be used to tell these stories. There are exercises for the dancer to train the use of the eyes, cheeks, eyebrows & lips, to develop the students miming abilities. …

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