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Dance and Rhythm -- Kathak, the Dance of the Storytellers

Kathak comes from the north Indian state of Uttarpradesh. The story behind the name takes us back to the 13th century, where the dance is believed to have evolved to its present state. Prior to that period, Kathak was a simple dance accompaniment of the storytellers or the kathakas, who entertained the audience with stories from the Ramayana, Mahabharata and folklores. Brief History of Kathak When the Mughals invaded India in 15th century, they lured the storytellers with exotic gifts to perform for the royals. Hence, to suit the needs of the royalty, the kathakas changed their simple dance style into an intricate mime composed of emotion-filled pieces of the nritya and pure dance movements of the nritta. This created two distinct branches of the dance: one that had more of Persian influence and the other that was the rustic temple style. The court style dance focused more on technique with rhythmic and complex footwork, to please the eyes of the durbaris with less emphasis on the emotion, while the temple version was more soul rendering and emotional, conveying the mythological stories in a heart warming way. During the British Raj there was a sharp decline in popularity for the dance as it was banished as being vulgar and tabooed as the dance of the prostitutes. However, in the post independent era, the dance revived with full vigor to join the list of the eight classical dances of India. Gharanas There are 3 main schools or gharanas, each of which has given Kathak a distinct variation. There is also a minor 4th school, all of which are described below. Lucknow gharana Lucknow school of Kathak emerged in the 19th century in the court of Wajid Ali Shah and has more of Muslim influence. The school places immense importance on nazakkat or elegance and grace and abhinaya or expressions. The chakkadar or the fast spins using the foot is of shorter duration compared to other schools. The costume is chudidar or tight pants, hugging the legs, a kameez that flares out during the spinning and a dupatta that covers the head, shoulders and the torso. Jaipur gharana This school evolved from the temple Kathak and places more importance on the technical aspect of the dance with elaborate and complex footwork, multiple spins and a grand Tarana. The costume is long skirt and blouse instead of the chudidar-kameez, while the dupatta drapes the shoulders and torso. Banaras gharana Here, the chakkar or the spins are both clockwise and anti clockwise, though quite less in number and repetition compared to the Jaipur gharana. There are subtle differences in the opening sequence or Thaat. It is characterized by Natwari bol or syllables. Natwari bol are different from the usual bols of the percussions instruments, namely tabla and pakhawaj. It is said that the founder of this style, Janaki Prasad, picked up the syllables from Samaveda. There are totally 12 natwari bol compositions. This style of dance is more popular in Bikaner than in Banaras. Raigarh gharana Raigarh gharana is a fusion of all the features of the above three schools, thereby creating a unique Kathak dance form. Repertoire Kathak has very specific repertoire. First is the thaat or the entrance of the dancer on to the stage followed by aamad or salami, which is basically salutations to the audience. This is followed by various pieces of dances, each more complex and quicker than the previous. The salient feature of Kathak is it is virtually danced upright, with absolutely no bending of knees in any form. The axis of the dancer is absolutely straight, with only the hands stretching out and folding back in to convey emotion. The most spectacular part of the dance is the spinning that takes years of practice to perfect. The dance sequence ends with tarana, which is the most technical aspect of the entire repertoire. Learning Kathak Kathak does not involve any contortion of body at odd angles, whatsoever. This is an advantage for those seeking to learn Kathak at a later stage. However, the dance does take minimum of 6 to 8 years to master and further more to interpret and explore. Choosing the gharana depends on your understanding of the dance and in simpler terms, your location and availability of the teacher. No gharana is better or worse than the other is and the dance must be first viewed as an art. Kathak as a career Kathak is offered as a undergraduate and post graduate course in institutions such as Gansharva Mahavidyalaya, Mumbai, Prayag Sangeet Samiti and many more university dedicated to teaching art forms. As a professional dancer you can give stage performances, join a troupe and perform in various cities/countries or start your own dance school and educate the posterity. Related useful links: Kathak dance classes in India Kathak dance classes in Bangalore Kathak dance classes in Mumbai Kathak dance classes in Delhi Classical dance classes in India Further reading and references Comparison of Kathak and Bharatanatyam: http://www.indiaheritage.org/perform/kathak.htm Kathak Repertoire: http://www.webindia123.com/dances/Kathak/repertoire1.htm


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