Kathak is one of the most important classical dances of India. Kathak is said to be derived from the word katha, meaning "the art of storytelling." The Kathak dance form originated in north India and was very similar to the Bharatnatyam dance form. In ancient India, there were Kathakars or bards who used to recite religious and mythological tales to the accompaniment music, mime and dance.
Under the influence of Persian and Muslim traditions Kathak dance assumed the form of courtly entertainment. Under the patronage of medieval rulers and Nawabs a class of dancing girls and courtesans emerged to entertain the palaces and courts. Medieval traditions imparted Kathak a distinct Hindu-Muslim texture. Thus, with the passage of time Kathak went on changing its form and character. This change was also reflected in the dress of Kathak dance. During the nineteenth century Kathak enjoyed a revival and gained prominence among the kings and zamindars (feudal lords) not only as a form of entertainment but also as a classical art form. Slowly and gradually Gharanas or schools of Kathak emerged. The Jaipur Gharana of Kathak emphasized technical mastery of pure dance. In the court of Wajid Ali Shah, the Nawab of Oudh (a student of Kathak), Kathak dance emphasized dramatic and sensuous expression and developed into a distinct style called the Lucknow Gharana. This Gharana is said to have originated with Wajid Ali Shah's court dancer Thakur Prasadji.
Kathak dances are performed straight-legged and the ankle bells worn by the dancers are skillfully controlled. In Kathak dance the emphasis is more on footwork as against hasta mudras or hand formations in Bharatnatyam dance. Kathak dance can be performed by both men and women. A Kathak dancer is not required strictly to stick to fixed steps and stages in. He or she can change the sequence of steps to suit his or her skill and style of dancing. Modern exponents of Kathak dance are Birju Maharaj and Uma Sharma. Kathak is the major classical dance form of northern India. The word kathak means "to tell a story". It is derived from the dance dramas of ancient India. When the patronage shifted from the temples to the royal court, there was a change in the overall emphasis. The emphasis shifted from the telling of religious stories to one of entertainment. Today, the story-telling aspect has been downgraded and the dance is primarily an abstract exploration of rhythm and movement.
Kathak was primarily associated with an institution known as the tawaif. This is a much misunderstood institution of female entertainers, very much like the geisha tradition of Japan. It was a profession which demanded the highest standards of training, intelligence, and most important, civility. It is said that it was common for royalty to send their children to the tawaifs for instruction in etiquette. Unfortunately, when the British consolidated their hold over India during the Victorian era, this great institution was branded as mere prostitution and was outlawed. This set the art form of kathak into a downward spiral that was not reversed until Independence when there was a reawakening in interest in traditional Indian art forms.
Dance, along with music, has always dynamically expressed the spirit and personality of every culture. Modern western dance is part of this global language and its roots run wide and deep. They can be traced to the taverns of Ireland and to the ballrooms of Europe, to the Czarist palaces of Russia and further back still to the fluid tribal rituals of Africa. Representatives from all of these cultures brought their native dances when they landed in America. Widely differing peoples who had little or no exposure to one another gathered and danced on common ground.
The cowboy was not the most limber of creatures. The long hours in the saddle and strenuous work produced dancers of questionable finesse. He was not of a temperament to master intricate dance steps or to gracefully lead a fair maiden across the floor to the strains of a fiddler's reel. Rather he would join a dance with a wild whoop and a goat cry. Joseph McCoy, the first great cattle baron, wrote in 1874 that the cowboy "usually enters the dance with a peculiar zest, his eyes lit up with excitement, liquor and lust. He stomps in without stopping to divest himself of his sombrero, spurs or pistols." This dance style was not so much original as it was a spontaneous adaptation of traditional moves brought west by various immigrant cultures.
Puritanical thought, religious prohibitions and traditional customs firmly established the in East began to move West with the pioneers. Worldly pleasures such as dancing were often frowned upon, and when not altogether banned, were designed to keep contact and spontaneity at a minimum. Consequently, it was the minuet, cotillion, pattern dances, courtly processions, and "safe" folk dances that were favored by the early settlers.
The open unexplored spaces of the West both shaped the character and determined the interaction of its settlers. People organized barn dances, husking and quilting bees, cowboy balls and get-togethers. Invitation was by word of mouth and those who heard usually came to dance. To prevent chaos from dominating the dance floor (few people knew the same steps), a figure who soon became legendary emerged. This hero was the caller and it was his job to orchestrate the heterogeneous crowd into harmonious movement.
Working with the steps of formal quadrilles and folk dances, he added a "cowboy waltz" position and helped promote the square dance. This new hybrid was considerably more casual that the traditions from which it derived, but it still inhibited the young who were ready for a dance that would add a more intimate hold on their partner.
A new dance called the Polka started moving West. Having "the intimacy of the Waltz and the vivacity of the Irish jig", the Polka was embraced with enthusiasm.
The western population included such groups as Poles, Germans, French, Irish, Jews, Scandinavians, Czechs and Russians and each still enjoyed their own folk dances, but many found common refuge in the polka. New hybrids were also developed, creating offspring such as the Varsouvianna and the Two Step. German settlers in El Paso, Texas developed the Schottische and line dances which were important precursors of modern western dances such as the Cotton-Eyed Joe.
Folks gathered just about anywhere to dance -- on ranches, in barns, in the wide open spaces under the stars. Slowly a dance that was specifically "western" began to evolve. Novelty moves and styles popular in Appalachia and the South came west and were absorbed by the new settlers. The freed Black Americans in particular exerted a stylistic influence that can still be seen in today's country swing dance. However, the most important influence came from the cowboy!
The cowboy paid little attention to traditional dance forms. One observer commented in 1873, that "some punchers danced like a bear 'round a beehive that was afraid of getting stung. Others didn't seem to know how to handle a calico, and got as rough as they do handling' cattle in branding' pens."
The swing of the leg when dismounting from a horse became a mighty Polka gallop. Women were handled as if the cowboy were throwing a beating calf to the ground to be branded. Heavy army issue boots contributed to crude footwork. The habit of wearing spurs even on the dance floor forced the cowboy to keep his feet apart and shuffle as he moved to the music. Several of these cowboy mannerisms, although tamed, survive in today's modern western dance. The "double arms over" move is reminiscent of the final "tying off" of a calf's legs prior to branding. The basic "push pull" position recaptures the rhythm of grasping the reins.
The beginning of the twentieth century brought new music and dance. In the middle of this explosion was the Black American. Their principal source of relaxation and entertainment had been their music and dance. In the old South, contests were frequently held on the plantation to see "who owned the fastest dancer." Fascinated and envious of the rhythmic freedom of Blacks, Whites later "corked up" in black face and toured the country.
By the turn of the century carnivals, minstrel shows, medicine shows and eventually vaudeville routines frequently showcased Black dancers or White imitators. The Black dance style was referred to as "jazz" or "eccentric dancing". These fast, gyrating, acrobatic and tap dances had names like the Turkey Trot, Grizzly Bear, Kangaroo Dip and Chicken Scratch. Black dance was viewed as a novelty, sometimes ridiculed, but the intricate footwork and fluid motions of Black performers were slowly seeping into America's dance repertoire.
By 1916, two years after the War began, New Orleans jazz was in full bloom. Just one year later historian Bernard Grun proclaimed Chicago the "world's jazz center". Inspired by the improvisational elements in jazz, couples began to experiment on the dance floor: They separated, broke apart, twirled, and jigged.
Throughout the 1920's, radio brought music to the whole nation. Chicago radio station WLS began broadcasting the "National Barn Dance" in 1924. A year later the now famous "Grand Ole Opry" from Nashville was initiated.
In the late 1920's, George "Shorty" Snowden brought the entire Savoy Ballroom audience to its feet with his rapid, break-away solo steps. Charles Lindbergh had crossed the Atlantic in 1927 in one dramatic "hop", and when Snowden was asked what his dance was called, he replied, the "Lindy Hop".
In 1938 Benny Goodman ushered in a new jazz style. His big band swing sound was listened to around the world and soon the Lindy Hop gave birth to the Jitterbug, a fast moving combination of fancy footwork and elaborate spins, twirls and turns, many of which can still be seen in contemporary country swing moves.
One of the many fascinated listeners out West was Bob Wills. When jazz hit, Bob was struck. Eventually he formed his own western big band and helped create a genre of music known as western swing. Today's modern country swing dance derives directly from the music Wills played and the way people danced to it.
A new musical tempo could be heard after the Second Word War. Be-bop, a kind of wild and dizzying swing offshoot popular in big cities quickly gave birth to "pop" music. Rockabilly arrived in the '50's and by the middle of the decade had become known as rock 'n roll.
Rock 'n roll was music of the '50's, but the dance that accompanied it was very similar to Jitterbug and Swing. The style of dance changed dramatically in the early 1960's where partners were couples only in name and where each allowed his body to dance directly to the sounds, lights and strobes.
Couple dancing regained popularity in the mid 1970's with the emergence of Disco. In the late 1970's as Disco died and country music continued to rise in rapid popularity, a resurgence of interest in western dance emerged. Older dancers suddenly became models for a new generation.
Now that swing is back, people are dancing into the 90's with a smile, a hat and a friendly attitude!
Dance seems to be a lot like ice cream flavors...it's so hard to choose just one. If you are thinking of trying out a new dance style, there may be a few you haven't even considered. Check out this list of dance genres and see which one appeals to you. There are many fun types of dance, you may need to sample a few to find your favorite.
Ballet serves as a backbone for many other styles of dance, as many other dance genres are based on ballet. Ballet is based on techniques that have been developed over centuries. Ballet uses music and dance to tell stories. Ballet dancers have the ability to transport an audience to another world.
Jazz is a fun dance style that relies heavily on originality and improvisation. Many jazz dancers mix different styles into their dancing, incorporating their own expression. Jazz dancing often uses bold, dramatic body movements, including body isolations and contractions.
Tap dancing is an exciting form of dance in which dancers wear special shoes equipped with metal taps. Tap dancers use their feet like drums to create rhythmic patterns and timely beats.
Hip-hop is a dance style, usually danced to hip-hop music, that evolved from the hip-hop culture. Hip-hop includes various moves such as breaking, popping, locking and crumping, and even house dance. Improvisation and personal interpretation are essential to hip-hop dancing.
Modern dance is a dance style that rejects many of the strict rules of classical ballet, focusing instead on the expression of inner feelings. Modern dance was created as a rebellion against classical ballet, emphasizing creativity in choreography and performance.
Swing dance is a lively dance style in which couples swing, spin and jump together. Swing dancing is a general term that means dancing to swing music, or music that "swings." How can you tell if a song swings? Swing dancers know when a song swings because when they hear it, they can't stand still.
Contra dance is a form of American folk dance in which the dancers form two parallel lines and perform a sequence of dance movements with different partners down the length of the line. Contra dances are relaxed with family-like atmospheres. The dancing is excellent exercise, and dancers can set their own pace. Contra dancers are usually friendly, active people with a love of dance.
Country and Western
Country and western dance includes several dance forms, usually danced to country-western music. If you've ever been to a country and western club or tavern, you've probably seen a few cowboy boot-wearing dancers twirling around the dance floor with big smiles on their faces.
Belly dance is a unique form of dance characterized by sharp, rolling movements of the hips and abdomen. The true origins of belly dancing are debated among enthusiasts.
Flamenco dance is an expressive dance form that mixes percussive footwork with intricate hand, arm and body movements. Flamenco is a Spanish art consisting of three forms: Cante, the song, Baile, the dance, and Guitarra, guitar playing.
Latin dance is a fast-paced, often sensual, partner dance characterized by sexy hip movements. However, hip movements are not intentional in any of the Latin dances. The hip motion is a natural consequence of changing weight from one foot to the other.
Folk dance refers to a variety of dances developed by groups or communities, as opposed to being made up by a choreographer. There are several types of folk dance including clogging, English country dance, international folk dance, Irish dance, Maypole dance, Morris dance, Nordic polska dance, square dance, and many more. Folk dances are often performed at social events.