Whether it’s lyrical movements, classical Indian style or a hip-hop take on the wildly popular Bollywood genre, dance is, without a doubt, one of the great visual icons of India.
“I think dance is what Indians are made up of,” Shiamak Davar, an influential Bollywood choreographer, tells CNN Travel. “Religious festivals, weddings, on the streets … we all dance, we celebrate, we live life through song and dance.”
“Because for me, India is about celebrating who we are. We are song, we are dance, we’re culture and we’re unity, and we are always embracing other dance forms to grow.”
In the below series of videos, CNN Travel takes the pulse of India’s dance scene – on the street, in the temple and for the stage – from movements rooted in the Hindu faith to choreography that incorporates outside influences.
An ancient classical dance, Bharatanatyam traces it roots to the Hindu temples of Tamil Nadu, in southeastern India.
Traditionally performed as a solo by women, the centuries-old dance form heavily emphasizes expressive gestures and religious storytelling.
The theatrical style requires precision, expression and engagement of every muscle.
“All forms of Indian classical dance are heavy on abhinaya, or the art of expression,” Dakshina Vaidyanathan, a Bharatanatyam dancer, tells CNN Travel. “When we are trying to express something, every part of your body is acting it out. Your body has to speak.”
Today, Bharatanatyam enjoys international status as one of the iconic performing arts of India.
Thought to have emerged in northern India in 400 BCE, Kathak (sanskrit for “storytelling”) is another major form of Indian classical dance.
Traditionally attributed to the traveling bards of northern India, the dance form evolved to suit the tastes of the Mughal court.
Today, it manifests in Manjari Chaturvedi’s new school of performance of Sufi kathak, which blends classical style with elements of Sufism – a mystical branch of Islam with more than a thousand years of history in India.
An energetic folk dance of celebration from Punjab, bhangra has a rich history as one of India’s most joyous art forms.
It originally emerged as a way to honor the harvest season and, today, you will often see iterations of it at weddings in India.
It’s a high-energy performance, full of joyous, dramatic moves.
Hip-hop street-style dancing was developed in the United States in the early 1970s, but has since become a widely popular genre globally.
India is no exception.
In the above video, we meet up with two dance troupes – one in Delhi, the other in Mumbai – who are fusing hip-hop aesthetic with Indian moves.
It’s impossible to discuss contemporary dance in India without mentioning the massive song-and-dance productions of Bollywood.
The choreography and dance routines in Hindi films draw upon classical Indian dance, but also mix in global trends.
“Bollywood dance has actually become a whole blend of international, Indian, contemporary modern, folk – all kind of forms mixed together,” says choreographer Davar.
“It’s evolved to be a kind a beautiful mix of East and West.”