Classical Dance: Present, Future and Career Prospects

Posted on July 21, 2010

By Sahiba Singh:

Classical dancing

For me the summer vacations meant lots of new hobbies and among them were the Kathak classes, which never clicked for me. Maybe dancing was never my cup of tea. But there are many who enjoy dancing. The only thing I can say to them is if you are passionate about it don’t let it be just a hobby.

A bit of History

India boosts of a very rich dancing heritage but only eight dances have the classical status, namely:

Bharatanatyam (Tamil Nadu), Kathak (North Indian States), Odissi (Orissa), Kathakali (Kerala), Kuchipudi (Andhra Pradesh), Manipuri (Manipur), Mohiniyattam (Kerala) and Sattriya (Assam)

These dances are based on mythology and scriptures. They often depict stories of Gods and Goddess through their routines.

Bharatanatyam is a classical dance form originating in Tamil Nadu, India. One of the oldest of the classical dance forms in India, it is also known as the fifth Veda. Bharatanatyam is usually accompanied by the classical music. Bharatanatyam is a traditional dance-form known for its grace, purity, tenderness, and sculpturesque poses. Many people choose to learn Carnatic music along with it. Today, it is one of the most popular and widely performed dance styles and is practiced by many dancers all over the world.

Odissi: It is the oldest surviving dance form of India on the basis of archaeological evidences. It is particularly distinguished from other classical Indian dance forms by the importance it places upon the tribhangi (literally: three parts break), the independent movement of head, chest and pelvis and upon the basic square stance known as chauka.

Kathak: This dance form traces its origins to the nomadic bards of ancient northern India, known as Kathaks, or storytellers.

The structure of a conventional Kathak performance tends to follow a progression in tempo from slow to fast, ending with a dramatic climax.

In today’s time

Unfortunately over the years the visibility of Indian classical dancing has been diminishing. “One of the reasons why classical arts are not very popular is because people have stopped relating to them. People are not willing to invest time and effort into it”, says dancer-proprietor Rachna Sinha. Youngsters are willing to take two months training of exotic dances like salsa and rumba but 2-3 years for a “dance” seems to be unreasonable.

People coming from abroad and NRI’s seem to be more motivated for the dance form. According to Vijayalakshmi Ramanan, a noted Bharatanatyam dancer, “Students coming from abroad are much focused to learn the dance form in the limited time they have. It’s not only about learning, when they go back home they teach more kids and help us pass on this beautiful heritage to the youngsters.”

Vijayalakshmi Ramanan performing.

Popular mediums like films and Television have also reduced the air time of the classical dances. In the yester years every bollywood actress was classically trained like Waheeda Rehman and Hema Malini. Even the songs had a classical bend to them. Many of them became full-time dancers after their retirement from the movies. But today we see a lot of jatkas and salsas in our films, only a hand full of actors learn it when the “role demands”.

Vijayalakshmi Ramanan performing.

Ranjana Gauhar feels that the governments have the reach and the funds to showcase this heritage. Promoting the dancers even on a state level can really boost the dances. After being heavily criticized for having performances by movie stars during the CWG Sydney, the government made sure that the debacle of never repeated. On the eve of Queen’s Baton Relay they showcased the dancing heritage on an international stage. This is what we need!!!

Does classical dance have any future in India?

Certainly! We must understand that traditional dance forms that are more than 2000 years old cannot and must not be allowed to pass into oblivion forever. True, the majority of youth today have digressed towards modern dance forms. Hence arises the need to create awareness and genuine interest in the minds of these young people, so that they are able to enjoy classical dance performances in the real sense of the term.

Apparently thousands of young people are heavily into non-classical dances; but there is no dearth of real talent and latent qualities in many individuals, who will religiously carry forward the traditions in future.

People like Vijayalakshmi are determined to make this art form more popular among the youngsters. She currently teaches more than 35 students from all the corners of the country.


After mastering the dance you can go into being a full time dancer or choreographer, have your on troop and tour countries. There are many who choose to pass on this to the next generation and become teachers.

Just like any profession you must have dedication. Money is good when the sponsors are good. If you just want to be in for the money or fame then you may want to rethink, the dancer must have love for the art to survive in this field.

Notable Dancers

Padmashri Rukmini Devi Arundale responsible for the Modern rebirth of Bharatanatyam,

Padmashri Leela Samson present director Kalakshetra, Chennai and a prolific dancer,

Padmashri Ranjana Gauhar Odissi danseuse,

Pandit Birju Maharaj leading exponent of the Lucknow gharana of Kathak,

Shovana Narayan a noted Kathak dancer.

The writer is a Senior Correspondent and the Design Manager of Youth Ki Awaaz.

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