Indian Dance

The 6 basic forms of Indian dance

India’s culture fully embraces the arts, including dance and music. Many celebrations and festivals in Indian culture often showcase the rich background of dance culture. Indian dancing originated as a language of expression, performed in temples to entertain various Gods and Goddesses. Dancing is particularly important in the Hindu religion, with Lord Shiva that ‘Nataraja’, meaning ‘King of All Dances.’ Lord Shiva performs the Cosmic Dance that balances life, death, and all happening within the universe in harmonious cycles. India’s ancient tradition can actually be traced back to 6 basic forms of classical dancing. These Indian dance moves still permeate through today’s culture, from Bollywood films to weddings.

BharatnatyamBharatanatyam Indian dance

Bharatnatyam is one of the most popular classical Indian dances. It is particularly popular in the South Indian states such as Tamil Nadu and Karanataka. This ancient dance can be traced back to over 2000 years ago! Bharatnatyam originated from the art of temple dances. It is performed by both male and female dances, with the focus being a combination of expression, music, and dance. Legend decrees that Bharatnatyam was revealed by Lord Brahma to Bharata, a famous wise figure. This sacred dance was described in the Sanskirt text, Natya Shastra- one of the fundamental principles of drama and aesthetics.


The Kathakali dance tradition hails fro, Kerala, in south west India. The Kathakali is a religious dance that is inspired by the Ramayana and stories from Shaiva traditions. The literal translation of Kathkali means ‘story-play’. The kathakali tradition is most well known for the elaborate theatrical with make-up and costumes; in fact, this aspect has become a flagship of the area. Men primarily perform the Kathakali. The dance themes drive from a number of Hindu myths and legends.

KathakKathakali Dancer

The term ‘Kathak’ drives from ‘katha’, which means the art of story telling. The kathak dance tradition is from the north Indian region of Uttar Pradesh. It is often a dance of love and performed by men and women. The movements of the Kathak feature intricate footwork, accentuated by bells worn around the ankles, and stylised gestures that are derivatives of normal body language. The origin of this dance started with Kathakas. Kathakas were professional storytellers who used a mixture of dance, song, and drama in their adaptations of stories.


The Manipuri dance originates from the north-eastern state of Manipur. The Manipuri dance style is one of the most ritualistic out of all of the classical Indian dance forms. It draws heavily from the rich culture of the state of Manipur. It is a beautiful embrace of colourful direction, light dancing, delicate drama, lilting music, and poetic charm. The manipuri’s fluids and gentile movements set it apart from many other forms of traditional Indian dance. The traditions often depict scenes from the life of Khrishna.

Manipuri indian dance

KuchipudiKuchipudi Indian dance

The Kuchipudi dance form is from the state of Andhra Pradesh in southeastern India. Kuchipudi requires the performers to be talented in singing and dancing. It is an incredibly ritualised tradition featuring sprinling of holy water, incense burning, and invocation of goddesses. Traditionally, men performed the kuchipudi, however, now women mainly perform the tradition.

Odissi Performance DS
Odissi Perfomance


Odissi is the oldest surviving Indian dance tradition. This style is renowned for its style with the independent movement of the head, chest, and hips. Odissi is traditional to Orissa in eastern India. The purpose of the dance, predominantly for women, is to replicate the postures found in temple sculptures. It is an extremely complex and expressive dance, with over fifty mudras (hand gestures) often used throughout performances.