Understanding Kathak: A Guide to Children



Dance to inspire, dance to freedom, life is about experiences so dance and let yourself become free”― Shah Asad Rizvi

There are eight major form of Indian classical dance and Kathak is one of them. The roots of this dance form are accredited to the traveling sonneteer of ancient northern India known as Kathakars or Storytellers. It derives it’s meaning from the Sanskrit word Katha meaning story, and Kathakar meaning he who tells a story. Wandering Kathakars communicated stories from the great epics and ancient mythology through dance, songs and music in a manner similar to early Greek coliseum.

The three most important Gharanas of Kathak includes Luknow, Jaipur and Benaras now Varanasi. It was during the reign of Nawab Wajid Ali Khan this cult achieved its peak. Nawabsaab who was at Lucknow back then had himself learnt the dance from GuruThakur Prasad. Thakur Prasad’s sons, Guru Bindadin Maharaj and Guru Kalka Prasad, greatly enriched the form, both in the Abhinaya and the Nritya aspects and it is their texts which are followed in dance schools.

The Jaipur Gharana, accentuates fluency, speed and long rhythmic patterns. The Lucknow Gharana italicizes expressiveness and grace. The Gharana of Varanasi with its roots developed in Rajasthan developed a style of its own characterized by moderate tempo, grace and precision.



Ostentatiously, this particular Indian classical dance cult emphasizes rhythmic foot movements and pirouettes, adorned with small bells (Ghungroo), and the movement harmonized to the music.The legs and torso are generally straight unlike the other seven forms of Indian classical dance which focuses on movements of neck, chest and pelvis. The eye diction plays a major role for communication. With the eyebrows the dancer gives various facial expressions. The Lucknow Gharana emphasizes acting and Jaipur Gharana is famed for its spectacular footwork. Both Indian and Persian costumes are used. The themes range from Dhrupadi taal to Taranas, Thumris and Ghazals.


The Hastamudras (hand gestures), the Poses, and even the Walk of the dancer further fuel the narrative. The background music, either vocal or orchestral sutures the story accompanied by Abhinaya, the artist’s accessories and his / her makeup. This feeling of Satvika or Goddess Durga through eye movement emanates anonymously from within and reflects through a human’s natural expression. A dancer reaches a state of bliss performing this faction and it brings a sense of tranquility to the audience as well. The audience is keenly perceptive to such stories as they feel a part of the recital.  This is the aesthetic self -actualization of a dancer.

It’s mandatory to start the dance with Namaskara accompanied with Ganesh Vandana or a Salaami (Mughal style). Anand is the item through which a dancer enters upon the stage; accompanied with soft and varied movements. Items of pure rhythmic beauty—Todas, Tukdas follows. The mythological episodes are portrayed.

Kathak as a performance art survived and thrived as a cult, learnt and innovated from one generation to another verbally and through practice. It transitioned, adapted and integrated the tastes of the Mughal courts in the 16th and 17th century particularly during Akbar’s regime, but was ridiculed and declined in the colonial British era.

It’s a fact that at the hoi polloi level Kathak dancers performed for Moghul overlords. Too much outward expression of religious belief was without doubt undesirable. It is therefore reasonable to assume that the wide use of abstract dancing, intricate bell work, dazzling turns and the fleeting, transient, glimpses of Radha and Krishna in Kathak arose both to remind the dancers about their reasons for dancing to deceive their courtly Moghul audiences.


The costumes of Kathakars vary and are either Hindu or Muslim attire. The Hindu costume for female dancers has two pointers. The first pointer is a Sari, but worn in a style different from the customary style that goes over the left shoulder. The choli covers the upper body with a head scarf (orhni). The head, neck, wrist, ankle jewelry further adorns the artist. A tika in the middle of forehead is common.

The second pointer of a Hindu Kathak dancer uses a long, full (just above the ankle), light-weight skirt usually with embroidered border that helps highlight the dance motion. The skirt is contrasted with a different color choli, and a transparent scarf typically drapes over it and the dancer’s head. Jewelry is present in the second variation as well.


The Muslim costume for female dancers also uses a skirt, but includes close fitting Chudidar pajamas and sometimes a long coat covering hands and the upper body including head scarf and the jewelry is light.

Kathak is a truly unique and complicated dance that is mastered by the dancer who conveys the message through his/ her dance. The other seven forms of classical dance cannot be compared to the beauty in any far-fetched story that is told through Kathak. Kathak signifies the importance of dance and is the revolutionary way to narrate. Indeed, the scienceof dance is equivalent to the complex art of expressions found in dance.

Rich in terms of cultural heritage in words of Shah Asad Raizvi “One step, two steps, three steps; like winds of time experience joy of centuries, when movements become revelations of the dance of destinies; transcend the terrestrial; surpass the celestial, from nature’s hands when you receive the sublime pleasures of dance”.


On highlighting the importance of Dance for a Child’s overall development, dance therapy and building confidence Kirthana Ramarapu in Momspresso says “Dance therapy is the therapeutic use of movement to improve the mental and physical well-being of a person. It focuses on the connection between the mind and body to promote health and healing. Dance therapy can be considered an expressive therapy”.

Indian classical dance for kids should start at a tender age of four. Though modern era parents push their children to begin their dancing the moment the toddler starts walking but Kathak is a tough art form and the ideal age is four so that the child understand the rhythms and enjoy this dance form. Further says Kirthana Ramarapu “The dance classes should not be rigorous but something the child enjoys. Once the child enjoys, the learning will happen […]. For less than 5 year olds, it should be a movement program which helps in contouring their body and they understand the basics. There are programs for younger than 2 years, however here caution must be used and you should choose a program where the mother or father is involved.”

In conclusion I say, I have explained Kathak as a guide to Children whoever chooses this form of classical dance as a stepping stone and also the importance of dance to them. Become a kathakar or storyteller through dance. Parents please inspire your child to take up dancing for spiritual, metal and somatic growth. So children go ahead embrace Kathak and dance to happiness.




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