Contemporary Indian Dance – Breaking Free from the Traditional


Image Courtesy – Attakkalari Centre for Movement Arts

Classical Indian dances hold a very special place in the artistic world. Their grace, style and forms are well-known and their execution and understanding of the art reach almost a divine realm.

But besides, classical dances, India is also home to a number of other dance forms. Folk dances of course, are a regional variation that reflect culture and social norms. However, there is no clear distinction as what comprises of contemporary dance. 

Contemporary dance in India includes a range of dance forms. These incorporate choreography for cinema, as well as, modern Indian dances. Yet, the borders of contemporary dance forms are flexible allowing the scope and range of various dance forms. This is because there is rarely uniformity in terms of style or costumes, yet there is no chaos or confusion either. The best ways to categorize a form as contemporary would be to judge if it breaks or moves away from traditional dance forms.

Modern Indian dance

Image Courtesy – Aditi Mangaldas Dance Company

The perception people usually have is that modern Indian dance is nothing but a fusion of western and Indian classical dance styles. However, that is far from true. Indian modern dances are a genre by themselves though they may not have found the same kind of recognition as classical dances of India. Where Classical dances have a regimented and codified way of going about, modern dances on the other hand is based primarily on the imagination.

Modern Indian dance has an interesting history where Uday Shankar has been credited as the Father of Modern Indian dance. 

Uday Shankar

Uday Shankar –

Uday Shankar (1900-1977) was one of the first dancers to create a fusion of sorts. He started by dancing in cafes and cabarets in Paris in the 1930’s until he partnered Anna Pavlova. He toured with her and soon began touring on his own along with his team of musicians and dancers. 

He gave the western audiences a flavor of Indian ballet in terms of dance forms, costumes and colors. He broke away from the traditional forms by not differentiating between Nirtta and Abhinaya. The primary aspect of modern dance was the movement of the body for the sake of its own. Here music was composed after the dance composition and therefore, it was the movement of the free flowing body that was of utmost importance. Some of his important and popular productions are Lanka Dahan, Panchatantra and others.

Uday Shankar – Image Courtesy

However, Uday Shankar learned Indian Classical dance and hence modern dance forms also see the influence of the classical styles. Uday Shankar also had a lot of disciples but none really emerged as the next singular flag bearer of modern dance forms. 

Yet when one thinks of modern dance forms a number of artists come to mind, including Shanti Bardhan, Shobana Jeyasingh, Amala Shankar, Dr. Manjushree Chaki-Sarkar, Ranjabati Sarkar and more. 

Dance in Indian Cinema and by Dance groups

Image Courtesy – Attakkalari Centre for Movement Arts

Dancing has always been an integral part of Indian cinema. The dance forms have ranged from Classical styles to modern dances, folk dances and western styles. But contemporary dance forms have in fact, been most propounded by cinema along with the advent of various contemporary dance schools and academies. 

Some of the popular centers and academies that are hubs for contemporary dance forms, include the Attakkalari Centre for Movement Arts in Bangalore, National Centre for the Performing Arts or NCPA, Terence Lewis Academy, Gati Dance Forum in Delhi and more. 

Image Courtesy – Gati Dance

Finally, contemporary dance forms may seem to be in a nascent phase when compared to the years and generations of classical traditional dance forms. But contemporary is valid and required to express and enunciate emotions and stories in a form that allows for the body and mind to be free of the adherence to certain rhythms and rules. Modern and contemporary are inevitable in any form of artistic expression. And though classical dance forms continue to be traditional and respected, contemporary dance forms are also surely finding an audience and artists who may not completely break away from tradition, but do find alternate styles of expressions.

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