Folk Dances of India

Highlights of North India

Folk dance of Kashmir – Rauf

This a popular dance of the women of Kashmir, performed during the harvest season and at times of festivals. The dancers form two rows and put their arms around the necks or waists of their neighbors. They sing Rouf songs as they step forwards and backwards lightly, without any other musical accompaniment. Individual dancers may break from the rows for brief individual movements in the space between the rows. The Rouf is a beautiful dance, winning its appeal from the cheerful spirit of the dancers and the melody of the songs.

Folk dance of Punjab – Bhangra and Giddha

Bhangra is a folk dance for harvest festivals, with movements that mimic the activities of farmers. One of the typical movements is to stand with feet apart and knees slightly bent, and arms outstretched, while bouncing the shoulders to the rhythm of the music. Bhangra is a vigorous and energetic dance, full of high jumps and bold movements. Dancers frequently punctuate their performance with yells of, “Balle, balle!” or “Hey, arippa!”.
Performed by women, the Giddha combines singing, dancing, and mimicry, to express themes of daily life. The participants form a circle and sing folk songs knows as Giddha songs.The women’s movements, especially of the arms and hands, show grace and flexibility. The women wear traditional Punjabi dress, salwar kameez or lehnga skirts, with rich colors and decoration.

Highlights of East India

Folk dance of Assam – Bihu

The Bihu is a folk dance connected with the Bihu festival, celebrated to mark the arrival of the new year at the spring solstice. The Bihu dance is performed by both young men and women, sometimes with the dancers all of one gender, while the others are spectators. The dance has quick steps, particular movements of the chest and shoulders, and rhythmic movements of the arms and hips, depicting the joys of spring and youth. Bihu is usually performed in the open under a tree or in natural surroundings. It is accompanied by specific songs with themes ranging from love poems to welcoming the new year, to daily village life. Dancers wear traditional Assamese clothing.

Folk dance of West Bengal – Santhal

This dance is named for the Santhal community, a tribal people living throughout Bihar, Jharkhand, and Bengal in India. The Santhal dance is performed by men and women. The dance is performed during harvest festivals, and some of the steps and movements of the dance resemble the actions of harvesting. The men beat dhols, or carry mock dhols, during the dance, to announce the good harvest. The dancers form various patterns during the dance. Notably, the women form a line, dancing hip to hip, with arms around each others’ waists.

Folk dance of Mizoram – Cheraw Dance

Known popularly as the Bamboo Dance, Cheraw is performed by various tribes in Mizoram. It is performed at all festive occasions. Long poles of bamboo are laid across logs on the ground, one at each end. Each pair of poles is held at each end by a person who sits on the ground, holding one pole in each hand. Sometimes a number of such pairs are laid out parallel to each other. Sometimes two pairs are arranged in a cross. The bamboos are struck against each other, and the logs on the ground, in rhythm with the music. The dancers skip in and out between the bamboos, and avoid getting caught between them. Generally girls and women in traditional attire perform the dance, and skillfully weave patterns through the bamboo poles in time with the singing and drumming. The steps have variations, and sometimes mimic the movements of birds or other familiar actions. The dance gets faster and faster as it proceeds, demanding fast and precise footwork.

Highlights of South India

Folk dance of Kerala – Kaikottikali

Kaikottikali, or Thiruvathirakali, is an important women’s dance. The dancers move in a circle around a lit brass lamp, at times clockwise and sometimes anticlockwise. They sing songs and clap their hands. The leader of the group sings a line, which is repeated by the group to the rhythm of the clapping. The sideways body movements, up and down arm movements, and steps are common to the region, and resemble those of other dance forms of Kerela like Mohini Attam and Kathakali. The songs have themes of common interest to women. The women dress in Kerala style, in white dhotis with upper garments across the breast. They wear their hair in buns, decorated with a circle of jasmine flowers. The Kaikottikali is performed during the Thiruvathira and Onam festivals, as well as other times during the year.

Folk dance of Tamil Nadu – Kummi

This ancient but simple form of village dance is performed by women and young girls. They form a circle, sing lively Kummi songs, and clap hands to keep time. They step along the circle, or towards the center of the circle, and back.This dance is performed at temple festivals, during Pongal (a harvest festival) and Navaratri, and at family functions like coming of age ceremonies and weddings.

Highlights of West India

Folk dance of Goa – Fugdi dance

Fugdi dance is a Goan folk dance performed by women in the Konkan region. Fugdi is usually performed in the month of Bhadrapada which is an occasion for the women to take a break from their daily schedule and engage in dancing and merrymaking. The women sing and dance while enacting varied formations. Fugdi dance is also performed in many Hindu religious festivals like Ganesh Chaturthi, Dhalo and in other social and religious occasions. Meaning and Themes of Fugdi Dance While performing, the dancers blow air through the mouth at maximum pace. This sounds as ‘FOO’ hence the name Foogdi or Fugdi is kept. Fugdi songs are innumerable and the songs relate Puranic stories, family life, complaints, rivalries or people. Variations of Fugdi Dance Usually, Fugdi has two major variations; it is danced in a circle or by rows of dancers. Broadly, villages have a dance in a circle but forest settlements have it in rows. The dance is performed by enacting few fixed steps, hand gestures and hand laps. The dance begins with invocation to Hindu Gods. The pace is slow in the beginning but soon gains momentum finally reaching climax. The dance is not accompanied by any musical instrument. Katti Fugdi is a popular form, performed with coconut shells in their hands. A distinctive style of Fugdi is found among the Dhangar (shepherd community) women. No songs are sung to accompany the performances. Two women cross their hands and join with each other. They then spin around together, bending and swaying to a distinct rhythm.

Folk dance of Maharashtra – Lavani and Lezim

The Lavani, or Lavni, gets its name from the word lavanya, meaning beauty. The name refers to the music as well as the dance. The dance is performed by women only, and has certain typical flirtatious movements, like holding the pallu (or end) of the sari behind their heads and sliding it back and forth, and gyrating of the hips. It was used as entertainment to boost the morale of tired soldiers during war time, in the 18th and 19th centuries. The Lavani used to deal with varied topics, like politics, religion, and society. This was done in passages of the performance where the dancer would enact the lyrics of the poetry or song in a colloquial way, or even speak or lip-synch the words. These sequences of dialogue would alternate with entertaining dance. The dialogues no longer deal with present day situations; performances use old compositions.
The Lezim dance is named for the instrument used in the dance. The lezim is made of a wooden stick, to which is strung a flexible loop with cymbals or pieces of metal that make a clashing sound. The movements of Lezim resemble calisthenics and may be martial in origin. Various formations are created during the dance. Sometimes the dance is accompanied by a dhol (drum). Lezim is performed during the Ganesh Chaturthi festival.

Folk dance of Gujarat – Ras Garba

Named for the garba deep, or votive lamp , featured in this dance, the Garba is hugely popular in Gujarat. Garbo is nothing but a singular form of the name Garba. It is performed in honor of the Mother Divine, the goddess Kali or Durga, revered in Gujarat as Amba Mata or Mataji. The lamp symbolizes her energy, and the dancers move around it in a circle to invoke her blessings. In variations of this format, dancers may carry earthen pots on their heads with lights in them, or carry small lamps in their hands. The Garba often begins with a sacred offering, or aarti, for the Goddess, after which the central lamp is lit. Garba is essentially a women’s dance, but it is common for men to participate. It is performed at many auspicious occasions and social events. The prime time to see it is during the Navaratri festival dedicated to Amba Mata.
Dancers usually accompany their movements with clapping, but sometimes snap their fingers, or carry small cymbals called manjeera that they strike. In slower forms of Garba, and when pots are carried, there is no clapping, but just steps and body movements. There are a number of body movements, steps, arm movements, and ways of clapping, in the traditional form of Garba.

While there are different kinds of Raas, like the Tal Raas involving clapping, and the Dandiya Raas with sticks, the Raas of Gujarat generally refers to Dandiya Raas. The distinguishing feature of the Raas is the short sticks carried by the dancers, which they strike in rhythm.Raas is danced by men and women, sometimes together. A variant of this dance, the Rasdo, is danced exclusively by men. The Raas is mentioned in several ancient texts and is associated with Krishna and the gopis (cowgirls). Originally, the songs for Raas were only about Krishna and his stories, but other themes have come into use, with as much variety as in Garba music.The Raas starts slowly, and builds in tempo as it progresses, leading to an excited finish. The performers stand in a circle and take simple steps forward and backward, striking their sticks together and striking those of their neighbors. Sometimes they form two concentric circles, and the members of one circle switch places with those of the other circle. After each unit of repetition, dancers move along the circles to the next partner. If there are many participants, several small circles may be formed. Depending on the space, the dancers may even stand in rows facing each other, instead of circles.

Folk dance of Rajasthan – Ghoomar

The Ghoomar, or Ghumar, derives its name from the word ghoomna, meaning to spin. This is a dance performed by women, with simple but smooth movements, notably of the hips. Their voluminous decorated skirts swirl during their pirouettes, creating a graceful and glittering effect. The dance moves in a circular form, and goes both clockwise and anticlockwise. The accompanying songs may be sung alternately by men and women.The Ghoomar originated with the Bhils, a tribal people of Rajashtan. Due to their alliance with Rajput royalty, the Ghoomar was adopted by the royal women of Jaipur. They perform the dance on all auspicious and festive occasions, like weddings, but particularly during the festival of Navaratri.


Highlights of Fusion Dance

Indian Fusion DanceIndian Fusion Dance is an expression which is most intricate and is one of the most admired art forms in the country. The fusion dance style was created as a form that is adaptable to different types of music, different themes and different moods. The style started to give more scope for individual creativity, spontaneity and experimentation. Fusion dance thus became well accepted all over the country since its advent. Fusion dance is comparatively a new concept and it has seeped into several other realms of performing arts such as in music and theatre.

Indian Classical Fusion

Classical fusion dance is a style that synthesizes together the elements from different Indian classical dances and folk dances. The century long development of dance as an art-form initiated fusion dance to be a popular vocation or entertaining mode. The classical-folk fusion style became accepted as it was enthusiastically appreciated by audiences in India and across the world.

Indian Oriental Fusion

Indian Oriental Fusion Dance is a fusion of combinations inspired by classical Indian dance styles, the folklore dance of various nomadic cultures with Tribal and Oriental Dances, popularily known as Belly dance.

Indian Western Fusion

Fusion is an improvised dancing to any style of music that does not have a strictly defined dance aesthetic. Depending on the music and the dancers, fusion can mean creating a new dance style to unique music, or combining two or more established dance aesthetics into a single dance to reflect the sound of a song combining multiple influences. By finding the commonalities between various dance styles, or creating new movements, dancers can actively adapt and improvise their dance style to music of all influences.
Western dance styles popularily incoporated with Indian dance on Bollywood music are hip hop, ballet, Jazz and contemporary.

The term Bollywood was created by combining two names, Bombay (the city now called Mumbai) and Hollywood. Bollywood based in Mumbai (Bombay), is India’s – and the world’s – largest film industry in terms of the number of films produced, and also the number of tickets sold each year. In fact, Bollywood has become so internationally ubiquitous that it now has it’s own entry in the Oxford English Dictionary!The highlight of Bollywood movies are elaborate dance sequences and original soundtracks. Bollywood dance is the dance performed in Bollywood movies. Bollywood movies are mostly musicals and contain very catchy music in the form of song and dance numbers typically seen in Broadway musicals. “Songs and dances in Bollywood movies are a mode of indirect expression whereby characters can articulate thoughts and desires which may be inappropriate to state directly.” [Tejaswini Ganti, Bollywood: A Guidebook to Popular Hindi Cinema].
The Bollywood dance style is a beautiful blend of all Indian dance styles be it classical Indian dance, folk Indian dance or the more current R&B, hip hop music. Some people love Bollywood dances because there are no defined rules like classical dance styles. Some people love Bollywood because it exposes them to Indian culture. Others enjoy the vibrant music and colorful outfits. Whatever the reason, Bollywood dancing is a small glimpse into Indian culture that everyone should experience!