Monday, February 7, 2011

The Messages of Ancient Kathak Dance

The word “kathak” means story. Kathak is one of the classical dance forms of northern India. The Kathak dancers have obtained an incredible command of rhythm and movement, as demonstrated by their control of bell-laden feet and intricate synchronized hand and body movements. One foot can be adorned with over one hundred bells. A trained Kathak dancer can jump without causing the bells to sound. It is clear the dance requires a rigorous and committed training process. Historically, the dances took place in village squares or temple courtyards. I had the privilege of experiencing this dance at the Modern High School for Girls in central Kolkata. Although this location did not provide the same atmosphere as a temple courtyard, the intriguing part is that the location did not seem to matter. I am convinced the dances can speak to anyone in any setting.

When reading an article about the history and style of Kathak, I realized how words cannot sufficiently capture the dance. I was completely captivated by the dancers to a seemingly meditative state. I felt as though I could have watched for an endless amount of time. When I reflect on this feeling, part of this sentiment derived from the main female dancer. There was a liveliness and energy about her presence that flooded over into her dance. I wished to bottle up that radiating energy and somehow take it with me and share it with others. I am now unsure whether the magic of Kathak lies in the energy of the people who are dancing or if the dance training itself allows the dancers to develop the tranquility they project. Regardless, I was most thankful for this memorable afternoon as a reminder of the spirit that brilliantly shines when people are passionate about what they do.

The dancers create an unmistakable and firm *slap* sound with their feet, immediately drawing attention to the footwork of the dancer. This could easily lead one to think that this sound is achieved through force and strength. However, the opposite is true. I was surprised to find out that the key to making the *slap* sound of the foot is made possible through relaxation of the foot and presence of the mind and body. The ancient art of Kathak speaks to us today: our messages can resonate more clearly through practice of mental-centeredness and not through application of force.

Haley Yseth

Guest Blogger

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