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The art form that is Kathak

The art form that is Kathak


Kathak is a form of classical dance. The word is derived from the Sanskrit word Katha which means story and Kathakar which means the storyteller. The dancers tell stories through hand movements, footwork, body flexibility, and facial expressions. It’s largely a performance that has thrived because of oral traditions, passed down from one generation to the next through practice. 

Namrata KC, who runs Aesthetic Dance Studio, is a professional dance instructor. She finds Kathak to be soothing and therapeutic. KC spoke to Babita Shrestha from ApEx to learn more about this intriguing dance form. 

What is Kathak?

Kathak is a classical dance that is performed in the form of a story. In Kathak, there are three basics, Nritta, Nritya, and Natya. You can find rhythmic footwork called ‘tatkar’, hand motions called ‘mudras’, facial expressions, spinning, storytelling, and a lot more. Nritta is just the presentation of graceful bodily movements such as mudras, tatkars, and other body bends while nritya is about emotions and facial expressions. Similarly, natya is primarily about concept and storytelling.

Does Kathak have different levels?

With practice, the structure and level of complexity expand. Different schools use different teaching methods. Some schools hold classes for three months and eventually, hourly lessons practicing nritta, nritya, and natya. You will be taught body motions, posture, and the basic idea of tatkars and mudras at the beginner's level. As you learn, you will be able to perform intermediate-level facial expressions and other complex bodily actions. At the advanced level, you can practice spins or ‘chakkar’, rhythmic cycles known as ‘taal’, storytelling, and character portrayal.

How can dancers maintain balance and proper posture during complex Kathak movements?

The most important technique in classical dancing is practice. You will develop your individual styles as you practice. Everyone learns at a different pace so you should avoid comparing yourself to others. Learning any dance form is about being persistent and committed.  If you are learning Kathak, you must focus on developing core strength.  Through workouts such as planks and abdominal exercises, you can strengthen your core. Footwork is a very important component of Kathak. You should improve your ankle strength and work on your foot placement during spins. Good breathing techniques and a fixed gaze known as ‘spotting’ are crucial to prevent body imbalance. Most importantly, you must remember to warm up and stretch to improve your flexibility and posture. Use affirmative prayers and manifestation before dancing so that you can begin by absorbing positive energy from the surroundings. 

How do you develop proficiency in Kathak?

Taal plays an important role in coordinating footwork, handwork, and expression with the beat of music. To excel, you must first master the various taals by use of claps. Regularly listening to classical music can familiarize you with its variations, which can benefit you during practice. You can improve your performance by seeking professional assistance. You have to first learn the basics and then practice, practice, practice. Ankle bells, also called ‘ghungroo’, can help a lot as they allow you to make music, balance your body, and focus on timings.

Is it difficult to convey expressions effectively through your movements?

Dancers employ expressions, also known as ‘abhinaya’, to convey a message. At first glance, dance and emotion may appear difficult to balance. To make sure the facial expression seems natural and not forced, you must first understand the dance to feel an emotional rush. As an instructor, I can assure you that practice with emotions will indeed help you synchronize expression with bodily movements.

Why should you learn Kathak?

I think of Kathak as a meditative activity that helps in reducing stress. It will improve your mental health. Not only that, it will also keep you physically active. From personal experience, I can say that it makes you interested and enthusiastic about learning and exploring. 

It’s now very simple to find Kathak resources online. However, as an artist, I urge that you begin your practice with a professional instructor. For example, if you’re learning at home using a video streaming platform, improper form could result in injuries and other issues. Furthermore, digital sources might not provide you with a thorough understanding of the intricate dance form. But once you’ve mastered the fundamentals, you can take references from the internet and learn on your own.