Classical Indian and Bollywood dance performances

offer a magnificent glimpse of India’s culture.

 Our Indian dance troupe performs outdoors

Bollywood dance

draws on Indian dance traditions. The roots of classical Indian dance styles reach far back in time, given that they relate to ancient Sanskrit scriptures. Here dance is said to have been imagined and brought to life by Brahma, the Hindu God of creation.


Brahmā, unlike other Indian gods, holds no weapons. In one of his hands he holds the Vedas, the oldest Sanskrit literature, seen as the source of knowledge.

Brahma lies at the origin of classical Indian and Bollywood dance performances
Brahma lies at the origin of classical Indian and Bollywood dance performances

Brahma inspired an ancient Indian musicologist to write a treatise on performing arts. It was from this treatise that a codified practice of dance and drama emerged. Just how embedded dance is in Indian culture is I believe illustrated by the fact that three of the best known Hindu deities, namely Shiva, Kali and Krishna are represented dancing.

India’s three major deities, Shiva Kali and Krishna are anchored in dance



How different this is to Christian representations of God.

Last week, after we had staged a Bollywood performance and dance class, one of the ladies participating marveled at the Indian tradition of dance. “We have nothing like this in Australia” she sighed. “The Scottish, they at least have a national dance, but we have nothing.” The only thing I could think of was dancing to:”Click go the shears boys; click, click, click.”


She continued: “Imagine how much more joyful our culture would be if it was anchored in dance.” She had a good point there.

Bollywood dance also has a nationalistic meaning as it was revived during the 1930s and 1940 as part of India’s nationalist movement which brought about independence from British colonial rule for India. Bollywood dance represents India as a whole, it doesn’t just speak to one religious group, geographical area or caste. The music it uses is eclectic: it incorporates styles from all areas of India and combines classical, religious and folk music. Also, in the world Bollywood Christians marry Hindus, Hindus marry Moslems and people from different societal levels collaborate and succeed. Dhudiraj Govind Phalke who is considered to be the father of Bollywood believed that this indigenous Indian approach was a key to India’s freedom and autonomy from British colonial rule.

Classical Indian dance

can also relate to Indian mythology. The choreography in some performances we offer explores aspects of the Hindu god Shiva: his cosmic destruction, his meditative nature that sustains life, and the eternal cycle of creation and death which he initiates.

Dancing Shiva
The challenge contemporary Indian dancers face is how to use the aesthetic and expressive potential of classical Indian dance without being dismissed as old-fashioned and marginal.

The relationship between Bollywood dance and classical Indian dance

is somewhat controversial. The growing popularity of Bollywood dance and frequent tendency to believe that Bollywood dance is the same Indian dance has caused much concern among classical Indian dancers. Bollywood dance is gaining in popularity at the expense of Indian classical dance. Classical Indian dancers see Bollywood as less refined, and indeed it is more accessible, malleable and fun than Indian classical dance.

henspartyideasadelaide com au bollywood dance indian mela 2015

I shot this video just a few days ago at the Indian Mela, a wonderful celebration of Indian culture that takes place here in Adelaide every year. I marvelled at the magnificent colours the young girls adorned themselves with and the joy they experienced through this highly energetic dance.

The music for Bollywood dance is readily accessible through U-tube. Music to classical Indian dances is however often closely guarded. Teachers of the classical Indian dance will only share certain music when they deem the student ready to learn and perform it. First students must master set dances and it takes years before an Indian classical dance student has a dance to show and even longer before they can perform in public. Our Indian dancers have been trained in classical Indian dance in India.

Unexpectedly, the censorship the Indian government imposed on Bollywood films had a valuable impact on Bollywood dance. Viewers who are used to Hollywood movies with corresponding expectations of what a musical should be are often bewildered and astounded by Bollywood movies. The dance seems exaggerated, the interactions between the stars seems corny and the film seems piecemeal, with song and dance stuffed in wherever they might fit. PerformersTraditionalCostume


After India’s independence from Britain sex was forbidden in Indian movies, including any ”blatant physical contact” that might suggest it. This is why Bollywood dancers have exaggerated body language. In a romantic scene the two lead dances may do nothing more than bump shoulders. All they may do to compensate for the missing sexuality is keep their faces very close to each other without touching.

Bollywood songs speak of true love. So a love scene will require song and dance. Hence what may look like over acting, or sound like corny dialogue or give the impression that song and dance appear out of nowhere was a logical reaction to censorship. Over time these characteristics became the essential aesthetic of Bollywood.

One reason why music and dance became so important in Bollywood films was that in performances before the times of film- that is classical Sanskrit drama, Parsi  theatre and folk theatre- dance, song and music were tightly integrated an essential element. The first Bollywood film music was heavily influenced by Indian classical music and use classical tunes (ragas) and rhythms (an 8 beat or a 6 beat meter).

Modern forms of Bollywood dance

often also blend Indian dance elements with Western dance styles. Dancers use their entire body to express its high energy- from the toes right up to the very tips of the fingers and everything in between.



Classical Indian and Bollywood dance performances are highly energetic
Classical Indian and Bollywood dance performances are highly energetic

It was in the 70s that Bollywood dance began to change. Cabaret style dance became more mainstream and could be found in Bollywood movies. Later cabaret was replaced by disco music. Then came an era in which Bollywood freestyle was introduced into Bollywood dancing. Dancers like Govinda

I am a Street Dancer - Govinda, Amit Kumar, Ilzaam Song

developed a new style of Bollywood dance.

Since the 80s and the creation of MTV Bollywood dance has incorporated Western dance styles. In the early 80s, rock and roll fused with Indian music. Jazz saxophonist John Coltrane recorded a piece called ’India’ embracing the fusion of jazz and Indian music. George Harrison from the Beatles played the sitar in his song ‘Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)’ thereby fusing Indian music and rock music. Mainstream hip-hop artists have collaborated with Indian artists to create a fusion between Indian music and hip-hop.

Hai Dil Ye Mera | Full Audio Song | Arijit Singh | Hate Story 2

For example, the Black Eyed Peas sampled “Yeh Mera Dil” in their hit ‘Don’t Phunk with My Heart’

The Black Eyed Peas - Don't Phunk With My Heart

To end my little excursion through the history of Bollywood Dance, I’d like to add that the term Bollywood was created by combining the two names ‘Bombay’ (a city now called Mumbai) where India’s largest film industry with regard to the number of films that are produced is based, and ‘Hollywood’. I find it interesting that Bollywood movies comprise only about 20% of the total film output of India.

In a nutshell, Bollywood dance really is more than a style of dance: it’s a multilayered experience in which music, dance, drama, storytelling and performance meet to create a magical world where everything is possible.


In Bollywood dance there are so many different flavours to appreciate. But just like when one first learns to appreciate good wine, we Westerners who are initially unaccustomed to its seeming strangeness, can derive much pleasure when we  allow our palate to savour and relish it.

Call us on 0410 767 869 or email us and we will organise a Classical Indian or Bollywood Dance Performance for you.



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