We’re all familiar with the Bollywood dancing seen on the silver screen. Thanks to the popularity of shows like So You Think You Can Dance, Bollywood dancing is becoming a mainstream dance in the United States especially.
It’s exciting and fun, but where did it come from? Also referred to as Indian film dancing, it’s not uncommon to catch a glimpse of this unique dance style in Western TV and movies. With dramatic facial expressions, cinematic elements, and a lot of cardio, it’s no wonder this dance craze is catching on across the globe.
In this article, we’ll take a closer look at just what makes Bollywood dance so unique. We’ll travel back through time to uncover the history of Bollywood dance, as well as talk about the ways it’s gaining popularity today not just as a dance, but as a fitness exercise.
Movements: Graceful but energetic
Bollywood dance is usually highly synchronized and done with a large group. This is what makes Bollywood dance so mesmerizing and exciting to watch. The high energy from the group brings the entire performance together and adds to the story element. Bollywood dance includes hand movements, neck and head movements, facial expressions, foot movements, and costumes. Each of these elements combined to create a fusion of dance and theater.
Hand movements are a type of sign language and are referred to as ‘mudra’. Believe it or not, they help in telling a story. Sometimes they’re done with one hand, other times they’re done with both hands. When you learn the basics of Bollywood dance, you’ll learn what these hand movements mean in storytelling. Next, the head and neck movements add to the feeling of fluidity. This is one of the most noticeable parts of the dance, and it helps dancers increase their facial expressions.
Last but not least, the foot movements tie the style together. Though not as obvious to an untrained viewer, these foot movements are highly complicated, and they’re also similar to ballet feet. The bounce of their steps is similar to the English ‘chicken step’, and it takes a lot of practice to perfect.
Classical Dance Styles
Originally Bollywood dances drew from Indian classical dance styles, namely: Bharatnatyam and Kathak. Both of these styles are used as a way to tell traditional stories through movements and rhythm. While Bharatnatyam was originally a temple dance from South India, Kathak, on the other hand, is a dance of love that originated from the Northern regions of India. These dance styles are brought into Bollywood films as a way to progress the story and liven the mood.
Costume – Of course, no dance would be complete without the right costumes. Like most Indian celebrations, Bollywood dance is a colorful affair. Many of these costumes pay homage to traditional dance styles, but it’s also not uncommon to see a more modern take on the outfits. The design or color of the costume also depends on the kind of dance that is presented. For example, the dance of the courtesan, known as Mujrah, is very popular in some Bollywood movies, so you’ll often see a specific costume style for that dance. While vibrant colors dominate the Bollywood show, a spiritual dance would be represented with a pure white costume.
History: An evolving style through decades
Now that you understand the basics of Bollywood dance, let’s examine how it developed into such a powerful, well-known movement today. Bollywood takes after Hollywood, and it has become the largest film industry in the world.
Bollywood films take after the Hollywood musicals popular in the United States in the 1940s and 50s, with extravagant, choreographed dance numbers. The dances are intended to support the storyline in most cases. But a recent trend also shows some numbers that are stand-alone and are popular as ‘Item number’ in Bollywood movie slang.
Bollywood dances initially were based on Indian classical dance styles as well as Indian folk dances. Folk dance and music have made a name for themselves in Bollywood dance. The most commonly seen Indian folk dances are Bhangra and Garba. These styles quickly merged with popular dance styles from around the globe, and now Bollywood dance is considered a new genre of its own.
The classic age of Bollywood cinema began in the 1930s and continued through the 1960s. This is where many of India’s favorite films were created, though the development of the budding dance style continued long after. Dance styles like Arabic belly dancing, Latin movements, and others, are all mixed with Bollywood dance. In the 1980s, Bollywood began to be heavily influenced by American MTV and Broadway. Soundtracks were released alongside the film, and hip-hop elements became a common element of Bollywood dance.
The popularity of Bollywood films and dance elements doesn’t stop with India’s borders. With the popularity of global streaming platforms like Netflix, YouTube, Hulu and others, Bollywood dance films are spreading across the globe. More dancers of all backgrounds from across the world are choosing to learn how to incorporate elements of Bollywood in their own routines, and it’s even becoming a fitness craze in its own right.
Bollywood dance is also on demand for weddings and special events, especially in the United States where it’s gaining popularity fast. Bollywood dancers bring with them a touch of whimsy and high-energy excitement that’s a wonder to behold.
(Dancers wearing Garba costume; PC: Dance BFF)
Experiencing Bollywood Dance
Are you ready to embrace this exciting new dance style for yourself? With elements of both traditional Indian dances and Western dances, this is a great introduction to dancing no matter your skill level. You get to wear exciting dance performance costumes, get moving, and express yourself all at once.
Embrace your inner Bollywood star by taking a class for yourself. You don’t need any prior experience to learn the basics, and you might even discover a new passion. There’s a reason Bollywood dance is so popular around the world, and it’s time for you to discover the joy of Bollywood for yourself.