Modern Dance in India

  • Apart from the rich classical dance traditions and folk dance we have in our country, there is also presence of many contemporary (modern) dance forms in India. There is a general perception that modern dance is an extension of western dances. However, such a perception is not true, Indian modern dances are a genre by themselves though they may not have found the same kind of recognition as classical dances of India. Where Classical dances have a regimented and codified way of going about, modern dances on the other hand is based primarily on the imagination.Modern Indian dance has an interesting history where Uday Shankar has been credited as the Father of Modern Indian dance. Other famous modern dancers in India include- Shanti Bardhan, Shobana Jeyasingh, Amala Shankar, Dr. Manjushree Chaki-Sarkar, Ranjabati Sarkar and more.


About Uday Shankar

He was one of the first dancers to create a fusion of sorts. He started by dancing in cafes and cabarets in Paris in the 1930’s until he partnered Anna Pavlova. He gave the western audiences a flavor of Indian ballet in terms of dance forms, costumes and colors. He broke away from the traditional forms by not differentiating between Nirtta and Abhinaya.

The primary aspect of his modern dance was the movement of the body for the sake of its own. Here music was composed after the dance composition and therefore, it was the movement of the free flowing body that was of utmost importance. Some of his important and popular productions are Lanka Dahan, Panchatantra and others.

Uday Shankar in one his dance concerts

Dance and popular cinema

Dancing has always been an integral part of Indian cinema. The dance forms have ranged from Classical styles to modern dances, folk dances and western styles. But contemporary dance forms have in fact, been most propounded by cinema along with the advent of various contemporary dance schools and academies.

Some of the popular centers and academies that are hubs for contemporary dance forms include the Attakkalari Centre for Movement Arts in Bangalore, National Centre for the Performing Arts or NCPA, Terence Lewis Academy, Gati Dance Forum in Delhi and more. 

The growth of cinema, globalization and westernization has led to a fusion of contemporary and ancient dance forms in India. There is also a general increase in Indians adopting other non-Indian dance forms such as- ballet, freestyle dance, Polka Ten Step etc

Ballet-dancing in India

Is the survival of Indian classical dance and folk dance traditions threatened by the rise of non-Indian dance forms in India?

Some have opined that the growing westernization poses an existential threat to ancient dance forms of India as it begins to lose appeal amongst the masses. However, such fears are unfounded since, the popularity of the classical dance forms continue to grow and this popularity growth is experiences in other countries as well. Ex: A 50-year-old theatre artiste Ileana Citaristi who, in 1979, flew down to India with her parents from Bergamo, Italy, to learn the various Indian dance forms. Only 11 years old then, Citaristi fell so in love with Indian classical dance forms, especially Odissi, that she never took the flight back home.


Threats that Indian classical dance form actually faces:

  • Despite all this, however, classical dance forms in India face two major hurdles. First and foremost is the paucity of time and depreciating attention spans of the audience. With increasing dependence on technology and lives becoming fast-paced
  • The second hurdle is funding. Organizers say for any classical concert to reach a huge audience, one need to scale up investment.

The fundamentals of the Indian classical traditions are strong and also the flexibility shown by the classical dance forms allows it to adopt and adept itself to the changing times. However, the challenges related to funding should be addressed by the government and other relevant stakeholders to ensure that Indian classical dance traditions are not threatened. Perhaps, most importantly, care should be taken to ensure that folk dance traditions in India are supported through appropriate measures by the stakeholders involved to ensure its survival.