Dancing Your Way To A Healthy Life

Indian classical dance is a wonderful way to foster a healthy mind, body and soul. Find out why you should enrol your child in a dance class now.

By Kalyani Krishna

Dancing Your Way To A Healthy Life

Pragnya Jayanti, a class X student of Kendriya Vidyalaya, Chennai, regularly participates in various dance programmes in her school. One of the tallest girls in her class, this 16-year-old Kuchipudi dancer believes in balancing her studies and passion for dance.

However, this wasn’t the story up until eight years ago. Back then, during her primary school days, Pragnya (who wasn’t into dance then) was bullied for being chubby and short. To counter this, she took to classical dancing, and thus began her journey of transformation into a happy and healthy child. Her mother, Kalpana Jayanti, is a Kuchipudi dancer herself. Having watched her mother teach dance to several little girls like her, Pragnya took to traditional dance instinctively.

“I was never asked to learn dance by my mother but I voluntarily took up the art form. My mother is a hard taskmaster and wouldn’t let us go till we got all our steps, body movements, mudras and facial expressions right. I used to write on a piece of paper asking my mother why she was so hard on me, and slipped it under her pillow. However, I soon realised that she was my guru first and then my mother. My mom's rigorous training paid off in no time. I started slimming down and my muscles toned up. I overcame the tag of an obese girl. Voila! I started playing all kinds of sports, and the bullying stopped,” says Pragnya with a wide grin, as her mother nods in agreement.

Health benefits of classical dance

The various forms of Indian classical dance, each with its unique nature, are believed to have originated from Lord Shiva also known as Nataraja – Lord of Dance. 

As dancers move their bodies and perform to the beat of music and chime of anklets, they emote through abhinaya (action), aangika (gestures), vaachaka (dialogue) and ahaarya (make-up). All traditional Indian dance forms involve total body movement – the sway of the torso, hand movements and footwork.

Facial expressions are created by moving the muscles of the face. Eyes and eyebrows are used to portray a variety of moods and emotions during the performance. This establishes a relationship between the body and mind. 

Welcome to the world of new-age-yet-ancient dance therapy that involves traditional Indian dance forms. The physical fitness gained with rigorous dance practice is priceless. Further, Ayurveda believes dance has the power to heal and create inner awareness.

Though the therapeutic value of classical dances started gaining popularity in India only recently, it is a well-adapted thought and concept in the Western world. Dance Movement Therapy (DMT) looks at the use of dance and movement to support the psychiatric, intellectual, emotional and physical functions of the body.

Renowned Kathak dancer Jigyasa Giri believes that Indian classical dances embody the rich heritage and culture of India. “When we dance, it is not just about body movements. One should also understand that it helps the dancer to stay happy and develop a positive attitude towards life,” she says.

Dr Arpita Chatterjee, assistant professor at Barasat College in West Bengal, teaches molecular biology to her students but her research isn’t confined to plant life alone. Dr Arpita is also a renowned researcher in the therapeutic value of Indian classical dance forms.

Dr Arpita's own life experience led to her interest in researching classical dance forms and their health benefits. “I couldn’t walk properly till I was five years old. My mother enrolled me in a Kathak dance class and my gait slowly improved to perfection.” She adds, “The fast footwork of Kathak helps to release anger and tension. The thaat (first composition performed after vandana during a solo performance) in this dance form includes strong torso movements that serve as a form of physical exercise.” 

Dr Arpita shares her insights on the therapeutic value of various Indian classical dance forms.

Dancing Your Way To A Healthy Life

Bharatanatyam: According to Dr Arpita, Bharatanatyam is one of the most beautiful dance forms of our country. It requires the dancer to perform dance movements in a half-seated posture, which helps in muscle enhancement while also slimming the body width. “It is like a rhythmic exercise. The facial expressions help the dancer to stay happy and get over psychological issues. However, too much practice without proper guidance can hurt your knees badly.” So, necessary precautions have to be taken.

Kuchipudi: This dance form, which originated in Andhra Pradesh, is a mix of both abhinaya (expressions) and fleeting dance movements. Since it is mostly abhinaya-oriented, it helps the dancer emote in a better way and overcome stress. “It is a dance form that gives stronger muscles, especially in the abdominal area and the back,” says Dr Arpita.

Kathak: This dance form, which originated in North India, is all about spin, feet movement and expressions. Dr Arpita opines that Kathak’s uniqueness lies in fast spinning and strong footwork that releases anger, stress and pressure. She adds that Kathak also helps in keeping the back intact. “This dance form strengthens the spine. People suffering from severe spondylitis can benefit from this dance form,” says Dr Arpita.

Odissi: This is a traditional temple dance form, based on thribhangi, from the state of Odisha. This dance form involves leaping from a sitting posture followed by slick footwork. “If you observe, Odissi dancers have thinner waists and look tall. A recent study revealed that they have good lung functioning besides stronger muscles in the legs and thighs,” says Dr Arpita.

Dancing Your Way To A Healthy Life

Manipuri: The traditional dance form of North-Eastern states, Manipuri is about soft and delicate movements. Dr Arpita explains that Manipuri dancers are required to express emotions while performing circular movements. This keeps them very alert. She says, “Practising Manipuri gives the dancers an overall control of their body and mind.”

Kathakali: This unique classical dance form from Kerala includes many facial expressions involving the movements of the eyebrows and the eyeballs. “Kathakali relaxes facial muscles and leg extensions. It works wonders for children suffering from autism, who tend to have difficulty in making eye contact with others. Practising Kathakali regularly helps in strengthening other body muscles as well,” opines Dr Arpita.

Mohiniattam: This dance form from Kerala is a solo recital performed by female dancers. Dr Arpita believes those performing Mohiniattam have stronger thighs, central leg and superficial ankle muscles. Noted Mohiniattam dancer Gopika Varma has seen her students express their feelings in a better and graceful manner. “Mohiniattam improves one’s attitude and helps develop a positive outlook towards life,” she says.

The positive effects of the therapeutic value of Indian dance forms are aplenty. It is all about the willingness to achieve a healthy lifestyle by dancing to the rhythmic sounds of Nattuvangam with grace and grandeur. So, go ahead and encourage your child to dance her way into health, happiness and harmony.

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