Kathak is one of the eight major forms of Indian classical dance. According to some sourcebooks, the Kathak tradition is traceable to 400 BCE—it originated in North India as a devotional dance in temples, surviving as an oral tradition, learned and innovated from one generation to the next. It then adapted and integrated the tastes of the Mughal courts in the 16th and 17th century, was ridiculed and declined in the colonial British era, then was reborn as India gained independence and sought to rediscover its ancient roots and a sense of national identity through the arts.
The word Kathak means “storytelling.” The stories, based on Indian epics and Hindu mythology, are narrated through delicate hand gestures, graceful body movements and subtle facial expressions which constitute the expressive or mime aspect of the dance. This storytelling aspect is contrasted by the pure dance form which combines intensive footwork and expression of the complex rhythmic passages with the drama of exhilarating, consecutive pirouettes and statuesque poses. The skill of the dancer lies in manipulating the sound of 100-150 brass bells (ghungroos) tied to each ankle to recreate the accompanying music both aurally and visually. This imparts to the dance a sparkling character and requires the dancer to be a virtuoso through long and arduous practice.