There are, at least, two basic distinctions between Indian dance and European dance . However, even to use the term ‘Indian Dance’ can be misleading. For there is of course no such single entity as Indian Dance anymore than there is such a single entity as ‘European Dance’. Dance in India is as varied in its genres, and as varied geographically, as dance is in Europe.
But a first and basic distinction difference between Indian dancing for performance and European dancing for performance is historical. For whereas the leading European performance form of ballet has a history of only a few hundred years (and modern or contemporary dancing only a few decades), Indian dancing (like Indian music) stretches back for millennia.
A second significant distinction derives from the religious differences between the European continent and the Indian sub continent. Dancing in Europe and dancing in India have both been significantly influenced by their respective religious traditions.
Some two thousand years of Christianity in Europe, and a variety of succeeding Christian traditions, have served almost entirely without exception to denounce, renounce, and wherever possible to expel dance (unlike art, words and music) from the cultural landscape. The impact of such cultural exile is enormous, and as a result not only is European dancing almost exclusively secular, there is also a vast ‘blank’ in the history of European dancing..
In contrast Hinduism, sometimes described as the oldest religion in the world, offers a pantheon of gods who not only dance. These gods also have a very active love life. Informed by these Hindu traditions, Indian dancing usually begins with a prayer or supplication, and can be simultaneously religious and erotic, spiritual and sensual.
Given these basic distinctions between European and Indian dance traditions we set out in our Indian dance programme to promote and celebrate the ‘differences’ without these differences becoming ‘divides’.
Between them Surya Kumari, Mallika Sarabhai, and the Kala Chethena Kathakali Company - and other contributors to the programme - served to demonstrate just how vast are the genres and possibilities of Indian dancing. Surya Kumari used her dancing to tell stories, to play, and to share an infectious sense of joie de vivre, Mallika Sarabhai to make a passionate protest against violence and to celebrate the power and creativity of women, and the Kala Chethena Kathakali Company to tell the most ancient of stories using the most elaborate and historical of costumes and makeup.