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Introduction to the Natyasastra: A Good Start!

Devina Wallang 26th June 2013. 10:20 a.m

India has a rich and diverse culture that reflects the wide facets of our heritage. An integral part of our heritage is the colourful and vibrant treasure of performing arts encompassing theatre, dance and music.
The Natyashastra, attributed to sage Bharata, defines most of the structure and terminology of Indian classical dance, classical music and theatre. In fact, the Natyashastra forms the basis of all movements for a variety of dance forms even across South East Asia (Reference: Karanas-Common dance codes of India and Indonesia by Dr. Padma Subrahmanyam).

Apart from being a source of ancient knowledge, how can learning the Natyasastra movements help?

Indian Classical Dance is characterized by the complexity of elaborate footwork which involves rhythmic footwork. The upper body is generally fluid and graceful while the arms, hands and the face of the dancer are always active expressing and gesturing events, ideas and emotions. The Natyashastra provides a firm foundation, to achieve grace and progress in Indian Classical Dance. Some advantages are briefly mentioned below:

Core Control and Precision – The core is the center of gravity from which all movements originate. Exercises and movements in the Natyashastra strengthen the core so it helps stabilizes the legs, mobilizing the bones, stretches the muscles, facilitates lifts and leaps, bending and adding grace to movements. Developing the core also aids in balance and coordination of the two halves of the body (the left side and the right side) and thus produces an artistic and perfect symmetry, essential for a good dancer.

Buoyancy and Agility – The Charis incorporate a number of animal related movements that are useful for developing a sense of buoyancy and improving the agility of the dancer. Indian Classical Dance pieces string together a variety of steps, which require great agility to switch from one movement to another without losing the essence of the story or the attention of the audience.

Health and Energy – Regular work on these body conditioning exercises will not only strengthen one physically and instill energy, but also enhance self awareness and psychological well being. Dancers become aware of their strengths and limitations and can consciously work towards enhancing what they are already good at and working on improving what they can be better in.

The Course: Introduction to the Natyasastra

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Thus, Arpana is organizing a three month course on “Introduction to the Natyashastra” so that trained dancers and inspiring dancers alike can explore this vocabulary in a positive, encouraging and committed environment. The course will cover the major Anga Bhedas (movements of the major limbs), Bhoo Charis and Aakash Charis (body conditioning using earth and sky levels). Apart from this dancers will also learn Hasta and Pada Bhedas( From the Abhinaya Darpana) and traditional Odissi body condioning exercises.
The course spans over three months (24 classes of one hour each) on weekends.

It is open to students of any age background. Not only is it a great way to introduce children to learning dance but also adults who feel that their bodies will not allow them to dance anymore will discover that this course will coax their bodies to dance!

Becoming a good dancer is not just about learning complicated steps and movements. It’s about understanding yourself, your body and developing confidence in your art and skills which comes with a good foundation in dance.