Bend It Like Bollywood, Part 1

9:05 PM

Bollywood dance is the dance-form used in the Indian films. It is a mixture of numerous styles. These styles include belly-dancing, kathak, Indian folk, Western popular, and "modern", jazz, and even Western erotic dancing. In this web page, we will look at Bollywood dance and place it within the commercial and artistic framework of the South Asian film world.

What Is Bollywood Dance?

Bollywood dance is a difficult topic to discuss because it is hard to pin down. Its exact definition, geographical distribution, and stylistic characteristics are amorphous. However in spite of all of this, it is surprisingly recognizable.

Let us begin by discussing the term "Bollywood". In the strict sense the term "Bollywood" refers to the Hindi culture, art, and film industry from Bombay. The other film centres of South Asia are often referred to by their own designations (e.g., Lollywood (Lahore), Tollywood (Andhra Pradesh)). However since the Bombay Hindi film industry dwarfs the other productions centres, the term "Bollywood" is generally extended to mean the entire South Asian film culture. For the purpose of this web-page, we will use the more general meaning.

The international appeal of Bollywood dancing is something that has been many decades in the making. Originally it was found only in places that had a significant consumption of Indian films (i.e., Former Soviet Union, and the Middle East). But a few years ago it started to become chic in Europe, and today it is rising in popularity in the US, and Canada. Today, dance schools that teach this style may be found in most major cities.

Bollywood dancing is the style of dance which developed in the Hindi film industry

Song and Dance In Indian FilmsIt is important to understand the relationship between theatre, music and dance in South Asia. Unlike the West, where the "musical" is considered to be just one of numerous genre, South Asians have a very difficult time conceiving of any theatrical or film endeavour that does not have music and dance. Films that are produced along the Western vein (sans music and dance) are consigned to the "art-film" category and generally meet with very limited commercial success. The only theatrical genre where song and dance are not expected, appears to be modern TV dramas. (i.e., "soap operas"). The unbroken tradition of linking theatre, music, and dance is traceable all the way back to the Natya Shastra (circa 2nd century BCE.)

Bollywood films must have song and dance, so it is reasonable to look into the styles of these dance forms. It turns out that this does not tell us much, because of the large number of dance styles that have been enfolded into it. Furthermore, Bollywood dancing has changed tremendously over the years.

Traditional Dance 

Elements Films before 1960 tended to draw heavily on classical and folk dance. Since neither "classical dance" nor "folk dance" are homogenous entities, one naturally expects to find considerable variations. Not surprisingly, early films from south India tended to show a lot of influence from Bharat Natyam and Kuchipudi while Hindi/ Urdu films tended to show strong influences of Kathak or the "mujara" dances that were associated with the tawaifs. Although these influences continue today, they seem to have become mixed with many more dance styles and have at time become unrecognisable as to their origins.


Clothing and costume are an extremely important element of the Bollywood dance. To a very great extent it will determine the "feel" that the dance will have in the film. With the right costume, one can do many things. If the film is a period piece, the proper costume goes a long way toward giving the feel of that period. If one is trying to make the dance scene dream-like or surrealistic, then obviously one goes for costumes that in no way relate to the clothing found in real life. If you are trying to give an erotic sizzle to an item number you can.... well you can figure that one out for yourself. Costumes can also be used to reflect the latest fashions, thus reinforcing the topicality of a dance number.

Proper costumes contribute to the overall "feel" of the dance

Over the decades many great artists have excelled in the field of costume design. In recent times Manish Malhotra (e.g., "Kabhi Alvida Na Kehna", "Veer Zaara", "Kal Ho Na Ho"), Neeta Lula (e.g. "Devdas", "Mission Kashmir"), or Bhanu Athaiya. ("Swades", "Lagaan", "1942: A Love Story", "Gandhi") have made great names for themselves. But these artists are only part of a long tradition which extends back for about a century.

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