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10 Traditional Indian Dance Moves to Groove With This Summer

4 min read

by Shilpa Prasad

by Karishma Desai

Before Mithun Chakraborty’s modern moves in the film “I am a Disco Dancer” and Shah Rukh Khan’s famous DDLJ steps, Indians enjoyed a more traditional style of dance.

Today, these styles are slowly making a comeback but often don’t achieve the same fame as Bollywood dance routines of the last decade.

There are now eight official classical dance styles and many folk styles, with Bhangra and Raas being the best known.

If you are a trendsetter who wants to break into some unique Indian dance moves, then check out the following list of steps and routines from classical to folk dance styles.

After all, the next worst thing to wearing the same dress as someone at a party is doing the same dance steps during a dance-off, and they do happen.

1. “How Low Can You Go?”

Style: Bharatanatyam

Step: Mandi Adavu

Origin: South India

Originating more than 2,000 years ago, Bharatanatyam is a classical dance style that emphasizes linearity, stylized hand gestures, deep knee-bends, facial expressions and an erect torso. One of the most difficult Bharatanatyam steps is, Mandi Adavu, or knee step, which involves arduous floor work.

2. “Gotta Give You Props, Literally…”

Style: Kuchipudi

Routine: Tharangam

Origin: South India

Kuchipudi is a classical dance style that is similar to Bharatanatyam. The emphasis is on fluidity, rather than linearity and consists of more complex steps, performed at a swifter pace.

One highly-advanced dance piece, Tharangam, involves balancing a pot of water on one’s head while dancing on the sides of a plate. Talk about a balancing act!

3. “Turns for Days”

Style: Kathak

Step: Chakkars

Origin: North India

Performed in a standing posture, Kathak is a classical dance style that does not emphasize stylized hand gestures as much as South Indian styles. The arms move gracefully and footwork is given prominence.

Chakkars are the characteristic turns done in Kathak and can be done in place or used to move around.

4. “My Torso Doesn’t Lie”

Style: Odissi

Step: Torso Movements

Origin: Eastern India

Emphasizing graceful arm movements and percussive footwork, Odissi is a classical dance style that is well-known for its dynamic range in steps. From the feminine tribhangi (deflection of the head and hip to one side, and chest to the opposite side), to the masculine chouka (square-squat stance).

Torso movements are an especially important skill to master in Odissi dance.

5. “Let’s Just Take it Slow”

Style: Manipuri

Step: Chaali Arebi

Origin: Northeast India

Manipuri is known for its vibrant costumes, brilliant music and soft execution. This art form is special because of its tight connection and integration with the traditions and rituals of Manipur.

Unlike other Indian classical dance forms, Manipuri does not incorporate exaggerated expressions or percussive footwork. Chaali steps are simplistic but graceful. They involve turning from side-to-side using light footsteps.

6. “Sway with it, Rock with it”

Style: Mohiniyattam

Step: Chari

Origin: South India

Literally Mohiniyattam translates to the “dance of the enchantress,” the gentle sway of the upper body will mesmerize anyone who is watching the dancer.

Compared to other South Indian dance styles, it involves less restraint and the movements have an airy and bouncy quality. Chari steps embody attractive gaits and are especially important in Mohiniyattam.

7. “Keep Your Eyes on Me”

Style: Kathakali

Step: Eye and Eyebrow Movements

Origin: South India

Kathakali (no relation to Kathak) is one of the most unique theatre dance forms in the world. Dancers play various roles during the group performances, and perform vigorous body movements, with impressive eye and eyebrow movements too.

The stylized eye movements portray the mood the dance seeks to express.

8. “Break it Down”

Style: Sattriya

Steps: Mati Akhara

Origin: Northeast India

Want to add some flavor to your break dancing? Sattriya blends yoga-like ground postures, beautiful dance and drama for effective communication to the audience.

Originally restricted to male monks in monasteries, Sattriya is now performed by men and women for secular occasions, as well. The dance aspects involve sprightly arm movements and springy footwork. Mati Akhara, the basic steps, prepare dancers for more complex moves.

9. “Don’t Drop that Dandiya”

Style: Garba/Raas

Step: Sway

Origin: West India

Get ready to twirl and sway with garba and raas, which are traditional Gujarati dance styles known for their fast pace and energetic moves. The key props are wooden sticks called dandiyas and are often used by a dancer to tap a partner’s dandiya.

Traditionally, garba involves a series of steps including spinning and swaying. The sway is one of the many steps that show the fluidity of a garba move.

So, if you are looking for a night full of dance and fun, grab a partner and a pair of dandiya sticks!

10. “Swagger like Mick Jagger”

Style: Bhangra

Step: Jhoomar

Origin: North India

How can you hear dhols and not want to dance?

Originating from Punjab, Bhangra is one of the most uplifting and energetic Indian dance forms. Starting out as a folk dance associated with the spring harvest festival, it has now turned into a celebratory dance style performed during many occasions.

Bhangra is known for its strong kicks and high jumps. One specific move that demonstrates the softer side of this dance is called jhoomar and is considered to be one of the hardest steps to master. The beat of the dhol urges the audience to dance along with the performers and shout, “Balle! Balle!


Shilpa Prasad is currently a pre-med student at Boston University. In her free time she loves to dance, read and binge watch TV shows! Her goal as a writer for Brown Girl Magazine is to connect with girls all around the world by sharing her own unique experiences and ideas.

Recently accepted into Boston University’s MS Journalism program, Karishma B. Desai freelances for the award-winning IndyWeek and was a former intern for UNC-TV (North Carolina’s PBS Affiliate). When she’s not writing articles at Starbucks, you can find her videotaping a new adventure for YouTube or interviewing inspirational people for a documentary. She is a city girl who is working towards her dreams of becoming a TV reporter focusing on health policy.

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