Kathak, a story telling dance form, originated in the temples where the dance was performed by the bards, to narrate stories of Gods and Goddesses in the temples of ancient India. The name Kathak has its origins in the Sanskrit word Katha meaning story. It is predominant in the Ganges valley and Northwest India. The popularity of the style brought to the attention and patronage of the foreign rulers. The dancers competed for attention from their royal patrons and introduced more complex techniques and speed in the dance. These changes in the style made it unique which separated from other styles of Indian dance.
This dance style is the least structured and most spontaneous of the classical dance styles of India, encouraging informal and intimate rapport with the audience. Its beauty lies in the precise relationship of movements and rhythm, subtle gestures, graceful sweeps, rapid turns and the complex and precise footwork, as well as subdued, naturalistic evocation of human emotions. In fact, it is possible for a dancer to convey a story through rhythms and movements of Tukre, short, rhythmic, passages.
The most commonly used rhythmic pattern in a Kathak repertoire is the Teental or a pattern of 16 beats. The cycles are continually repeated. Its first beat is known as Sum. The precision of the arrival at the Sum after extended variations provides a dramatic climax, as seen in the Tukre, short rhythmic passages and Tatkaar, rhythmic footwork. A repetitive refrain, known as Lahra, provides the accurate rhythm for the dancer and the percussionist.
The stance is straight and the knees though flexible are kept in straight position unlike other styles. The feet are also kept flat on the ground. One of the salient features of Kathak are the Chakkars, fast turns very similar to a Sufi dancer.
The costume consists of Chudidar Pajama, tight trousers worn by both female and male dancers. Female dancers use either a Kurta, tunic or Lehanga, ankle length skirt and Choli, blouse with a Dupatta or scarf worn in a variety of ways. Male dancers wear Dhoti, fabric or Angarkha, long sleeved shirt with Kamarband, sash around the waist. The emphasis on the rhythmic aspect makes it important for a Kathak dancer to wear hundreds of ankle bells anywhere from 100 to 300 on each ankle.
Tabla or the two cylindrical drums are essential instrumental accompaniment in the present times. Before the 10th century when Tabla was introduced in the Indian music the dance was performed to the accompaniment of Pakhawas a two sided drums. The melody is played on a variety of instruments, Harmonium, Sitar, Sarangi or Sarod.