8 comments on “Kathak and Tap Dance: Similarities, Connections in Classic Films, and – Finally – Duets and Quartets!

  1. Thank you for this post, Richard; this was so interesting! I feel a bit foolish for not having seen the obvious parallels between kathak and tap dance before, given that I have seen both dances multiple times. I didn’t have time to see all the clips, but I did see a couple of them – the SPEAK performances – and loved them.

    Thank you, again. This was a revelation for me. :-)

  2. You’re welcome, Madhu. If you didn’t have a chance to look at all the videos, that’s fine – thank you for reading my long post. :) I am glad you had a chance to look at the SPEAK videos to see how good they are. (And I also know that you watched and liked the scene from American Blend when I tossed that one up on Facebook a couple of weeks ago.)

    I don’t know if it’s foolish not to notice the similarities between kathak and tap. LOL I like these dance forms a lot and I’ve focused on them with great interest over the years. On the other hand, you might find that there are surprising holes in my knowledge of films in general, especially those from the U.S. (which people might think I would know about more than I know about Golden Age Hindi films – in which case they would be mistaken). When you’ve chosen to write up American film classics in your blog, quite a few of them have been new to me. There is a decent chance that I’ll be foolishly ignorant of a Hollywood classic – unless it contains good tap dance scenes. :)

  3. BTW, I’ve found American Blend online, and intend to watch it. Just on a whim, to see what it’s really like, other than that scene. No, I do not have great hopes of it! ;-)

  4. Richard,
    that was so informative and insightful.
    thank you so much for this post.
    I haven’t ever thought of comparing the similarities [which makes me a fool ;-)]
    But that of course has similarities, that I realised after watching the SPEAK video


  5. Madhu, do you know that I linked to a copy of the film where I mentioned the title? But maybe you found a better copy. I think that somebody should have posted a better copy – though that still wouldn’t have made it seem like a better film. :) The tap-kathak scene is definitely the best part.

  6. Anup, you are very welcome, and I certainly appreciate seeing that you found this post informative and insightful! I’m also glad to see that my post – and the videos that I included – inspired you to compare kathak and tap dance for the first time. From my perspective, it certainly seems that most people who like dance should find that to be a fun and interesting comparison.

  7. Richard,
    This is very informative. Even if we ignore the theory of ancient origin of Kathak, the dance form we see in the modern era and its three gharanas – Banaras, Lucknow and Jaipur – should date back to mid-19th, early 20th century. Footwork is one part of a dancer’s performance. That is the classical part and shows her training and mastery of the form. Thereafter, she switches to other parts – mudra (graceful hand movements, gestures), abhinay (acting a composition: romantic Radha-Krishna legend, or Krishna’s Baal-leela (his pranks as a child – a most popular verse of the 16th century poet Surdas’s is ‘ Maiya mori main nahin maakhan khayo’ (O mother, I didn’t steal the butter, I am being falsely accused to malign me in your eyes).

    Therefore, it is very unlikely that Kathak would have been influenced by any film, whether here or Hollywood. However, dances in films are a different ball game. They are quite eclectic in absorbing different influences. It is possible that some dance number, while maintaining the basics of Kathak, might have been liberally influenced by tap dance. That is a 5 minutes performance. But Kathak as performed, footwork is a part of it, and it had its own origin in Indian theory and traditions.


  8. AK, thank you for your detailed comments, and it is certainly nice to see that you have found this post informative!

    I’ve done a little reading about kathak, since it has become my favorite classical Indian dance.

    A while back, I did a brief write-up of a book by the dancer-scholar, Shovana Narayan, who is based in India. (That review is in the same post as the review of the book by Priya Srinivasan, which I linked to in this post.) I’ve also read a couple of other kathak books whose authors I can’t really remember, and I’ve learned a little over the years from video clips, documentaries, and information that accompanied live performances.

    But right now, I am thinking about books that I’ve looked at that were written by two U.S.-based dancer-scholars. I have looked at some books by Pallabi Chakravorty, who has been a nice Facebook friend since about 2013 and who also heads the Philadelphia-area-based Courtyard Dancers, whom I finally saw in the New York Kathak Festival in 2019 – and blogged about in a post that I’ve also linked to above. [And, while revising this comment, I decided to link to it again in a paragraph below. :) .]

    Very recently, I’ve also read a little bit by Sarah Morelli, who is one of the founders of the Leela Dance Collective (along with Rachna Nivas and Rina Mehta). I’ve just cracked open her current book, which is about the guru who taught the founders of the Leela Dance Collective, Chitresh Das. (The book is A Guru’s Journey.) I thought of mentioning her book in this post, but I hadn’t read much beyond the first chapter (still haven’t), and I didn’t really have time or room to go into it (yet). So, I thought, maybe I will go into that book (and some of what it says) in another post.

    Anyway, Pallabi Chakravorty and Sarah Morelli have both gone into the gharanas a bit. A while ago, I learned a little about the gharanas and which ones some of our favorite film dancers were based in. Roshan Kumari follows the Jaipur gharana (which, from what I can tell, is my favorite). Saswati Sen (who danced in a Satyajit Ray flim that came out a couple of decades later than the one Roshan Kumari was in) is from the Lucknow gharana. (BTW, I know the titles of both films – I’m just being lazy about typing them. :) ) Sitara Devi and Gopi Krishna came from the Benares gharana.

    I understand that the Lucknow and Jaipur gharanas were the original ones. The Benares gharana sprung up a little later. Ms. Morelli describes a little history of the Benares gharana (citing a couple of other people), and it appears that this one gets a little confusing, because there are two “communities” of Benares gharana, one which was kind of a split-off from the Jaipur gharana and the other which has familial roots in Lucknow. So maybe it’s influenced by both of the original gharanas? (I am still trying to figure that out.)

    Now, to make things even more confusing :) … Chitresh Das is said to have created a new “California gharana” that is influenced by everything and includes some innovations on top of those influences. So, the kathak dancers in the Speak videos – Rachna Nivas and Rina Mehta – are California gharana. (I don’t know if this is really an officially accepted form of gharana in general kathak circles – I doubt it – but in any event, I am sure that these dancers draw on different influences.)

    But, as Sarah Morelli kind of pointed out, the original gharanas did not rigidly exclude other influences, either, and therefore probably influenced each other at some point.

    Regarding the eclecticism of film dance vs. kathak… Well, kathak is pretty eclectic too. (Pallabi emphasizes this.) The tales of Krishna are a big part of the tradition (going back to “ancient origins” – I always assume that “theory” as being correct), but after the Mughal Empire started to grow and kathak became more of a court dance than a religious dance (because Islam became the dominant religion, especially in North India), its themes began to vary and it often became more secular. (In fact, a lot of the developments in kathak as we now know it are credited to innovations by the last king of Awadh at the end of the Mughal era, Wajid Ali Shah. One of the posts that I have referred to (the one which includes the Courtyard Dancers, etc.) is centered around references to him: https://roughinhere.wordpress.com/2019/04/21/some-nice-film-and-dance-references-to-the-last-nawab-of-awadh-wajid-ali-shah/)

    But when I mentioned the influence of tap dance on kathak in the classic film era, I was specifically talking about whether kathak that appeared in films in India might ever have been influenced by tap dance in films in the U.S. If Sitara Devi did a dance in a Hindi film that was obviously influenced by one in a Hollywood film, then It is possible that, quoting what you said, “some dance number, while maintaining the basics of kathak, might have been liberally influenced by tap dance.” You phrased that well!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s