Dance as Language in Indian Culture

About the use of dance as language and communication in Indian culture, use of hand movements and other forms.


A Dance That Speaks for Itself. "Though divided into 4 regional types, all Indian dances developed from the same ancient source, and their every step and gesture is codified in the pages of the Natya Sastra--a book which is believed to contain the dance secrets of the gods. 'When the neck is moved backward and forward like the movement of a she-pigeon's neck, it is called Prakampita. Usage: To denote "You and I," folk-dancing, swinging, inarticulate murmurings and the sound uttered by a woman at the time of conjugal embrace.' The hand held in one position conveys no less than 30 possible meanings, including 'short man,' 'the massage of wrestlers,' 'holding the breasts of women,' 'saying "It is proper"' and 'the flapping of elephant ears.' When the dancer's 3rd finger is doubled under the thumb, it may be construed as 'flower,' 'screw pine,' the union of man and woman,' or 'rubbing down a horse.'

"Over countless centuries, the Indian dance has perfected 39 such significant hand gestures and 45 eloquent eye movements, in addition to a numerous variety of postures, gaits, steps, jumps, and psychic conditions. All serve the purpose of storytelling dance dramas whose influence has spread through Asia to the islands of the South Seas, where the myths and legends told by a hula dancer's hands form a graceful counterpoint to her swaying hips and undulating torso. To the untutored eye of the mainland American, the story elements of the Hawaiian hula are considerably less interesting than the febrile footnotes of the dancer's pelvis, which speaks the same international language of l'amour that grandfather learned at carnival peep shows under the spangle-tossing tutelage of some itinerant Little Egypt."

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