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The Beginner’s Guide to South Asian Dancing

dancingwoman1One of the greatest obstacles to finding a fitness program you can stick with is finding something that’s fun, something that engages you and doesn’t end up seeming like a chore you’d really rather avoid. Dancing is one of the best ways to put the fun in fitness. Learning a new dance style not only gets you moving, it teaches you about other cultures and traditions. One of those dance styles gaining in popularity is South Asian dancing.

South Asian dancing is a rich blend of the various cultural traditions and stories of the Indian subcontinent that has continued to develop in a variety of other places with Indian populations. There are three categories of South Asian dancing: classical, folk and modern. The oldest are the classical dance forms. They are also the most widespread forms of this type of dancing, making them the best preserved ones. Folk forms are designed to tell the life of the village, to reflect its rituals and traditions. Modern dancing is a combination of the two older forms with some improvised rhythms and movements that reflect contemporary India.

There are a number of different styles and forms within each of these traditions, each one with unique movements and purposes. Some of the dance forms include:

  • Bahara Natyam – a classical style from South India involving fast footwork and movement
  • Kathak – a classical style from North India and modern Pakistan involving fast, rhythmic foot movements, flowing arm movements and spins
  • Odissi – a classical style from the East Indian state of Orissa with soft arm movements and flexible upper body movements
  • Mohini Attam – originally performed solely by women, it is called “The Dance of the Enchantress” and involves flowing, lyrical movements
  • Kandyan Dance – from the Kadyan region of Sri Lanka, it involves whirling movements, somersaults and other movements of the head and shoulders
  • Kathakali – from Kerala and originally had a martial arts background that required years of rigorous training; its hand movements are the most complex of all the classical styles and it is sometimes performed as both dance and drama
  • Kuchipudi – a form of dance/drama similar to Baharata Natyam but its movements are lighter and more energetic
  • Filmi, Bollywood - an energetic combination of classical and modern dance that makes for a great fitness routine

Dancing For Fitness

Dancing is a wonderful way to put a regular fitness routine into your life. The benefits are huge. Dance encourages balance and coordination, strengthens your muscles and your bones, gives you a cardio boost that can help you lose weight and maintain weight loss and help beat stress with a dose of fun. South Asian dance offers the opportunity for fast and slow movements, stylized body and hand gestures, rhythm and a fun way to exercise your muscles. These styles connect you with the traditional music of India and with the modern adaptations of that culture.

Dancing For Fun

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Anything that gets your heart rate up qualifies as cardio exercise but for most people running around in circles isn’t a very fun way to get the movement they need. Choosing to learn something like South Asian dancing not only gives you the exercise your heart and body need, it makes the time you spend on it fun as well. Learning new types of hand and body movements, feeling the rhythm of the music and connecting it with the story your movements are telling, and giving your body a workout at the same time is a wonderful way to improve both your health and your mind.

Exploring Cultural Traditions

The best aspect of using these unique dance traditions for your health is you are improving all of you, not just your muscles. As you learn the dances, you come to know the history, culture and tradition of India along with the ways in which contemporary Indian society is adapting all those things into the modern world. The dance forms and movements have evolved over generations to reflect all the change Indian culture has seen over the years. When you begin to understand the years of life that are behind each gesture, each movement, you are adding the rich tapestry of Indian culture to your own life.

If you choose to learn South Asian dancing, you should be able to find a number of classes and workshops that can introduce you to this beautiful style of dance.

Tips for Keeping Energy Levels High when Dancing

dancing-energyDancing is a great way to put a little fitness into your life while having loads of fun. South Asian dancing in particular makes for an enjoyable and healthy exercise routine. The movements and spins are a good cardio workout and the repetition of routines makes doing enough exercise easy and enjoyable. While you’re getting all this benefit from using dance as your fitness choice, you still need to remember that you need energy to complete any fitness program. Dancing can use up a lot of energy so you want to be sure you’re ready for that. There are some ways to help boost your energy level so you have the stamina to enjoy the dance routines. One example would be to use fitness equipment such as a rowing machine, you can see examples at DrRowing.

The Magic of Healthy Diet

Though undoubtedly one of the best ways to make sure you have the energy for any exercise regimen is to follow a healthy diet. Giving your body the nutrients it needs is an important way to maintain good health as well as high energy. You also need to stay hydrated. Make sure you have water with you when you dance. Don’t forget to use it when you take breaks either.

Certain types of natural stimulants, such as coffee, can give you a needed energy boost as well. Although there are many that feel caffeine is never good for you, it is the most popular stimulant in the world. A jolt from the caffeine found in coffee can give you a boost when your energy levels are lagging. It’s important to know your own tolerance and to try and avoid caffeinated coffee later in the day where it might interfere with your sleep. Caffeine in your system generally spikes within the first hour after drinking a cup of coffee. The jolt can stay in your system for up to eight hours, so keep that timeline in mind and know when to cut yourself off. An option is find a good coffee maker for your home so you can make a rejuvenating brew any time you need it.

Tea can offer a caffeine boost as well. Eight ounces of green or black tea contains close to 40 mg of caffeine. The same amount of coffee contains almost 100 mg of caffeine, making its power to boost your energy levels far greater. Whichever one you choose, don’t forget to drink water too. While new studies show that caffeine does not dehydrate you, water is still the best choice.

The need for Regular Exercise

Another way to make sure you have the energy you need for your dance routines is to do other forms of daily exercise that conditions your body. Swimming, walking, and yoga all make your body flexible and toned. This makes your muscles better able to learn and perform the hand and body movements required for South Asian dancing. Hiking in parks or along trails is a good way to increase your lung capacity. Taking a hike in a beautiful wooded area also helps your mental state, allowing you to de-stress and relax your mind. Many of the styles of South Asian dancing include the importance of facial expressions and gestures. Having a serene state of mind will help you develop those expressions.

The Beautiful Festival in Edinburgh

edinburgh-festivalLive dance performances are an amazing way to see truly beautiful dance forms showcased with dazzling costumes and sensual music set against a powerful background. Such a performance was recently held at a small cultural festival in Edinburgh. South Asian dancers performed along with several other folk dance groups from around the world. The combination was a brilliant reminder of the diverse traditional cultures from all over our globe. Each one held the audience spellbound with their skill and their movements. I had gone to see friends perform and found myself enjoying the entire festival.

The first set of dancers performed the classical Kathak style of South Asian dancing. Each performance ran about ten minutes and the audience was very appreciative. The spins and flowing movements accented the beautiful costumes the dancers wore and the music came through the speakers perfectly.

The DJ was fantastic

The person acting as DJ clearly knew how to engage an audience. He explained the dance style and the meaning behind the movements and gestures that conveyed the story each dance told. He had a great gift for making people listen and by the time the dancers took the stage the audience was excited about what they were going to see. His equipment had great clarity and the music flowed out of the speakers at just the right levels. Along with his mixer and speakers, he had some lighting that accented the whirling dancers, blending their colourful costumes into a rainbow of fluttering movement. Though rather than using traditional decks as I grew up with he simply used a laptop, this is because he told me the best dj software like Traktor is far more practical these days. The set-up he provided added a great deal to the performance. The backdrop provided by the festival was perfect for the colours chosen by the dancers as well. Everything came together to make this performance amazing. The dancers received a standing ovation when they were done.

An ode to the extremely talented dancers

Some of the dancers were from the school where I take lessons (see here) as well and they are hoping to form a professional company that can perform all over the world. Many of these dancers have studied the classical South Asian dance forms for most of their lives, dedicating themselves to preserving and presenting this traditional style of dance. They all currently live in Edinburgh and this festival was the perfect opportunity to try their hand at a live performance. It is just this kind of practice and attention they need to market their professional troupe. With the rave reviews they received from the Edinburgh festival, I believe they are on their way to accomplishing their dream.

New technology captured the whole thing!

Along with all the wonderful written compliments and attention they got, there were also some photographs to go with it. Aerial drone photography was taken of each performance at the festival so these dancers have some amazing shots of their performance to include in future publicity packets. Festival organizers engaged an aerial drone photo service to get these incredible shots, hoping to publicize not only the individual artists but the festival itself. After seeing the great images they got, I’d have to say that they have what they need for next year’s festival.