One 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. You’ve probably heard of Zumba but 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
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.