Compare and Contrast Modern Dance and Kathakali

Humankind considers dance as the most enticing and expressive form of art. Dance is a form of art that convey all sorts of emotions such as love, joy, anger, and sorrow. It does not only express how one feels, but it can disseminate information about a particular story or praise someone. Dance has enabled people to understand various cultures in the world over the course of time. Modern dance is a type of dance that produces a sensation in the human mind through eye-catching movements. The dance is always accompanied by a thrilling sound of music. The origin of Kathakali is the state of Kerala, Southern India. Mostly men perform the dance. The dance is too vigorous and difficult for women; however, they can still study and perform it (Munsi & Burridge 33). This paper provides detailed comparison and contrast of modern dance and the Indian Kathakali dance.

The similarities in these two types of dances include the following. First, both the modern dance and Kathakali involved creativity in conveying the message. The creativity portrayed in both dances was exciting. Both dances showed a lot of talent. Their performances were superb and amazing. In the video for modern dance, Mind the Gap, dancers portrayed their creativity by inventing systematic movements that could leave you questioning how they managed to do it. Similarly, with Kathakali, dancers exhibit their creativity through extensive makeup, costumes, and headdresses (Munsi & Burridge 33). Second, in both dances, body movements are dramatically expressive. Besides, there was more swaying of the body representing the expressions and emotions of the dancers. For instance, in the Kathakali video, dancers have control over their facial muscles, and you could notice exaggerated facial expressions. In both dances, the artists used imitative gestures to convey the message.

Although the modern dance and Kathakali have similarities in their structure and performance, they also differ in one way or the other. First, in the case of the modern dance, dancers have the courage to create new steps based on their moods and emotions. They do not have a specific way that they should stand or move. For instance, in the video, Mind your Gap, dancers expressed their emotions by using more human and natural movements. Moreover, dancers used all orientations, and you could see them moving freely around the stage. Since modern dance is about real life, dancers use movements to convey the story. They were free of toe shoes, and their barefoot helped them move their body freely on the stage (“Damsel in the Dollhouse”). Precisely, the dance involved the movement of hands, arms, shoulders, fingers, and head. Dancers showed simple movements consisted of simple floor patterns. You could see dancers portraying gliding walks.

Second, the relationship between the music and movements of modern dancers was different. Their movement disregarded the music entirely, and you could only hear sounds from dancers’ movements. On the same note, the dancers’ movements were not parallel to the rhythm of the music. Moreover, in the video, Mind your Gap, the tempo of the dance was fast. The dance involved continuous body movements because the music was playing fast.

The third feature that offers modern dance its uniqueness is the deliberate use of gravity. Modern dancers use weights of their bodies to enhance their movements. Lastly, regarding costumes, they are important to the overall dance; however, dancers do not wear complex make-ups like the ones used in Kathakali. For instance, in the video, Kathakali dance performance from Kerala, dancers performed barefoot with simple lighting effects to frame their movements.

Conversely, the Kathakali dance involved detailed gestures and well-defined body movements. According to Munsi and Stephanie (34), the Kathakali stance entails a deep bend in a way that dancers’ legs are turned in with their feet resting on the outside. Therefore, dancers seem to have a baggy-legged look. Dancers expressed emotions in a flash through movements of their faces, eyebrows, eyeballs, cheeks, noses and chins. In the video, the movements of dancers’ arms, head, and body were more dramatically expressive. Every movement of the dancers was consistent with the beat of the music (“Wild Films India”). Besides, gestures and steps of dancers proved to be the central part of the performance’s beauty. You could see the body crouching and twist furiously while their arms made large and more imitative gestures. The decorative dance movements alternated with expression passage whereby dancers had to impersonate certain characters. The stamping steps of the dancers were larger and more energetic. They lifted their legs higher.

Second, the performance consisted of precise drumming, and you could hear percussion building up to an emotional crescendo (Macaulay 1). The movements in this dance are explosive and dancers stared directly at the audience. Similarly, the drumming began before the performance and lasted through the period the dancers were on the stage. The dance had a slow tempo with fast internal details.

The third feature that distinguishes Kathakali dance from the modern dance is the costumes and make-ups used during the performance. Kathakali dancers wore complex make-ups, towering headgears and billowing skirts (“Wild Films India”). On their fingers, they had long silver nails that helped to accentuate hand gestures when performing. The principle characters that performed had their faces painted bright green. In addition, characters had upcurled mustache with silver piping and a white knob at the tip of their noses.

In conclusion, the similarity between modern and Kathakali dance indicate that each dance enriches the human culture by conveying varying stories. Both dances show an exciting creativity and talent. Modern dance expressed their creativity through body movements while Kathakali emphasizes on costumes, extensive make-up, and ornaments. The two types of dance are different in that the modern dance allows a sense of freedom and expression. The dance depends on gravity to enhance their movements and uses simple costumes. The development of the dance was a reaction against a limited style of movement represented by ballet dance. Kathakali dance involves well-defined body movements that are consistent with the anchor playback music and percussion. The dance emphasizes on costumes, ornaments, and facial make-up.


Works Cited

Damsel in the Dollhouse. Mind the Gap. YouTube video. November 28, 2012. Online. <>

Macaulay, Alastair. Casting an elaborate rhythmic spell: Kathakali dance in India, with the locals. December 26, 2014. Online. <>

Munsi, Urmimala Sarkar, and Stephanie Burridge, eds. Traversing Tradition: Celebrating Dance in India. Vol. 2. Routledge, 2012.

Wild Films India. Kathakali dance performance from Kerala. YouTube video. March 5, 2015. Online <>


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