Want to Learn Kathak? Here's Everything You Need to Know
Updated: Jun 29
From Mughal-e-Azam to Kalank and from Sufism to worship of Lord Ganesha, Kathak seems to have no boundaries.
The word Kathak comes from ‘Katha’ which means story and Kathak dancers are often called Kathakars or the storytellers. It is one of the 8 classical dance forms of India finding its origins in the northern part of the country. It got popular during the Bhakti movement (15th century CE) and has undergone many changes over the years.
Traditionally, a Kathak dance troupe is accompanied by 2 to 10 musical instruments and a vocalist.
Needless to say, today Kathak is one of the most critically and commercially successful Indian Classical dance forms.
Now- if you’re planning to join a dance class but are confused where and how to get started, we’ve got you! This article answers some common questions one might face before beginning their Kathak journey. And here we go...
1. What’s the right age to start learning Kathak?
While many dancers start learning at 6 or 7 years of age, the best time to start learning any new dance style is the moment you find determination to do so. In today’s day and age, teachers are willing to guide you through the process. With passion in your heart, be fearless and leap onto this journey. Rabindranath Tagore began painting when he was in his sixties. What's your excuse?
2. Is there a difference between a Guru and a teacher?
Defined beautifully in Sanskrit, a teacher is the one who gives you information and imparts knowledge and skills along the way. A Guru is like a mentor, one who enables the wisdom in you, leading you from darkness to light. It is important to have both in your life. It is always advised to begin your classical arts journey with a teacher. As you go in your craft- reaching out to a guru is the way to go.
Moreover, most gurus prefer students who have an intermediate or an advanced level knowledge of their craft.
3. How will I understand who is a good teacher?
First things first- understand that the number of social media followers does not equate to the quality of teaching or their seniority in the community!
It is a good practice to find out the Guru of your prospect teacher.
Note that- a teacher’s degree is not an equivalent to their knowledge in the field of Kathak. Before joining a particular dance class, you can always request them for one observatory class. Try to understand their teaching pattern. It is important that your teacher pays equal importance to both theory and practical sections of Kathak.
4. Can I earn a degree in Kathak? How long does it take to get a degree?
You can choose to earn a degree or continue learning Kathak as a hobby. There are various institutions which conduct affiliated examinations in classical music and dance in India. (check point no. 7)
Also- there is no strict timeline in completing your education in Kathak. A Guru or a teacher decides if a student is ready for examinations and helps him/her in preparing for one.
5. What is a Gharana? Can I learn only one gharana?
A Gharana is a style of Kathak. Traditionally, there are 4 main styles in Kathak called the Jaipur Gharana, Lucknow Gharana, Benaras Gharana and the Raigarh Gharana. In today’s world you always have an option of learning multiple Gharanas. But if you’re a beginner, it is advised to grasp deep knowledge of one gharana first and before learning another.
6. How expensive is learning Kathak?
Like all artforms, learning Kathak depends from teacher to teacher. A teacher’s fee can range from anywhere between INR 500/- to Rs.1200/- per class. It is also important to keep in mind the cost of ghungroos, examination fees and other miscellaneous expenditure. Don’t worry, everything is affordable and with numerous grants and scholarships, one can pursue their dream of becoming a Kathak dancer without financial stress.
7. What are some renowned Kathak institutions in India?
India has a number of institutions dedicated to Kathak training. These include the prestigious Kathak Kendra, Vasuki Natyashala, Bhartiya Kala Kendra, Aamad Kathak Dance Centre and Kadamb Centre for Dance.
8. What are some of the biggest Classical dance festivals?
There are a number of Classical dance and music festivals all around the world. From Khajuraho Dance festival in Madhya Pradesh, Natyanjali Festival in Tamil Nadu to international festivals like the Swiss International Kathak festival and the New York Kathak Festival, the list is endless.
9. What else should I know?
Dance is a visual representation of music. And any Indian Classical dance form is mostly performed on Indian Classical music. Thus, developing interest in both vocal and instrumental Indian classical will automatically enhance your knowledge of rhythm and Sangeet- factors important in making of a Kathak dancer. Another important thing to know is that no dancer begins with a 100 – 200 bells. Most neophytes start with the basic 25 ghungroo bells. This increases as per your Guru/ teacher’s instructions.
Lastly, the learning of a Classical dance form is a rigorous process. It takes years to master each step. Only a person with immense patience can savor the pleasure of Indian Classical dance. So, once you've decided that you’ll hop onto this journey, surrender yourself to your teacher and simply trust the process. :)
Written by: Meher Nigam, A member of the Skyshot tribe, Meher is a young Kathak performer and art lover. She has been performing since the age of 5. She is a disciple of Smt. Leena Malakar and Guru Pandit Divyang Vakil.
Edited by: Leena Malakar – A Kathak exponent, Leena is one of the finest Classical dancers (Jaipur Gharana) in India. She is a senior disciple of Guru Nandini Singh and an empaneled artist of ICCR, India.