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A classical dance fitness mantra

A classical dance fitness mantra

The health benefits of practising Indian classical dance forms are not spoken about enough, overshadowed, naturally so, by their visual delight, beauty and cultural charm
Classical dance forms of India, celebrated for its artistic aesthetics, come with fitness benefits as well
The many Indian classical dance forms have quite a lot of common and specific fitness benefits depending on the difference in the type of movement involved.

The jingle of the ghungroo (ankle bracelet) personifies India’s rich cultural heritage. Born and evolved in the temple mantapas (porches) and palace courtrooms, the many classical dance forms of India have attained global acclaim.

Intricate technicalities, visual persona and sound elements differentiate these dance forms and add to their entertainment quotient, which is celebrated. The health and wellness benefits of practising Indian classical dance forms, however, are not often spoken about.


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Keerthi Divakaran, a professional classical dancer and trainer, explains how training in classical dance forms begins with muscle conditioning.

The procedure of learning a classical dance form is strenuous. It requires solid time and energy,” says Divakaran, founder of Vainavi Nrithakalashetra in Kochi, Kerala.

“A person’s interest and dedication matter a lot while going forward with the journey of classical dance training, which results in various physiological and psychological benefits. The style of classical dance forms differs from each other. But the learning process of any classical dance form starts with muscle-strengthening exercises. It is necessary for anyone who performs a classical dance. It can help with body flexibility and stamina of a dancer.”

Different dance forms, similar benefits

The list of classical dances that originated from different states of India is long. Each form indicates the state’s uniqueness through the language of music, costumes, makeup and many other factors. The health benefits cut across cultural diversity.

“Whether it is bharatanatyam, kuchipudi, mohiniyattam or any other classical dance form, the continuous and repeated movement of different parts of the body is involved in it,” says Divakaran. “Gradually it results in the improvement of muscles, flexibility and range of motion. Regular practice promotes stamina and endurance that aids in boosting the body’s oxygenation levels.”

Dr Priya Menon (PhD, dance therapy), classical dancer, trainer and the managing director of Gowrisankaram Classical Dance Therapy Institute, Kozhikode, Kerala, says dancing helps improve neuro-muscular balance, dexterity and bilateral stimulation of the brain.

“Either left or right, most people use one side of their body to do everything,” says Dr Menon. “It develops in the childhood of an individual and they follow the same throughout their life. Gradually it affects the smooth usage of the other side of the body, especially in old age. In classical dance, it is very important to use both sides of the body at the same speed. Automatically, it helps to improve the bilateral stimulation of one’s brain.”

Odissi and calorie; bharatnatyam and flexibility

Many studies have detailed how classical dance forms offer distinct health benefits.

According to a 2017 research paper in the International Journal of Education and Applied Research, an hour of any other workout is roughly equal to 10 minutes of Odissi. The legs, upper body, wrist, neck and feet are moved during Odissi, and it involves stretching the muscles in the solar plexus (the network of nerves located in the abdomen), which tones the muscles. One hour of Odissi practice can result in burning roughly 250 calories.

Kathak, the dance form that originated from northern India involves linear and circular body extension, coordinated hand-body synchronisation and rhythmic footwork. According to a 2014 research paper published in the journal Science and Culture, concerning body weight, body mass index, fat mass, waist circumference and waist-hip ratio, Kathak dancers had much better body composition than non-dancers. The quick footwork of Kathak dancing facilitates the discharge of stress.

Bharatanatyam is considered one of the ancient dance forms of India. Sandhya Venkiteswaran, a Chennai-based dancer and trainer says, “Bharatanatyam is a dance form that ensures proper balance in all aspects. The rigidity of the movements helps improve body strength and flexibility.”

Mohiniyattam, derived from the southern state of Kerala, is enhanced by graceful movements of the dancer’s torso. The body’s core serves as the foundation for most movements. In mohiniyattam, the dancer is supposed to maintain a default half-sitting position that makes dance movements rounded. It helps in body toning and achieving overall body equilibrium.

The study, ‘Health Benefits of Kuchipudi Dance,’ published in AMSA Journal of Global Health, in 2020, says proper kuchipudi dance training can provide numerous health advantages such as increased muscle strength and flexibility, better neuromuscular coordination and prevention of musculoskeletal problems.

Psychological benefits

Classical dancers talk a lot about the happiness and positive energy that they have experienced while practising and performing.

For Dr Menon, her dance institute is a place to heal wounds.

“Just like music therapy, dance therapy provides the solution to many physical and mental health issues,” elaborates Dr Menon. “I have experienced the positive impact of classical dance on my mental health, and I’m passing it over to my students. The group classes always generate a positive energy within the people which is beyond our expectations. I prefer playing some ragas with the students during break time and suggest they express their inner emotions to the music. I intend to cleanse their mind by doing this.”

 “One should be mentally prepared to start learning a classical dance form. People approach classical dance in different ways. Dance is an internal journey for me, it might be different for others. If one is mentally involved with classical dance, it results in numerous positive changes in one’s behaviour such as the improved presence of mind, self-discipline and dedication,” adds Venkiteswaran.


  • Besides the entertainment aspect, Indian classical dance forms provide multiple health and fitness benefits.
  • Classical dance training involves muscle conditioning exercises that improve the strengthening, body flexibility and stamina of the dancer.
  • The physiological benefits include a better range of motion, improved bilateral stimulation of the brain, flexibility and muscle improvement. The psychological benefits of classical dance comprise enhanced presence of mind, self-discipline and dedication.

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