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Kathak is one of the eight classical dance forms of India, the only one from North India. It is characterized by fast footworks and pirouttes. Performers today generally draw their lineage from two major schools of Kathak: the Jaipur "gharana" and the Lucknow "gharana" born in the courts of the Kachwaha Rajput kings and the Nawab of Oudh.

Originally a Northern Indian temple dance, it was transformed to a court dance in the Mughal era. The new Muslim influence brought with it certain changes to the dance form: what had been a largely devotional practice now became more a courtly performance, and to that end various changes were effected. The demi-pliƩ stance of most other Indian dance forms gave way to straight legs, and as many as 150 ankle bells on each leg were worn, to emphasise the newly complex footwork. It was also during this period that the signature spins of Kathak were introduced. The straight-legged position gave a new vitality to the footwork, which wove percussive rhythms in its own right, whether together with or in complement to the tabla or pakhawaj. Although now substantially different from the other Indian dance forms, the roots of the style are the same, and as such it displays a consanguineity with the others, particularly in the hand-formations during story-telling, and some of the body-postures.

Many specific emperors contributed to the growth and development of Kathak into different gharanas, or schools of dance, named after the cities in which they developed. The Moghul nawab, Wajid Ali Shah of Lucknow, not only enjoyed giving patronage to dancers, but dancing himself. He brought teachers to his palaces, aiding the expansion of technical vocabulary, and formed the basis of the Lucknow gharana, emphasizing sensuous, expressive emotion. The Lucknow Gharana placed emphasis on the abhinaya and natya elements or expressional qualities of the dancing; it was famed for its subtlety and grace; this contrasted sharply with the Jaipur Gharana, which became renowned for highly intricate and complex footwork, and fast, sharp, and accurate dancing. Even after the Moghuls, courts in Rajasthan enjoyed Kathak as a sophisticated art form, fostering the growth of the Jaipur gharana. The Benares gharana was also created in this time.

Today, Kathak has regained its popularity after a period of decline during the rule of the British Empire, where it was frowned upon by Victorian administrators. Not only in India, but throughout the world, it is recognised as one of the seven classical dance forms of India. Kathak's unique history has made it very different from other traditional dance forms, although it still retains the same roots. Presently, this classical dance is characterized by a combination of the temple and court forms, inclusive of both the devotion and romantic form that has shaped it through the years. The influence of theatre dance has presented itself in the movement towards dance productions of stories such as Shakuntala. Expressive motion, rhythmic accuracy, graceful turning, poised stances, technical clarity, hand gestures (mudras) and subtle expression (bhava-abhinaya) are important components of modern Kathak. The work of the Maharaj family of dancers (Acchan Maharaj, Shambhu Maharaj, Lachhu Maharaj and one of the greatest current dancers still alive today, Birju Maharaj) has been extremely successful in spreading the popularity of Kathak. Birju Maharaj and Smt. Kumudini Lakhia have both introduced multi-person choreographies, the latter using pure classical movements and style with distinctly contemporary use of space.

Modern Repertoire
Modern repertoire can include presentation of the three phases of life, creation (symbolized by Lord Brahma), preservation (symbolized by Lord Vishnu), and destruction (symbolized by Lord Shiva). The structure of a conventional Kathak performance tends to follow a progression in tempo from slow to fast, ending with a dramatic climax. A short danced composition is known as a 'tukra', a longer one as a 'tora'). There are also compositions consisting solely of footwork. All compositions are performed so that the final step and beat of the composition lands on the 'sam' or first beat of the time-cycle. Most compositions also have 'bols' (rhythmic words) which serve both as mnemonics to the composition and whose recitation also forms an integral part of the performance. Some compositions are aurally very interesting when presented this way. The bols can be borrowed from tabla (e.g. dha, ge, na, tirakiTa) or can be a dance variety (ta, thei, tat, ta ta, tigda, digdig and so on). Compositions can be sub-divided:

Source: Wikipedia

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