Bollywood and Belly Dance
Once the pariah of the international film industry, Bollywood now surpasses Hollywood in yearly film output and has spread its culture of song and dance far beyond its borders. Bollywood’s name is a combination of ‘Hollywood’ and ‘Bombay,’ and it is known for its energetic dances, which combine traditional Indian dance with modern dance forms such as Jazz and Hip-Hop. Bollywood incorporates another dance form that has captivated the West too: belly dancing.
Ancient and Holy Origins
About 4,500 years before Mumbai became India’s film capital, however, the people of the Indus River Valley Civilization had already begun to develop the art form that would one day become Bollywood dance. Lord Shiva Nataraja was even dubbed the supreme manifestation of dance, and voluptuous statues of temple dancers still grace ruins like those of Karnataka. Dance developed further during the Vedic Age and later deviated from the traditional Natyasastra dancing text to reflect individual regions. Resulting classical dances include Bharatanatyam, Kathak, Odissi and Manipuri.
Ancient female iconography suggests that belly dance was a religious ritual, just as Indian dance was once intertwined with religion. Furthermore, legend has it that nomadic gypsies from India influenced belly dancing by introducing the Middle East to native Indian dances. A similar attitude also arose in both India and the Middle East concerning dance and morality. Belly dancing took place in the private space of the home, also called “harem,” or “forbidden.” Similarly, Indian courtesans danced solely in salons for their royal patrons. Luckily for Bollywood, this attitude later changed.
Characteristics of Bollywood Dance
Bollywood dance ultimately absorbed India’s classical and folk dances, modifying them so that viewers today cannot easily trace a move to one particular dance tradition or symbolic meaning. Typical Bollywood dances are group numbers which are also often item numbers or scenes of playful or romantic interaction between the hero and the heroine. These dances are generally less sensual than belly dance since they do not rely on stomach and hip movements. In general, Bollywood moves consist of turns, steps, hops, waving arms, bouncing shoulders and turning wrists.
Overlapping Bollywood and Belly Dance Moves
Basic Bollywood moves include the extended prayer position, the shoulders movement, the light bulb movement, the bangles movement, the heel step, the back point step and the backward Bhangra pivot step, to name a few. Moves that still resemble those of belly dance include the “lame duck” step in which one foot is on demi pointe and the other is flat, a move essential to traveling hip drops, lifts and sways. To an extent, Bollywood dance also still incorporates hip circles, hip shimmies, shoulder shimmies, spins and delicate hand movements like those of belly dancers.
Bollywood dance reveals the country’s inventive spirit in which tradition and modernity, as well as India and the West mix. Even so, the way in which Bollywood dance’s moves overlap those of belly dance, and the way their histories intertwine, prove that the dance also bears witness to India’s creative connection with its Middle Eastern neighbors.
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