A Happy Meeting Between Textbook and Kathak
Vikram Iyengar
KATHAK: THE DANCE OF STORYTELLERS by Rachna Ramya Niyogi Books, 2019, 360 pp., 1495.00
August 2020, volume 44, No 8

The large majority of books on Kathak that offer a historical, theoretical and practical approach to the study of the dance form are in Hindi. Some are also available in other vernaculars like Bengali. This itself makes Kathak: The Dance of Storytellers by Rachna Ramya an important contribution to the field. There is a whole buffet of English texts on Indian dance written predominantly by Europeans and North-Americans who, perhaps understandably, find it difficult, if not impossible, to divest themselves of the baggage associated with a western lens of reading. In this context, it is a pleasure to find a dance author with clear articulation of practice and analysis that satisfies both the dancer reader and the dance-curious reader. Rachna Ramya skilfully brings us a happy meeting between a textbook for Kathak students and an analytical overview of the form.

The care and clarity with which sections devoted to the actual form are conceived, articulated and analysed (in terms of movement and affect) are especially commendable. It is not easy to write movement, and it is immediately evident that the author has deeply studied and embodied the form from within practice. This is also a noticeable lacuna in dance writing in India (again, especially in English, which is unfortunately the global language of scholarship) where books are often written by dance scholars rather than practicing dancers. When written by the latter, they are often ill-articulated, promoting the myth that Indian classical dancers are incapable of clear communication.

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