In ancient Bengal, dancing was popular entertainment. Courtesans
and temple girls (devadasis) were required to be proficient in the art
of dance prescribed by Bharata in his 'Natysastra'. Popular forms of dancing
were rendered at mundane celebrations and on other occasions by low-caste
tribes Nats and Domnis (women of the Dom caste) who practiced dancing
and singing as hereditary professions. In the Middle ages, probably the
institution of temple girls become obsolescent and class dancing was limited
to courtesans. As a result dancing came to be looked down up on in respectable
Rabindranath Tagore has the credit of rehabilitating
dancing as a fine art to be learnt by young as a part of their education.
In his school at Santiniketan and later in his university Viswabharati,
he provided ample facilities for training in these acquirements. He had
profound admiration for the rich treasure of the classical dances of India
but he thought these required too rigid a discipline and too elaborate
a training to be feasible for the general public. He therefore introduced
a simple course of instruction in dancing to his songs of the seasons.
By 1926 this developed into a flexible system compounding elements of
Bharatnatyam, Manipuri, Kathak, Kathakali and folk styles. This creative
system was very well received by the Bengali public and has since grown
into a major cultural activity. A large number of institutions teaching
the elements of classical dances and presenting ballet compositions have
come into existence in Calcutta and the towns. Evolution of an Indian
ballet tradition has been the quest of institution presided over by Udayashankar,
who well versed in European ballet made his debut in this field
in 1929 and has made Calcutta his headquarters since over a decades ago.
During the last twenty five years the new dance movement has made considerable
progress not only in West Bengal but also other parts of India and Bangladesh.
The Santals inhabiting the plateau Fringe have their
own system of group dancing to the accompaniment of song, the flute and
Madal (a minor drum) to express their joy of life. It is full-blooded
and exuberant but notably free from vulgarity or obscenity.