Dance has traditionally been an important part of religion and culture in India. Folk dances are the dances of the people which are performed spontaneously. All that is expressed by them is natural and original, effortlessly with great ease and grace. These are performed by the whole village community, by the young and the old alike. It marks the celebration of a wedding, a festival, a harvest, an initiation of a maiden or sometimes a funeral rite too. Besides these, the folk dances are performed after a hunt, to celebrate a victory after a war, sometimes to herald the advent of the spring season or the rains or in order to pacify or to ward off the impending natural calamities or any evil, which can befall the whole village. They are not performed for want of appreciation or reward of any kind. They are danced since dance as such, forms an integral part of their everyday life, their religious beliefs, customs and rituals. It is an offering to habitat around them, to continue their peaceful existence.
Folk dances have an inexhaustible variety of forms and rhythms. They differ according to regions, occupations and castes. Tribal people, farmers, gypsies, hill people and labourers have their special dances. Passion for movement lifts man from his ordinary life that is from the Everyday to the Ecstasy of the highest kind. This Is the situation from which our folk dances have originated. With the following two examples we cans see how folk dances represent diversity in popular culture-
In Assam, among the agricultural communities, particularly the Ahoms, Bihu is the most important festival. It is an occasion of dancing and rejoicing. The Bihu festival is held at different stages of the cultivation of paddy. When the peasants are preparing the field, at the time of the transplantation of the paddy seedlings; and at the last stage when the harvest has been gathered. It is a festival of nature, youth and fertility cult and observed throughout Assam, irrespective of caste and creed, tribes, language and even religion.
Performed in a group, the Bihu dancers are usually young men and women, and the dancing style is characterized by brisk steps, and rapid hand movements. The traditional costume of dancers is colorful and centred round the red colour theme, signifying joy and vigour. The Bihu dance takes its name from the Bohag Bihu festival (also called Rangali Bihu), the national festival of Assam, which celebrates the Assamese New Year. The festival takes place during mid-April and the Bihu dance is meant to celebrate and emulate the seasonal spirit, celebrating fertility and passion.
Ghoomar is a traditional as well as an enthusiastic folk dance of Rajasthan. Ghoomar or Ghumar was basically developed by the Bhil tribe, to worship Goddess Sarasvati and was adopted by other Rajasthani communities. Ghoomar was performed at Rajputana by local women, later on Rajput elite women also started participating in the dance. Men were not allowed at these dance performances. Ghoomar became popular in the Indian state of Rajasthan during the reigns of Rajput kings, and is typically performed by women during auspicious occasions. Women perform ghoomar with ghoonghat on their head covering their face.
The dance typically involves performers pirouetting while moving in and out of a wide circle. The word ghoomna describes the twirling movement of the dancers and is the basis of the word ghoomar.There is an amazing grace as the skirt flair slowly while the women twirl in circles, their faces covered with the help of the veil. Interestingly, the zari work and the amount of embroidery on the ensemble also indicate how prosperous the family is.
According to the traditional rituals, newly married bride is expected to dance ghoomar on being welcomed to her new marital home. Ghoomar is often performed on special occasions, such as at weddings, festivals and religious occasions, which sometimes lasts for hours
The dance form acquires different styles and slight change in attire with the different regions of Rajasthan. Ghoomar is performed with faster beats in areas adjoining Gujarat, steps similar to garba style, while slower beats in Dholpur, similarly difference in attire and dancing style can be seen in Udaipur, Kota, Bundi etc
This is a dance offered to the Goddess Yellamma. Men in the garb of women dance this, singing the praises of the Goddess. These men voluntarily choose to be initiated into the religion and undergo the necessary austerities before performing and singing the glory of the Goddess. The connotation of the word Jogiti is the one who carries the ‘Jaga’ or the world on her head and dances.. Here the dancer carries either a pot filled with water or with a basket housing the idol of the Goddess.
The folk story that relates to the dance is that, on refusal to chop off the head of Renuka by her four sons, Jamadagni the father cursed the sons into Eunuchs who started singing the glories of their which has been continued as a tradition. Yet another folk lore narrates that the King of Warangal fell in love with Renuka and was passionate for her. The Goddess cursed him for this foolish behavior of his owing to which he was transformed into a eunuch. He is believed to have spent the rest of life singing praises of the Goddess leading to this traditional dance. The dance is a ritual offering to the Goddess and is not an entertaining dance in character.
This dance also incorporates circular motifs in its execution. It is also believed to be a celebration held in the abode of goddess Yellamma, on every full moon day in Saundatti taluk of Belgaum District, in Karnataka. The abode of the goddess is situated atop a hill. The tradition incorporates the professional singing of the Jondalingas and the Jogis, a prevalent tradition dating back to a few centuries. Men dedicate themselves as mentioned earlier to the service of the goddess and sing and dance her glory. But in the present day the Jogiti is of both the sexes. Further the belief goes to say that they are the two sisters of the goddess mediating between the goddess and the devotees. The Jogitis are associated with a lot of special rites and rituals in their life after their death
Thus, Folk dance is a dance that belongs to an entire community or a social group.. In a given community, there could be many kinds of folk dances depending upon the event or occasion of its performance. The type of landscapes that cause change in the climate, eventually leading to the transformation of the dress, traditions and culture of the clan also forms one of the decisive components that contribute to the vast variety of movements, rhythms, and musical compositions besides the costumes and dance styles. These dances have generally been passed to the next generation by means of an oral tradition and they strongly exhibit the traditional beliefs of the village community and are extant features of the culture of the folk that performs. Hence folk dances may be defined as the dance that reflects the traditional life of the people of a certain country, class or clan, developed by a few people that are part of the group. The rules followed by these groups in their dances are broadly set and these vary from one dance to another and one region to another.