Difference Between Classical and Folk Dance | Classical vs Folk

By Shivank Goel|Updated : September 15th, 2022

Dance is a traditional art form that involves the body's movement in sync with rhythm and music. It is performed worldwide to express emotion, tell a story, or as a form of exercise. Classical and folk dance are two traditional dance forms of India practiced for centuries. Let's look at the Difference Between Classical and Folk Dance.

Difference Between Classical and Folk Dance

Following are some of the significant Difference Between Classical and Folk Dance.

Basis of Difference

Classical Dance

Folk Dance


Classical dance is a formal dance form. The performer needs to meet the technicalities and learn postures and precision to give justice to this dance form.

Folk dance can be performed by anyone. This informal dance form can be performed anytime, anywhere, and any common man can choreograph the dance.


Classical dance is complex and challenging to learn. It is often taught by professional gurus, who are masters of the art. The dance has many technical, rhythmic, spatial, lyrical, and emotional aspects involved. It takes years of rigorous training to be able to perform in front of an audience.

Unlike classical, folk dances are easy to learn. They are more about fun and merry-making than perfecting the art form.


Classical dance is believed to have originated from high society circles, like royal courts and temple complexes. The dance form started around 200 BCE in India. Many dancers improvised the dance form over the years to bring it to the present-day state.

Folk dances are common people's dances that originated locally. That is why they differ from place to place.


Classical dance can be performed solo or in groups.

Folk dances are usually performed in groups during gatherings.

Dance forms

Today, India has eight classical dances:

  • Bharatanatyam - Tamil Nadu
  • Kathak - Uttar Pradesh
  • Odissi - Odisha
  • Kathakali - Kerala
  • Kuchipudi - Andhra Pradesh
  • Sattriya - Assam
  • Manipuri - Manipur
  • Mohiniyattam - Kerala

Folk and tribal dances in India are numerous, originating from different states.

What is a Classical Dance?

Classical dance is a highly stylized dance form intended for performance by professionals. Their origin can be traced to the ancient Sanskrit text 'Natya Shastra,' written by Bharata Muni. Classical dances have well-developed techniques, grammar, and style of execution. They are characterized by grace, composition, the precision of movement, and elaborate gestures. Many also include 'abhinaya,' the art of expression to evoke desired emotion in the spectators. Classical dance training is often rigorous and taught through Guru-Shisya tradition for centuries.

Download Difference Between Classical and Folk Dance PDF

There are eight basic expressions that are performed in classical dance, namely.

  1. Shringar: Love
  2. Hasya: Humorous
  3. Karuna: Sorrow
  4. Raudra: Anger
  5. Veer: Heroism
  6. Bhayanak: Fear
  7. Bibhats: Disgust
  8. Adbhoot: Wonder

India has 8 classical dance forms: Bharatnatyam (Tamil Nadu), Kathak (Uttar Pradesh), Kuchipudi (Andhra Pradesh), Odissi (Odisha), Kathakali (Kerala), Sattriya (Assam), Manipuri (Manipur), and Mohiniyattam (Kerala)

  • Bharatnatyam: It began in Tamil Nadu and is a significant style of Indian classical dance. In the Kannada work Manasollasa by Someshwara III, the dance style is briefly described as "Bharata Natya." Since ancient times, it has thrived in the courts and temples of southern India.
  • Kathak: It is Uttar Pradesh's traditional style of dance. The storytellers or itinerant bards known as Kathakars in ancient northern India are often credited as the creators of Kathak. The Vedic Sanskrit words Katha, which means "story," and Kathakar, which signifies "the one who tells a story" or "to do with stories," are the roots of the word Kathak.
  • Kuchipudi: The dance-drama performance known as Kuchipudi has its origins in the Natya Shastra, an old Hindu scripture written in Sanskrit. Like all significant Indian classical dances, it began as a religious art form associated with itinerant bards, temples, and spiritual beliefs. According to Kuchipudi tradition, the contemporary form of Kuchipudi was established and systematized in the 17th century by the sannyasin Tirtha Narayana Yati and his student, an orphan named Siddhendra Yogi.
  • Odissi: In the past, Odissi was primarily performed by women, and it used songs that were written and created in accordance with the ragas and talas of the music to express religious stories and spiritual ideals, notably those of Vaishnavism. The concepts of other traditions, such as those relating to the Hindu Gods Shiva and Surya and Hindu Goddesses, have also been conveyed through Odissi performances (Shaktism). The ancient Sanskrit literature Natya Shastra is where the theoretical underpinnings of Odissi are discovered.
  • Kathakali: The extremely colorful make-up, costumes, and face masks that the traditionally male actor-dancers don set this "story play" kind of art apart. It is indigenous to Kerala's Malayalam-speaking southwest region, where Malayalis predominately practice and enjoy it.
  • Sattriya: The scholar and saint Mahapurush Srimanta Sankardev, a member of the Bhakti movement, is credited with creating this dance-drama performance art, which has its roots in the Assamese Vaishnavism monasteries that are centered on Krishna. A ballad, a dance, and a play blend the aesthetic and the theological in Sattriya's one-act dramas known as Ankiya Nat.
  • Manipuri: Since it comes from the state of Manipur, another name for it is the Manipuri Raas Leela. The dancing style is characterized by delicate, calm body motions and compassionate gaze, and it is infused with the spiritual elements of Madhura Raas of Radha-Krishna. Whether a dancer is Hindu or not, their expressions are generally calm and convey Bhakti Rasa or the emotion of devotion. The dancing style is exclusively related to Radha Krishna worship and is centered on Hindu Shastras of Vaishnavism.
  • Mohiniyattam: The word "Mohini" refers to a historical enchantress and incarnation of the Hindu god Vishnu who, by harnessing her feminine abilities, aids the good over the bad and gives rise to the Mohiniyattam dance. The Natya Shastra, an old Hindu Sanskrit literature on performance arts, is where Mohiniyattam and all other classical Indian dances have their beginnings. However, it adheres to the delicate, erotically charged, and feminine Lasya form of dance as described in the Natya Shastra.

What is a Folk Dance?

Folk dance is a simpler dance form that reflects the lives of ordinary people. They are often performed in groups to the tune of local music. Folk dances defer from region to region. They are created for recreational or celebratory purposes and performed during weddings, festivals, or agricultural harvests. Since it's an informal dance form, it does not require any special training. All you need is energy and enthusiasm to perform this fun dance.

Some important folk dances of India are Vilasini Natyam, Dhimsa, Kolattam. Bihu, Bichhua, Natpuja, Bagurumba, Naga dance, Phag, Gugga, Khor, etc.

Dance, be it classical or folk, are our heritage and needs to be preserved. This can be done by encouraging and recognizing young talents and promoting the performance of rare dance forms time and again.

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FAQs on Difference Between Classical and Folk Dance

  • The Difference Between Classical and Folk Dance in terms of nature is that classical dance is a highly stylized dance form intended for performance by professionals, whereas folk dance is a locally originated simple dance form performed by ordinary people.

  • The Difference Between Classical and Folk Dance in origin is that classical dance is believed to have originated from high society circles, like royal courts and temple complexes, whereas folk dance originated locally.

  • The Difference Between Classical and Folk Dance in complexity is that classical dance is more complex and challenging to learn when compared to folk dance.

  • The Difference Between Classical and Folk Dance in performances is that classical dance can be performed solo or in groups, whereas folk dances are usually performed in groups during gatherings.

  • India’s National dance is Bharatnatyam. The dancing style is renowned for its exquisite hand gestures and movements, or mudras as they are known in the local dialect.

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