Difference Between Classical and Folk Dance | Classical vs Folk

By Mohit Uniyal|Updated : January 23rd, 2023

The major difference between Classical and Folk Dance is that classical dance is quite complicated and specialized, whereas folk dance is effortless to learn. 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. Another prominent difference between Classical and Folk Dance is that classical dance is performed solo or in groups, while folk dance is always performed in groups. 

Difference Between Classical and Folk Dance PDF

Classical and folk dance are two traditional dance forms of India practiced for centuries. Classical dance training is often rigorous and has been taught through the Guru-Shisya tradition for centuries. Whereas folk dance is informal, it does not require any special training. Let us learn the difference between classical and folk dance in detail, along with a few examples.

Table of Content

Difference Between Classical and Folk Dance

The main difference between folk dance and classical dance is that folk dance is a kind of simple dance created by individuals to recall their lives, while classical dance refers to diverse dance forms that can outline their origins in the Sanskrit text on drama and theatre, Natyashastra.

Classical vs Folk Dance

Following are some of the significant differences between Classical and Folk Dance.

Difference Between Folk Dance and Classical 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.

Anyone can perform folk dance.

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 involves many technical, rhythmic, spatial, lyrical, and emotional aspects.

It takes years of rigorous training 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.

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.

Classical and Folk Dance

Classical and Folk dance are both art forms. Classical dance has well-developed techniques, grammar, and style of execution. Some important folk dances of India are Vilasini Natyam, Dhimsa, and Kolattam. Bihu, Bichhua, Natpuja, Bagurumba, Naga dance, Phag, Gugga, Khor, etc.

India has 8 classical dance forms:

  • Bharatnatyam (Tamil Nadu)
  • Kathak (Uttar Pradesh)
  • Kuchipudi (Andhra Pradesh)
  • Odissi (Odisha)
  • Kathakali (Kerala)
  • Sattriya (Assam)
  • Manipuri (Manipur)
  • Mohiniyattam (Kerala).

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.

  • They are characterized by grace, composition, the precision of movement, and elaborate gestures.
  • Many also include 'abhinaya,' the art of expressing desired emotion in the spectators.

Eight basic expressions 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

Let us understand various classical dance forms in India:

  • 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 originates 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 colourful 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 centred on Krishna. A ballad, a dance, and a play blend the aesthetic and the theological in Sattriya's one-act dramas, 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 centred 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 begin. However, it adheres to the delicate, erotically charged, and feminine Lasya 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.
  • All you need is energy and enthusiasm to perform this fun dance.
  • 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.


Key Difference Between Classical and Folk Dance

The key Difference Between Classical and Folk Dance is that classical dance involves many technicalities and needs elegance, serenity, posture, and abhinaya, while folk dance does not require any technicalities and is more about vibrance, energy, and enjoyment.

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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.

  • Bharatanatyam is a prominent form of Indian classical dance developed in Tamil Nadu. It is one of the 8 widely acknowledged Indian classical dance forms and communicates South Indian spiritual melodies and beliefs, especially of Hinduism and Shaivism.

  • 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. This is because classical dance involves many technicalities including elegance, stillness, and proper posture, while folk dance does not.

  • 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. Bharatanatyam depends on codes of performance and aesthetics in masterpieces such as Bharata's Natyashastra.

  • 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 eight classical dances of India are: Bharatanatyam - Tamil Nadu, Kathak - Uttar Pradesh, Odissi - Odisha, Kathakali - Kerala, Kuchipudi - Andhra Pradesh, Sattriya - Assam, Manipuri - Manipur, and Mohiniyattam - Kerala.

  • 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.

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