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The classic moves of Kalbelia dancers

Trisha Bhattacharya, November 8, 2015 0:14 IST
A popular folk dance of Rajasthan holds the sight of graceful and flexible women dancers, all dressed in black, embellished attire, swaying to rhythmic folk music. These are the Kalbelia dancers. The Kalbelia tribesmen who play instruments like the pungi, harmonium and other percussions provide the musical atmosphere for these dancers who need to enact beautiful and complicated dance steps.

The people of Kalbelia tribe are also known as saperas or jogiras — who were originally snake handlers. They have always led and continue to lead a gypsy-like and bohemian lifestyle, as their culture represents.

This folk dance is marked by pliability and has serpentine movements due to the influence of the tribe’s erstwhile profession. It is usually performed during festivities, and the songs accompanying it are often poetic, and convey mythological stories.

The Kalbelia dancers are exceptionally flexible; they perform beautiful stunts as they twist and turn their bodies in myriad ways, as is humanly possible. Sometimes, they balance utensils, one or several, upon their heads, or use swords and blades to carry out difficult manoeuvres.

One of the many eye-catching steps is the dancers twirling in circles as they hold the edges of their flared and voluminous skirts called ghagras. Their dance clothes, including the angrakha (kurta or top) and the skirt, is made up of a black-coloured fabric. The base fabric is decorated with colourful embroidery, lacework, patchwork, silver thread work, and mirror work. So, when the dancers spin for a long time, the flares of their skirts move along with them, and the varied colours shine brilliantly.

The women enhance their facial features with make-up, tattoos and vibrant bindis, and wear armlets and bangles (depending on the arm-length of their tops) for accessories.

This ensemble, coupled with the elasticity of their perfect movements, looks mesmerising. It might remind one of a serpent dancing to the sound of the pungi. Sometimes, the tassels added to their attire appear prominent during certain dance moves.

The Kalbelia songs and dances are fast, and gain further momentum after a few rounds. There are both group and solo performances, depending on the occasion. However, the women of his tribe who have mastered the dance for many years are usually at the forefront of most performances.

On visits to various cities in Rajasthan, one can see these singers and dancers performing for foreign and Indian spectators. Many tourists who go to Rajasthan are spellbound by this dance, for it is fast paced.

Kalbelia dancers, apart from being invited to other cities within India, are also invited abroad to perform at international exhibitions and festivals.

Their songs and dances have been recognised by UNESCO as ‘Intangible Cultural Heritage’.

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