Amazing Kids! Magazine

Storytelling through the Kathak and Hula Dances

By Sean Traynor, Editorial Adviser and Contributing Writer


Storytelling is ingrained in many cultures to pass on tradition, culture, history and beliefs of groups of people. Some cultures use dance as a mode of storytelling. Northern India’s Kathak is a classical form of dance. The word Kathak comes from the word katha which means “the art of storytelling.” The Kathakas are a community of artists known for narrating history while entertaining. Now Kathak is among the six major classical dances of India. Another type of storytelling dance is the Hula found in Hawai’i, which uses the art of movement, dance and storytelling. Dance can be a very powerful tool to tell a story. The dances, Kathak from India and Hula from Hawai’i, tell the stories of their cultures. Both dances share the purpose of communicating stories, but they also have some differences that reflect their cultures. These dances show that dance plays a valuable role in cultural preservation.

Kathak Dancer

Kathak dancing tells a story through facial expressions, rhythmic words, twirls, small bells the dancer ties around their ankles, and music. There are many different types of instruments used, but the most common one is the tabla, a two piece drum set.  It can also include some stringed instruments such as the sitar and the sarod. The costumes and jewelry help tell the message by creating a mood or feeling. While there are many different types of costumes, the two most common ones are the anrkali and the lehenga choli. The anrkali is an outfit which is a long flowing pleated top that reaches below the knees and is worn with leggings and a veil. The lehenga choli has a long pleated skirt, a blouse, and a veil. They are brightly colored and embroidered or decorated. Gold or silver jewelry is used to complement the outfit. The dancers also wear small brass bells known as ghungroos around their ankles. The bells provide the rhythms for each performance.  The costumes reflect cultural beliefs about beauty.

The stories that Kathak dancing portrays come from their cultures’ ancient sacred text. Each dance interprets the texts, telling the stories of the gods and goddesses. This dance uses primarily facial expressions with some hand movement to tell its stories. There is usually only one dancer and the dancer is usually an adult because of the difficulty in learning the nuances of the dance.

Hula Dancers

The ancient Hawaiians had no written form of language so they developed the Hula dance to pass history, myth, and culture down from generation to generation. Just like the Kathak, the Hula uses drumming to provide a rhythm to the chanting of poems from ancient texts. The commercialization of the Hula to larger crowds has caused the inclusion of additional Instruments such as the guitar and ukulele.

There are two forms of the Hula – the ancient and the modern. The ancient still uses the rhythms and chants of their ancestors and is traditionally performed by men. The modern version has incorporated melody, harmony and the use of stringed instruments and is performed by both men and women. Costumes of the ancient dance use bark cloth, coconut fibers and native grasses, plants, and ferns whereas the modern version uses colorful dress with flower prints. The costumes are meant to enhance the movement. The Hula dancer’s grass skirts sway to the rhythm of the dancer’s hips. The Hula costumes may include a flower lei, which represents the Hawaiian value of family.

The Hula stories also come from their cultures’ ancient sacred texts. The Hula, however, goes further in that it also tells stories of the history of the Hawaiian people. The Hula uses arm, hand and hip motions to portray the story, rather than facial expressions like the Kathak. There are usually groups of dancers, representing the Hawaiian value of family. People of any age perform the dance.

Throughout history, Kathak and Hula dancing have told stories important to their cultures while reflecting their values and beliefs. These dances prove that stories can be passed down in other ways than just books. They make stories come alive and create a memorable story that lives on for generations.

No comments


  1. Frances Dean Who Loved to Dance and Dance – Birgitta Sif | Sparking Children's Thinkibility - […] about dances where you use your hands to tell a story, Kathak and Hula dances. For example, in Hula…