May 3, 2009
If you’ve seen enough performances of Indian dance, you’ll notice that generally, the dancers dance with their bare feet. Though I’m not entirely sure of the reason(s) why Indian dances are just generally performed sans shoes, it’s probably due to the fact that Indian dance emphasizes rhythm and beat, particularly in classical Indian dance, where the dancers strike the floor with their feet.
To emphasize the movement and sound of the feet as they strike the ground, a string or pad of bells known as ghunghroos are tied around the dancer’s ankles. You can imagine how this attests to a dancer’s skill–if the dancer makes a mistake, the bells will sound out of synch with the time of the music, amplifying the misstep even more.
There’s a spiritual aspect to the bells as well. The ghunghroos are never worn during practice, only during a performance. And my Bharatanatyam guruji, or dance teacher, would never let us wear our ghunghroos before a performance without having them first blessed by God.
In addition to the bells, dancers will often paint their feet. This is generally just for decoration though, as the hands are also painted with the same design. The intended effect is to make the gestures and movements stand out even more, such as when the dancer is performing onstage.
Personally, I’m so used to dancing barefoot that when I go out to dance I feel uncomfortable wearing shoes. (Then again, high heels aren’t the greatest for dancing, either.) I’m glad that when I learned dance, I didn’t have to deal with squeezing my feet into shoes like some of my friends who studied pointe ballet. Although I do have tougher feet from having to strike them against the floor when dancing Bharatanatyam. My guruji would tell us that whenever we struck our feet against the stage, the resounding noise should sound like a clap of thunder.
I still have my first pair of ghunghroos. The pad has worn thin and several of the bells have fallen off, but I keep them as a memento of my first days of dance.