Classical dances are based fully or partly on the principles and techniques embodied in the ancient Hindu scriptures and technical texts on dance and allied arts. The earliest of these known scripts is Bharatha’s Natya Shastra believed to have been written around the second century B.C. Most of the prevailing systems of classical dancing governed by elaborate techniques with a high degree of refinement have had their origin in the dances of the common people.
The difference between classical dancing and folk dancing is mainly that there is a deliberate attempt at artistry in the former. Sophistication along the norms of the scriptures of advance theories on dance and dramaturgy are strictly adhered to. The concept of portraying emotion, the grace of the individual dances and the virtuosity of the isolated poses are all important in classical dances. Emphasis has been given to different aspects of the dance, namely pure bodily movement, aids to dance like theme, song, instrumental music, the expression of emotions, moods and sentiments, the dress, ornaments, makeup and the stage.
Koothu, Koodiyatom, Patakom, Ashtapdiyatoom, Krishnanattom, Thullal, Mohiniyattom and Kathakali are the most important classical dances.