Kinnam Kali

Kinnam Kali is an enjoyable dance form that has parlayed the years, fighting a tough battle with its clones, the Thiruvathira Kali and Kaikotti Kali. It is now gaining much of its lost popularity. The age-old art form is all about dancing while holding and balancing plates in two hands. The delightful dance is tough to learn and requires a lot of patience.

Geetha Sharma Kottapadi, Guruvayur, a veteran Thiruvathira Kali teacher and also an exponent of Kinnam Kali says the art had its beginnings in the Malabar districts of Kerala. ‘Kinnam’ means plate in Malayalam and as such the dance, which is essentially a group performance, has dancers dancing holding plates in their two hands.The number of dancers should be in even numbers, with at least a minimum of eight dancers. The dance is usually set to tune with traditional ‘Vanchipattukal’- the old-time folksongs sung during the renowned boat races of Kerala. According to Geetha teacher, the dance is all about perfectly balancing the plates without ever dropping it even once.“In Kinnam Kali, you need to perfectly synchronize the hand-body kinetics with the beats or the thalam and the song. While dancing, the dancers should also be completely aware of the plates they are holding and should not drop it even once. The beauty of the dance lies in the body movements and the hand movements while holding the plates” says Geetha teacher.

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There is a general perception that the dance is almost similar to Thiruvathira Kali or Kaikotty Kali but that is not so. “It’s entirely different from these dance forms. In Kinnam Kali, there are as much body movements as there are hand movements. The dancer should move her body in the opposite direction as against her hand moves or the plates will drop. The body sways are another added beauty of the dance as with the hand movements with the plates. And again the plates should not touch our body parts and also the dancer should make sure not to touch the person standing next to her or the plates will drop.”Geetha Teacher explains about the dance.

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At first, the performers used to dance to traditional vanchipattu but now with the change of times, many old-time Malayalam folk songs are tuned to the dance steps. “We are experimenting with different folk songs. If I feel a particular song does not go with the dance, then I change it immediately. So far some of those old folksongs that many of us have grown up hearing our moms and grand-moms sing have worked out perfectly well. I even feel some of those Malayalam film songs that have the distinctive folk touch can be tuned to the dance. Right now I am trying out the dance with an old Kaikotti Kali song, “Gokale Mechum Kondum…”.” Geetha Teacher undoubtedly loves the dance and her passion for the dance is clearly felt, when she talks about the dance form.

“I learned this dance when I was in fifth grade. We had to learn Thivathira Kali, which was an inherent part of our family tradition. My friend’s grandmother taught me Kinnam Kali, after she saw one of my Thiruvathira Kali performances and the dance has became a part of me ever since.” remembers Geetha teacher. She strongly feels that young girls should learn this dance. “It’s a delightful charm to see young girls wearing Pattu Pavadai, with a string of jasmine on their hairs and decked in jewelry perform this dance. It’s not that older people should not learn Kinnam Kali. I have a retired teacher in my team of students. She was very hesitant to learn at first as she felt she would not be good at it, but loved the dance form. I encouraged her, gave her the required boost. As a teacher, I have always felt it is my duty to change my style of teaching according to the age-group. With older people I would change the dance steps that most befits them. This is a sort of dedication that I have developed over the years.” says Geetha Teacher.

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We ask her about the popularity of the dance and she continues, “Yes, the dance is gaining popularity. Recently my team and I performed in Bahrain, for the Malayali association there, as a part their Onam celebrations. It was a great feel indeed to take your art-from globally. However I strongly feel the dance should never be a part of youth festivals as they change the very essence of the dance for personal needs. The whole charm of the dance would be lost then.”

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