Kathak is one of the most important classical dances of India. Kathak is said to be derived from the word katha, meaning "the art of storytelling." The Kathak dance form originated in north India and was very similar to the Bharatnatyam dance form. In ancient India, there were Kathakars or bards who used to recite religious and mythological tales to the accompaniment music, mime and dance.
Under the influence of Persian and Muslim traditions Kathak dance assumed the form of courtly entertainment. Under the patronage of medieval rulers and Nawabs a class of dancing girls and courtesans emerged to entertain the palaces and courts. Medieval traditions imparted Kathak a distinct Hindu-Muslim texture. Thus, with the passage of time Kathak went on changing its form and character. This change was also reflected in the dress of Kathak dance.
During the nineteenth century Kathak enjoyed a revival and gained prominence among the kings and zamindars (feudal lords) not only as a form of entertainment but also as a classical art form. Slowly and gradually Gharanas or schools of Kathak emerged. The Jaipur Gharana of Kathak emphasized technical mastery of pure dance. In the court of Wajid Ali Shah, the Nawab of Oudh (a student of Kathak), Kathak dance emphasized dramatic and sensuous expression and developed into a distinct style called the Lucknow Gharana. This Gharana is said to have originated with Wajid Ali Shah's court dancer Thakur Prasadji.
Kathak dances are performed straight-legged and the ankle bells worn by the dancers are skillfully controlled. In Kathak dance the emphasis is more on footwork as against hasta mudras or hand formations in Bharatnatyam dance. Kathak dance can be performed by both men and women. A Kathak dancer is not required strictly to stick to fixed steps and stages in. He or she can change the sequence of steps to suit his or her skill and style of dancing. Modern exponents of Kathak dance are Birju Maharaj and Uma Sharma.