The word Kathak has been derived from the word katha which means a story. Kathakars or story-tellers, are people who narrate stories largely based on episodes form the epics myths and legends. It probably started as an oral tradition. Mime and gestures were perhaps added later on to make the recitation more effective. Thus evolved a simple form of expressional dance, providing the origins of what later developed into Kathak as we see it today.
The technique of movement in Kathak is unique to it. The weight of the body is equally distributed along the horizontal and vertical axis. The full foot contact is of prime importance where only the toe or the ball of the foot are used, their function is limited. There are no deflection and no use of sharp bends or curves of the upper or lower part of the body. Torso movements emerge from the change of the shoulder line rather than through the manipulations of the backbone or upper chest and lower waist muscles. In the basic stance, the dancer stands straight holds one hand at a level higher than the head and the other is extended out on the level of the shoulder. The technique is built by the use of an intricate system of foot work. Pure dance (nritta) is all important where complex rhythmic patterns are created through the use of the flat feet and the control of sound of the ankle bells worn by the dancer. As in Bharatnatyam, Odissi and Manipuri, Kathak also build its pure dance sequences by combining units of movement. The cadences are called differently by the names tukra, tora and parana, all indicative of the nature of rhythmic patterns used and the percussion instrument accompanying the dance. The dancer commences with a sequence called Thata where soft glinding movements of the neck, eyebrows and the wrists, are introduced. This is followed by a conventional formal entry known as the Amad (entry) and the Salami (Salutation). Then follow the various combinations of rhythmic, passages all punctuated with and culminating in a number of pirouettes. The pirouettes are the most charecteristic feature of the dance style in nritta portion. Recitation of the rhythmic syllables is common; the dancer often pauses to recite these to a specified metrical cycle followed by execution through movement. The nritta portion of Kathak is performed to the nagma. Both the drummer (here the drum is either a pakhawaj, a type of mridangam, or a pair of tablas) and the dancer weave endless combination on a repetitive melodic line. The metrical cycle (Tala) of 16, 10, 14 beats provides the foundation on which the whole edifice of dance is built. Today, Kathak has emerged as a distinct dance form. Being the only classical dance of India having links with Muslim culture, it represents a unique synthesis of Hindu and Muslim genius in art.