The generic terms of Yoga Dance or Dance Yoga are often misused to refer to the phoney western inventions of dance-like exercises that may or may not incorporate a sthe asana-like postures. These commercially developed sets of exercises have been created and marketed mostly by some western aerobics instructors many of whom mistook the hatha yoga asanas for a form of gymnastics or Pilates. These dance-like exercises have nothing to do with Yoga, and therefore their effects are limited in scope to the effects of aerobics.
The sacred dance elements are part of the system of Dance Yoga, an integral yoga that envisages the spiritual enlightment and transformation of the entire human nature: one's body, heart, mind and soul. A fundamental text of Dance Yoga is the ancient Natya Shastra, an abridged and modified written version of the Gandharva Veda, that synthesized in itself the four main Vedas. A section of gandharvas called apsaras are the celestial dancers at the court of Indra (the world of the higher, intuitive intelligence). The occasional incarnations of apsaras helped bring Natya to the physical world.
While the most orthodox Dance Yoga system is found in Bharathnrithyam, most elements of Dance Yoga can be found in some orthodox classical India dance theatre styles of Bharatanatyam and, so some extent, Odissi. The introduction to the Dance Yoga elements in Bharatanatyam is presented in DVD Volume 1
The true Dance Yoga is not of human but of divine origin, and was initially revealed to some highly enlightened sages, rishis, in their meditations. Dance proper, nritta, is part and parcel of Natya, but it is nevertheless much more than merely dance movements. Apart from nritta, there is natya, which can be translated as mime, and which is a distinct element of Dance Yoga. A combination of nritta and natya is called nrithya. Although it does involve attaining to some trance-like states, Yoga Dance has nothing to do with what is popularly known as trance (or psychedelic) dance.
Dance Yoga's approach to the preparation of the physical body is similar to Hatha Yoga's: the practitioner is supposed to do the traditional static asanas and breathing exercises. However, Dance Yoga is not limited to these static asanas, and contains a set of dynamic exercises, some of which can be found in martial arts. While the classic asanas, bandhas and pranayamas have already been covered and demonstrated by numerous authors, the additional exercises used in Dance Yoga are introduced in detail in DVD Volume 2.
Another distinction is that the authentic Yoga of Dance uses certain types of the Carnatic music that awakes and elevates the body's consciousness so that it responds to the music spontaneously. One of the Tantric texts, Saundarya Lahari, says that Kundalini hidden in Muladhara chakra can be raised by the raga punnagavarali. This is the reason that the Dance Yoga practitioners are encouraged to learn the instrumental and vocal music. The Upasana of Brahman thru Sama Gana (Udgita Upasana) has been pointed out by rishi Yagnyavalkya: "Singing of the Samans to the accompaniment of Vina makes one obtain the boon of Moksha effortlessly". Some of the mystic dimensions of the Carnatic music, which originates from Sama Veda and later evolved in the Tantra, are explained in DVD Volume 8
The conditioning of the body is essential for it to become a purer channel for the divine light. The 108 karanas, or key transitional movements that were revealed to many sages, e.g. Pathanjali and Vyagrapada, punctuate a full-fledged Natya recital, helps the dancer's body discover the 108 primal divine energies, or the fundamental modes of existence, and to learn the intimate links between the movements of the physical, emotional and mental bodies.The key points in many karanas are considered to be very similar or identical to the corresponding asanas.
Dance Yoga contains practically all elements of the path of action, Karma Yoga. The key concept of lila, the divine play, and the perception of the illusoriness of the manifest existence are the fundamentals of Dance Yoga, the advanced stages of which require the dancer to perform items in front of the audience. These stage performances are an opportunity for the dancer to learn how to remain indifferent to the spectators' reactions, and shift the dancer's perception of the reality. The reason that there were no public Natya performances in Satya Yuga was very simple: Natya was there in people's daily life's every action. A Natya Yogi learns how to control each part of his nature, and whatever is learnt is applied in daily life's every act: in the waking state first. The practice provides the dancer with a set of various situations where he is taught how to act without being attached to the fruits of one's action, and how to offer every smallest act of his body, every emotion and every thought as an offering to the Divine. Achieving a complete detachment from the workings of one's mind is a first step towards such a perfect control. The elements of Karma yoga in Natya are dealt with in DVD Volume 5.
The transformation of life, - not shunning away from it - is the purpose of true Dance Yoga, and here it is very similar to the Tantric approach, with its visualisations, invocatory practices and emphasis on establishing various godheads and divine powers in the human being. While often mistaken for a form of shamanistic dance, Dance Yoga focuses on bringing the dancer in contact with the higher realms rather than making the dancer a medium for the lower spirits. The Dance Yogi will ideally focus not only on the transformation of one's individual life but on the transformation of the life of the people around him. One of the tools to achieve it is the public performance of Natya, as a form of collective meditation. The elements of Tantra, as well as Raja Yoga's meditation and concentration practices used in Natya are highlighted in DVD Volume 6.
Most of the Dance Yoga items are devotional items. While most of the themes embody symbols of Hinduism, a growing number of dancers are adopting the Christian and Muslim themes too, proving that - just like any other yoga - the Dance Yoga too goes beyond the religious boundaries. Each item is to be performed as an act of worship, which is to culminate in the dancer surrendering himself to the Divine, the trance-like states which are also similar to what sufi whirling aims at. The Yoga dancers believe that the fastest way to realize all the intricate truths on the path of devotion and different types of Lilas is easier and faster attained not so much by merely singing bhajans but by enacting various devotional songs, which require one to master one's emotional states, relations and attitudes, embodied in the concept of 8 Nayika bhavas. The elements of Bhakti in Dance Yoga are elaborated in DVD Volume 7.