In ancient Bengal, dancing was popular entertainment. Courtesans and temple girls (devadasis) were required to be proficient in the art of dance prescribed by Bharata in his 'Natysastra'. Popular forms of dancing were rendered at mundane celebrations and on other occasions by low-caste tribes Nats and Domnis (women of the Dom caste) who practiced dancing and singing as hereditary professions. In the Middle ages, probably the institution of temple girls become obsolescent and class dancing was limited to courtesans. As a result dancing came to be looked down up on in respectable society.
The Chhou is unique form of masked dance. The dancer impersonates a god, animal, bird, hunter, flower. He acts out a short theme. And he performs a series of short themes mailny during the month of Chaitra ( April). Chhou masks have predominantly human features slightly modified to suggest what they are portraying. The performer's face being expressionless, the dancer's body communicates the total emotional and psychological tensions of a character. His feet have a gesture language, his toes are agile, functional, and expressive, like those of animal. The dancer is mute, no song is sung. Only, instrumental music ( bamboo flute, drums ) accompany him. The dance is very vigorus and acrobatic.
Chhau mask dance is predominantly a Bhumij art. All the majority of dancer are Bhumji.
Rava dance is from the northern part of West Bengal. These dances are performed mainly by Rava Women. Their dances include Fai Nang Mein or Welcome Dance, Nak Chung Baini or the dances evocative of catching prawn, Baishar Bidan or New Year’s Dance and Larai Lunji or War Dance.
Dances of Rava Community are colourful and rhythmic accompanied by melodious music. The theme includes their daily lives and joys of various festivals.
It is a very popular folk theatre among Bengali-speaking peoples. The word Jatra means procession and developed in response to the Vaisnav movement brought by the sage Chaitanya into the region in the sixteenth century.
Troupes were managed by the chief singer or actor who was often the owner as well. Performances centered on religious aspects, with high melodrama and an abundance of songs. Two characters,in particular, held the audience rapt: Conscience (Bibek) who meandered through the action, foretelling and commenting; and Fate (Niyati), always a female, who fulfilled the same function as the Bibek.
Jatra continues to be a melodramatic form characterized by actors who do not need microphones. Songs mark the beginning or the close of scenes. Furniture in any scene is the solitary chair that will become whatever it is required to. The chair can represent a shrine or a bed!