Bharata Natyam is considered to be a fire-dance — the mystic manifestation of the metaphysical element of fire in the human body. It is one of the five major styles (one for each element) that include Odissi (element of water), Kuchipudi (element of earth), Mohiniattam (element of air) and Kathakali (element of sky or aether). The movements of an authentic Bharata Natyam dancer resemble the movements of a dancing flame. Contemporary Bharata Natyam is rarely practiced as Natya Yoga, a sacred meditational tradition, except by a few orthodox schools (see Yoga and dance).
Bharata Natyam proper is a solo dance, with two aspects, lasya, the graceful feminine lines and movements, and tandava Ananda Thandavam (Tamil) (the dance of Shiva), masculine aspect.
In most solo performances, Bharata Natyam involves many split characters that are depicted by the dancer. The dancer will take on numerous characters by switching roles through the swift turn in circle and creates a story line that can be easily followed by the feat of one individual. The characters will be understood by the narrative of the song and the expression, or "abhinaya." However, in more modern times, Bharata Natyam performances have taken stage as group performances involving dramatical performances that require many characters depicted by various dancers. In addition, these dance performances include numerous transitions and formations that are creatively choreographed to enhance the movements along with the music.