Indian classical dance is a tradition that extends back more than 5000 years, making it one of the oldest sustained art forms in existence. Images of Indian classical dance can be found on the sculptures of ancient Indian temples, as well as monuments. Unlike modern dance forms, which rely on continued innovation and abstract expression, Indian classical dance is often a strict, preserved dance form that has little variation across time. The dance is often learned visually, with dancers taking cues from the sculptures and drawings of classical dancers. These drawings often come from ancient Indian temples.
One of the oldest Indian scriptures is called the "Natya Shastra," and it is nearly 2000 years old. The Natya Shastra is potentially the oldest surviving text on Indian classical dance, and it has a detailed list of rules that cover nearly all aspects of the art form. When a person is discussing Indian classical dance, they are typically discussing the movements and techniques described in the Natya Shastra. There have been variations on the Natya Shastra, with many contemporary dancers expanding on the stories, depictions and techniques described in the text. However, many of the contemporary Indian dance forms remain similar to the original movements.