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Arangetram: A perfect illustration
- Sumi Krishnan, Sydney

October 8, 2007

What is an arangetram? After attending and reading several reviews on arangetrams this year, I am tired of listening to the same thing being said about it. Here's my take on it. An arangetram starts when parents take their six year old child to a dance teacher and wait to see her or him hold their aramandi, little knowing that they may be waiting for the next century or more for this to occur. The little seed of knowledge and technique is sowed while she or he grapples for years with peer group popularity of hip hop, Bollywood dances, flute lessons and sports, not to mention four unit maths into which, dance classes are scheduled.

Dance teachers spend days in the selection of the songs that are to be danced to for the selection is as important as the dance itself and months further to choreograph the music and years later, sigh...the student finally understands each word uttered ten times over has to be executed in various ways. Why you may ask, when eighty or more percent of students shall never become professionals or make a living out of this. What for this painful emphasis on the aramandi, bhavam and the complicated unpronounceable nattuvangam, and holding massive muscle bending sculpturesque poses set to music in a foreign language that needs to be "internalized"?

Because they say you shall one day have your arangetram, when you will be beautifully adorned in the finest, most expensive silks meticulously chosen. When you, for one day shall stand for four hours while your hair is pulled into place and wear heavy jewellery. When you shall for one day be the hero, the heroine and the villain, when relatives appear from across oceans to see you dance. When after spending several thousands of dollars, you shall have light, camera, live music, a stage, and an expanse of audience. An audience, bar a few misguided souls, who shall appreciate and clap and that shall be your debut performance. And after that, you shall carry forth a part of that glorious day to last you a lifetime and a day shall come when you shall do the same for your child.

The forging future of Bharatanatyam, world over, precariously rests now in arangetrams. It lies not in the hands of the dancer and the teacher alone but in the hearts of the community and unfailingly the depleting bank accounts of parents. This art form should and may be extolled and taught by gurus, the pseudo gurus, and even virtual gurus. But it is really only fostered by people like you and me who know nothing about this art. What we choose to see and appreciate, defines the existence of "Bharatanatyam" prevailing within our community. If we attend an arangetram and can only see the failing aramandi, the near collapsing sculpturesque poses, the missteps, the failing this and the failing that, it is the birth of the failure of Bharatanatyam for generations to come.

An arangetram is a living illustration. A living illustration of a united, perfect execution, not of dance, but of dedication and commitment to this art form. The little failures in a performance are but a part of the journey.

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