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The Great Dance Robbery - arangetrams in the diaspora
I happen to be a parent whose daughter has completed her arangetram. I am simply trying to share my experience so that parents can be more informed and astute as they go through organizing their daughter's arangetrams.

Could I "afford" the dollars that I shelled out? Perhaps, yes. Was it value for the dollar? Certainly not. I am positive that the cost of using live orchestra is pumped up artificially in order to give teachers their cut.

There was no way for me to ask the teacher point blank without offending her or exposing the musicians to her wrath.

Nevertheless, I saw no reason why the musicians would make up such a story. It is obvious that the teachers enjoy some leverage with the parents when it comes to choice of musicians because they do provide input on the matter and lay out the options for the parents. Therefore, the musicians would feel compelled to stay on the teachers good books and comply with his/her demands in order to ensure future business.

On a final note, I am glad to have started a debate and exchange of ideas on a topic that needs addressing.

I had no idea teachers would resort to receiving indirect kick backs. I am not sure why... Like the previous thread, they could have just asked upfront...

The only point that comes to my mind is that the teacher may have wanted some compensation for performing nattuvangam... I know lots of teachers who do not do nattuvangam themselves.

They hire a nattuvanar as part of the orchestra and that person has to be compensated also. In this case if it is the teacher, then they have to be paid for their work.

We, the parents, were asked to negotiate with the musicians ourselves. Basically, the idea was to convince us that the process was totally open.

During the week of the arangetram, the musicians were housed with us. The musicians got comforatable enough with us to admit that they was asked for a certain "commission" by the teacher which was duly paid. Due to the competitive nature of the business these musicians feel compelled to comply.

The teacher is married to a physician and is certainly not in penury by any standards.

I am not in a position to divulge any names. So, I would like to stop with this. My idea is to caution other parents.

Just take the basic essentials for an arangetram
Theater Rental (including insurance) = $1,500
Musicians (Fee, travel, lodging, food) = $ 5,500
Private lessons for arangetram prep
(assume 20 classes at $25) = $500
Guru Dakshina = ???
Costumes, accessories = ???
Basic, simple invitation cards = ???
Misc = ???
I challenge anybody who tells me that they can accomplish this for anything less than $12,000. Really, who thinks that this is peanuts? And as you can see, the biggest chunk goes towards paying for the musicians.

No wonder you have talented kids who never manage to have an arangetram. The parents would rather save this to pay for college.

When you are saying $5500 (although I think it's really more like $3000 for an orchestra from India)? Does it include their airfare or not?????

$5500.00 is for a person or for the group charge????

There are few who can lavishly spend 30,000 to 40,000 but that's not the case with middle class NRI's. We don't have that kind of money even to spend on colleges leave alone Arangetrams. I know at least one more parent whose child dances divinely but wouldn't do an arangetram just because of the cost. So what you have suggested is only a minority. I can't even describe that as one side of a coin.

Basic question - why is there such a strong desire to have an arangetram? Instead of blaming the musicians, why not address the issue of what's driving this need for an arangetram? Is an arangetram a basic human right? Is it somehow needed for existence or survival?

So what if musicians are "greedy"? Just because someone wants their child to have an arangetram, the musicians are expected to play for peanuts? Let's break down your $5500 (although I think it's really more like $3000 for an orchestra from India). Let's say there are 4 musicians in the orchestra - that's $1375 per musician. I'm not even taking into account the sponsor's cut for purposes of my example. The musicians are usually with you for at least a week. That is about $195 per day or a little over $8 per hour. During that time they work hard to ensure that your child's program will be a success. They are away from their own loved ones because this is the way they earn their livelihood. As someone mentioned with regard to dance gurus, no one pays for their health insurance or retirement. In America, only generally unskilled jobs pay minimum wage. So, what's so bad about paying $8 per hour to a highly skilled professional? Yes, musicians are professionals. Just because they are not doctors or engineers, doesn't mean that they don't deserve to be respected and valued. Is it because the musicians are from India and so, therefore, are earning too much in your view?

Bottom line, if you cannot afford to buy something, are you going to sit around complaining that the seller should not charge so much because you really deserve to have what he is selling?

Help me to understand what the big deal is with having an arangetram. Why can't parents rent out their local temple auditorium or community center (maybe $500 at most) and have their child dance to recorded music? No need for dinner and special guests. Considering how much money we spend on various activities for our children, I'm sure that's within reach even for middle-class NRIs. Isn't the event supposed to be the first step in the dancer's career? There will theoretically be many more performances to come in the dancer's lifetime. So, why do parents succumb to the pressure to out-do one another with these events? If it's the dance gurus that are pressuring parents to host lavish arangetrams, let's bring it out into the open. I think it will be beneficial to bring more transparency to this whole process.

Why is there such a strong desire to have an arangetram? Instead of blaming the musicians, why not address the issue of what's driving this need for an arangetram? Is an arangetram a basic human right? Is it somehow needed for existence or survival?

I think some people are minimalizing (or are just plain ignorant of) what an arangetram has come to stand for in the US. True, in the olden days in India it signified the beginning of a dancer's career; it was an important event, but not something to be celebrated in such a grandiose fashion as there were more important performances to come.

Unfortunately, things are not like that today. We can sit and point out what a shame it is that the original concept of an arangetram is no longer understood, but that would be ignoring context. The arangetram in America is a celebration, on par with Bar/Bat Mitzvah's, Quinceneras, Sweet 16's... etc. Here, we have all of these events for teenagers (usually girls), and the Indian community has come to adopt the arangetram as their own celebration for their daughters. And can you blame them? I can see responses being posted to this, bashing the American materialistic society and the incompetence of NRI's in preserving their culture, but understand that the phrase "when in Rome..." applies here. The arangetram is not just about dance here (and some may argue it has very little to do with dance); it is about cultural assimilation as well.

Of course, I don't think it is right that an arangetram is necessarily such a lavish event, but at the same time I cannot blame parents for wanting the best for their kids, as their friends' children are getting similar celebrations in their own cultures. My parents are not wealthy, but they would not even consider doing my arangetram on a small scale. Even if I had suggested a temple hall, they would not have agreed... and so a large auditorium was rented, an orchestra from India was hired, and a buffet dinner was catered. Someone once upon a time in the US decided to have a big arangetram for their child, and after that followed many more lavish arangetrams. If you don't have a similarly grand arangetram, people start talking, parents feel guilty, and children - well, they may care or not care (most likely the former, because it is only natural). So, yes, it's easy for someone, who knows nothing about what an arangetram has come to mean in the States, to ask "what's the big deal? Do something small and get over it." But believe me, this is much easier said than done. There is a social context one must consider.

As for parents complaining about the costs of an arangetram when they already have an elaborate one in mind... I do not know. My parents let out several sighs when analyzing the fees for different things, but they never complained, and simply paid what was required. I don't think my orchestra was overpriced (we paid $3,000 for the singer, mridangist, and flautist), but it ticks me off that most of the money went to the sponsors and not them. In that sense, I think the sponsor was overpriced! However, I understand that Concerned Parent went through a different sort of orchestral arrangement, and so I cannot comment on musicians in general. Also, the guru dakshina was never specified by my guru (luckily, for us, she is a very kind person who wouldn't demand any amount of money). So, we gave her what we could - I believe $2,000 - and she was appreciative.

We have heard a lot about bad teachers/musicians etc. It is agreed that there are SOME overpriced musicians and greedy teachers. Now, let us look at the other side of the coin - the infamous "impatient parents" who make the situation even worse.
First of all, we cannot generalize all the teachers in India/US and I am still trying to understand why some of the readers think that teachers in India cannot charge more than what teachers charge in the US. What is so special about teachers in the US or anywhere
outside India? Charge should be directly proportional to the quality of the teacher and his or her teaching. Of course, it is agreed that some teachers are greedy but to generalize everyone is a huge mistake. There are excellent teachers with good quality of teaching
who have produced many good Bharatanatyam artists, be it India or outside. It is worth every penny to take good care of teachers who belong to this category.

Talking about summer classes in India... Most children go for a month, having little time on their hands and expect the teachers to be there whenever they have the time to learn. How is that possible? Isn't it asking for too much? Good learning comes not only from
classes but also from observing the teacher - how the guru dances, lectures, demonstrates. For that, one needs time, patience and dedication. Since none of those are available at this time and age, parents should be ready to spend money so that teachers can cancel some of their other appointments and be ready to attend to their children instead. How is that not justified? After all, it is their bread and butter. If someone really wants to learn, it should be out of sheer passion and not parental pressure.

If money is the issue, are parents willing to let their kids take time and learn in the Gurukulam pattern of learning? But that is seen as too old-fashioned and not possible since Bharatanatyam is viewed as yet another certificate of merit on the child's life agenda and not exactly as an art form that needs years and years of learning and practice.

Unfortunately, the attitude these days is that everything can be bought with money including the teacher. Where is the respect for the one who teaches?

Next, to talk about Arangetram... It is only the first performance in the dance career of the student. The student has got so much more to learn from then onwards and has to take the art form seriously and perform with passion. It was only meant for people who were serious and passionate about this art form and who would pursue it further. But now, unfortunately, it has become a fashion statement/business deal. Throw the kid on stage whether he/she is ready for it or not. Especially in the US, it looks like it is always
combined with high school graduation; the kid has to get his/her arangetram done by the time they graduate from high school. Whether or not the student is good at dance or whether or not they will pursue it later is not a matter of concern at all. Thousands of
rupees/dollars are spent on it - special guests flown from all over the country/world, lavish dinner, special party- it is almost a family affair, or should I say a mini-marriage. Most of the time all this is done just for status in the society, or to show off children for whom Bharatanatyam is not that important and will be forgotten as a distant past. What an insult to this great art form. Whose mistake is this, parents or the teachers? Like someone had posted on this forum, why can't it be done at the temple making it an "All are welcome" event? Why should it be restricted to people with special invitations? Why should extravagant amounts of money be spent on it? Why can't it be restricted to only the deserving students who are really sincere, good dancers, and who respect the art form and will bring good name to it in the future? Let me ask, how many parents have the time or interest to understand what is being taught in the dance class or to take their children to good performances to understand what it really takes to dance on stage. It's gotten to the point where ultimately the child has to dance somehow quantity of performances prevails over quality. If parents have no concern about quality and are so desperate about somehow making their children dance, it is not fair to complain about expenses. Don't we spend as much on graduation parties, why complain when it comes to Bharatanatyam?

So, it is better to see both sides of the coin rationally instead of general teacher-bashing. Please do not insult those good teachers by generalizing. After all, we all have equal responsibility in preserving this wonderful art form so that future generations can benefit from it completely.

I am just trying to balance out the view point that teachers are getting greedier and particularly in the US. I am sure you have good reasons to write and this is not an attempt to ignore that point of view.

There is first class, business class and economy class in airfare... and different 'stars' for hotels serving the same food at different prices... Why can't there be differences in what the teacher charges?

Are you not proud to say you are "...'s" student? May be that comes with a price?

Bharatanatyam is a business these days and only very few teachers are able to pursue it for true passion... Do parents put in the effort to find such dance teachers when they start? If the teacher is good and is charging too little, will they voluntarily pay more? How about worrying about the teacher's pension and health plans? Or thinking about paid vacations for her?

What would a parent do if a child is not such a great dancer but just average? All parents expect that the teacher will still continue to invest in the mediocre student because that is the right thing to do in a professional environment, right? Just like any academic school... So where is the question of blaming the teacher charging for her professional consultations and working hard on a student who does not inspire her?

If you are from a middle class family, please do try to get to talk to the teacher and request a scholarship from her... If the teacher is genuine and the student is a deserving dancer, I am sure all Gurus will oblige. I believe very firmly that the Art we are dealing with makes us that way.

Though some parents don't understand that dance teachers need to be paid and paid enough for their work to make a living, I totally understand that point. We are people who love to give and it makes us happy to give as long as we know the teacher is in need and their only aim is not stripping us because we are from US. That makes me angry and uncomfortable and I don't want to do anything with a teacher with that kind of attitude. My daughter even took music classes. The fee for Indian standards was high.(They charge one month fee for one class) but the teacher was sincere and civil and I was grateful beyond words for the art she delivered to my child. I feel indebted to her and think what I have paid is no match for what she delivered.

It's interesting to see the level of vehemence being directed toward dance teachers by parents of students in recent days.
I want to start a discussion topic on the parents of dance students. Especially here in the US, the push towards an arangetram is usually driven by parents, not the teacher. It is the parents who want to host lavish celebrations of their offspring's "accomplishment." It's not unheard of to hear of 30,000 to 50,000 dollars being spent on these parties. Hasn't all this gotten out of control? Parents need to stop competing with one another with who can throw the more lavish arangetram. All these parents who posted messages complaining about expenses - why is it so important for your child to have a lavish arangetram? Parents need to stop using dance as a way to show the "culture" learned by their children. Why not take that money and donate it to a good cause?

Also, parents push hard to see their children perform on stage even when the basics have not been learned. It's not about the art anymore and many teachers, unfortunately, don't have the guts to stand up to parents and their demands. It's time for parents to let teachers teach.

It is definitely useful to spend money on getting a live orchestra, a pair of costumes, nice jewellery, good but an affordable auditorium, Guru Dakshina etc. but it is not necessary to spend money on a huge auditorium, lots of food, special invitations, parties etc. Why is it such a huge shame to do Arangetram in a small scale? Who are we trying to impress by spending so much money? If it is all about showing that the student is ready to give public performances, why should it be done in such a grand manner? Why can't it be done at a common place like the temple and made open to the public to come and decide if the student is up to the mark or not? That way, word of mouth along with a small advertisement in the local paper/TV channel/internet is enough.

Also, if Arangetram is an event to just show off that the student has learnt a little bit of Indian culture in a foreign land, why call it Arangetram and misuse the word? Why not call it something like "A Bharatanatyam performance" and leave it at that.

Arangetram should not be reason for learning dance. It should and will happen if the student is a talented and a deserving one. Is it necessary to perform an Arangetram if the student is not going to pursue Bharatanatyam any further? In this case, what is the message? That "my child is really good at dancing but will not pursue it any further" or just that, "I don't care how my child dances, it is all about being on stage?" It will be interesting to take a survey of all the students, especially in the US, that did their arangetrams to see how many of them had actually taken it seriously and pursued it further.

Arangetram is about the quality of the student, not the quantity of money spent. Just because someone spent lavishly on an arangetram does not justify all the costs associated with it. How long are we going to give in to this unnecessary pressure from the society? Do all kids become doctors/engineers just because their friends do? Don't we understand and take independent decisions with regard to our life style? Why should the decision about arangetram be based on how others did it? If parents are responsible enough to understand this art form including arangetram and explain it to their children, I am sure this situation will change very soon. Since parents do not care enough to understand the significance behind this event, they succumb to what others do - be it right or wrong!

I do not agree with the contention that things can change very soon. They will not. The arangetram has come to be seen a certain way, and serves its own purpose (whether you or I think it's right or wrong) in our society. I have heard it jokingly referred to as a "rite of passage." These ideas are not easy to change with just a little parental education. Most parents are actually well aware of what an arangetram should really be and its true purpose (I know mine were), but still, they go ahead and do it the way everyone else does.

Again, as sad as it may be, it's not about the dance in this sense - I completely admit that; it is about societal context. Please note that I am not trying to create an excuse for parents... I'm just accounting for other factors. Indeed, I'm very much an advocate for simple arangetrams... but you won't be seeing too many of those in the US.!

I am very happy to know that an awareness that whether Arangetram is needed or not being discussed on a platform like this.
Well I had a training of Bharatanatyam in a university where I did my masters in Bharatanatyam, and post graduate diploma in Nattuvangam. Like any other degree, we had term exams, annual exams and at the end of final year of degree, we had 2 hours performance in front of lecturers, professors, students and our personal guests. A well critical applauded performance in front of 200 people. Still in my days, many of my fellow students from rich families did their arangetrams in commercial venues. The HOD who was well paid by UGC salary grades happily did their arangetrams.

Arangetram was a tradition during devadasi days, where the girls took their training in dance for several years, her arangetram was organised, for the society to know that a dancer is ready, before that they were neither presented in front of anyone nor they were declared as proficient in dancing.

I do not know whom to blame for popularising this tradition. Parents are in a rat race to win over each other as who does the most expensive arangetram. The teachers demand all sort of expectations. The student thinks as a completion of their dance training, the day they perform arangetram. I have seen more than 100 brochures of arangetrams where student do say, "This is milestone of my career as a dancer, it the beginning of my dance journey etc etc" and in reality that will be her last performance.

The private dance classes does not have the exam formats hence they can be compared with Gurukula system, but nowadays all the private classes can get affiliation to some incorporated performing arts government body who can conduct exams and judge the capacity of the dancer. An arangetram is not a solution to the completion of the training where the girl has already performed 100 times, small items on the stage.

Nowadays the arangetrams are more like a fashion parade where the girl has to wear 4-5 costumes in a performance. Due to this the 2 hours arangetram gets prolonged to 4 hours, the bored audience is kept busy by solo performance of the orchestra artists such as violinist, or singer. One really has to think whose arangetram is this, the dancers or the orchestras? This kind of arangetram can uphold audience interest only up to first two items, then all look boring. Do we really need such arangetrams? Certainly not.

Many of you have an issue with Arangetram topic.
My question is why do Arangetrams at all? For what?
Many students have already performed on stage many times before their Arangetram, so what is the purpose of this? I don't think that Devadasis had to perform Arangetram so what is this all about? Somebody created this and that became standard for everybody. I think it stupid and not necessary.

I have completed prestige theater school in Europe and on the 4th year we had final performance and students didn't pay event one EURO for this. All this was a problem of the school. So you guys are paying for the dance classes and after all that, you have to pay for your own performance? It is ABSURD!!!!!!!!!!

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