Arangetram in times of pandemic

The all-important debut: live or virtual? Dance gurus discuss the question

An arangetram is the moment every young classical dancer looks forward to. It should be the first time that they stand on stage and prove their talent and years of intensive training. There is as much personal fulfillment as being recognized as a professional artist and receiving the stamp of recognition from eminent gurus and rasikas who make up a large portion of the audience.

But the pandemic has stalled Arangetram plans for many young dancers, and the wait for an end seems endless. Hence, some gurus and disciples have chosen to go digital for this momentous occasion.

Smitha Madhav and Bhargavi Parameshwaran with their student V. Ramya Hasini

Smitha Madhav and Bhargavi Parameshwaran with their student V. Ramya Hasini

Bharatanatyam dancer and teacher Smitha Madhav recently conducted the Arangetram of her student V. Ramya Hasini online. Smitha says, “We decided to do a virtual show because the Arangetram has been on hold since last August when it was supposed to be live for the first time. Hasini and her family were eagerly looking forward to it, and I had the feeling that there was no point in delaying it any further. ”

Last year, Bharatanatyam gurus VP Dhananjayan and Shantha Dhananjayan set a precedent by conducting the first online Arangetram. Smitha also decided that in this situation it seemed most responsible to go virtual.

The dance floor at the Smitha Varna Arts Academy in Hyderabad has been turned into a stage to give Ramya an auditorium-like experience. Smitha used pre-recorded music to train Ramya online, with some training sessions held at the academy.

Preparation for an arangetram usually begins when a learner decides to seriously pursue the art and opts for rigorous training that includes mastering the margam.

Set a trend

The decision for the Dhananjayans was made when the family of one of his dance students had to leave for Great Britain. The couple thought it best to organize and stream the arangetram live at their Chennai dance school, Bharata Kalanjali.

Vice President Dhananjayan

Vice President Dhananjayan

With the help of his son CP Satyajit, dancer, instrumentalist and expert in visual communication, Dhananjayan planned and presented a digital Arangetram experience for his student and family.

“Arangetrams saw a boom in the 1990s with wealthy NRI parents coming to India to organize their children’s maiden performance, which often turned into a social gathering. At our institute we prefer to keep it simple because we see it as an opportunity for the students to present their skills to what they have learned, ”says Dhananjayan.

“I would advise parents who are spending a lot of money on the event to invest in their child’s extensive learning and exposure to various arts instead,” he adds. He suggests that if you can wait for normalcy to return to do an arangetram, it would be best. “After all, it’s a moment dancers cherish their entire lives.”

Take a chance

Bharatanatyam dancer, choreographer and guru Urmila Satyanarayanan says, “When life offers an opportunity, make the most of it.”

Urmila Satyanarayanan

Urmila Satyanarayanan

Since its inception, 140 students at her Natya Sankalpaa dance school have had their arangetrams. Aside from the embargo, Urmila didn’t stop performing arangetrams despite adhering to COVID-19 protocols and ensuring a limited physical audience.

Careful steps

Rajeswari Sainath, senior Bharatanatyam dancer and founder of Sruthilaya Kendra Natarajalaya, doesn’t want to take any chances and believes arangetrams can wait now. “Seven of my students, some of them from abroad, are waiting for their premiere. I hope that the situation will improve in the next few months and that we can do live shows for a limited audience. Live experience is necessary, especially with Arangetrams. It’s worth the wait, ”she says.

Bharatanatyam dancer and guru Ananda Shankar Jayant is now totally against conducting arangetrams – physical or virtual. “Online training can get boring and cannot replace personal coaching. It is not fair to subject them to the rigors of arangetram in this condition. I would like to wait, ”she says.


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