What is an Arangetram?
As a dance student, you will hear a lot about people having their Arangetrams, and how they takes a lot of work. But what really is an "Arangetram", who does it, and what does it symbolize? What does it take to prepare? Read this basic guide to understanding the big day:
Performing at my Arangetram in 2004 :)
What is an Arangetram?
The word "arangetram" means "ascending the stage". It is a solo dance debut – that means it's the first time a student performs a full concert by themselves. It is a major event where you invite close friends and family as well as other members of the artistic community. A live orchestra performs with the dancer – a mridangam player, a singer, a violinist, a flautist, sometimes a veena player, and the teacher to do the nattuvaangam or rhythmic direction. The Arangetram is also when the student earns their ghungroo (ankle bells), symbolizing that they are ready to begin performing professionally!
When can I do my Arangetram?
Students who have learned for several years and have already finished learning at least one full maargam (repertoire set) are eligible to apply for their Arangetram. The teacher will determine whether the student is ready to take on the responsibility and be committed to preparing. For kids, I recommend doing it between the ages of 13-16 so that they are mature enough to handle the responsibility and pieces, but not balancing too many other academic demands.
What is the preparation process?
Preparation takes a full year, during which time the student will learn 8-10 new pieces. At Noor, the student will also work with me to choreograph a piece of their own. The student will continue their regular weekly class and will meet privately with the teacher for an additional class 1-2 times per week. In the last month, the student will work with the teacher 4-5 times per week and will also rehearse with the musicians.
While the student and teacher are preparing, the teacher will also work with the student's parents to organize the other details of the day. This includes a performance space, costumes, a make-up artist, sound and light engineers, musicians, catering, invitations, photographers, and videographer. In some ways, it's like preparing for a small wedding!
Do I have to do an Arangetram?
No one is required to do an Arangetram, but it is a unique and unparalleled opportunity, and a huge accomplishment! Many dancers say that they learned more in preparing for their Arangetram than they did in all their dance studies prior. Doing your Arangetram also opens doors for you to perform and choreograph work in the future. Most Indian dance students in the US do go through this process.
Here are some reflections from the Noor Troupe on their Arangetrams:
I don't remember being at all nervous on the day of my Arangetram, because my primary emotion was blind disbelief that it was actually happening. There must have been nerves before I got on stage, but what I remember from that moment is that the second the lights went up and I started dancing, I calmed down immediately.
Learning, practice – these things take time and work. Performing is the easy part.
To this day, my Arangetram is my proudest accomplishment. I found I was capable of pushing through physical and mental boundaries, while also becoming familiar with my own styles of learning and practice. Most importantly, I discovered the thrill of sharing my artistic interpretations with a rapt audience. The euphoria of creating unique works of art on stage led me to continuously seek out dance in my adult life.
My Arangetram was my first step toward becoming a mature dancer, choreographer, and performer.
Reflecting back on my Arangetram 13 years ago, I learned what dedication and focus truly are. It has prepared me for patience in learning new dance styles and given me an appreciation for the effort and time it takes.
Arangetram training and the performance itself remains one of the defining moments of my life. I experienced a full spectrum of excitement, nervousness, fatigue, self-doubt, and deep fulfillment in the year leading up to it as a teenager, as well as a greater sense of discipline, tenacity, and a passion for dance that has anchored much of my adult life.
I am forever grateful to my gurus for pushing me to move past my own inhibitions and gain confidence in expressing myself both on and off the stage.