Rema Shrikant's Dance Academy

Bharatanatyam Class

Bharatanatyam is an art form with considerable depth and scope. One can devote a lifetime to becoming expert at it. It is rare these days those students have such time to dedicate to learning classical dances, especially outside a university curriculum. 

Rema Shrikant offers training to the following categories of students:
  • Beginners or children,
  • Intermediates,
  • Advanced students,
  • Arangetram students,
  • Post Arangetram students
Training for Bharatanatyam can start after a child is five years old. 

Beginners or Children
The early stages of training involve learning the basic steps, called adavus, and movements of the dance. These elements are the building blocks for subsequent, more advanced, sequences of dance. The exercises condition the body for the unique postures of Bharatanatyam. They also develop the student's sense of rhythm. Having a fit and flexible physique allows a student to learn quickly; otherwise the fitness and flexibility will have to be developed over time. Students also learn eye movements, which are done in synchronization with body movements in the dance.

At this stage, students also learn the names of hand gestures called hastas, which are an important feature of Bharatanatyam. They comprise the descriptive language of the dance. Students also learn about the history of Bharatanatyam, the musical instruments used, and other related topics.

At the intermediate stage, students learn more advanced steps and complicated patterns of movement. They also learn the names of facial expressions, which are a distinctive feature of Bharatanatyam. The students begin learning some basic dance compositions. The choreography is simple, and there isn't much expressive content. Examples of these items are the alarippu and jatiswaram. These items may be performed on stage at student shows and ECPA academy’s annual function.

Advanced Students 
These students learn the remaining dance compositions that make up the repertoire of a full Bharatanatyam recital. Although they may only learn a single instance of some types of items, the repertoire covers all the features of the dance. It includes rhythmic dance, emotional expression, and variety. The items they practice include the shabdam, varnam, padam, kirtanam, ashtapadi, javali, tillana, and shlokam. Advanced students perform Bharatanatyam on stage at various times during the year, to gain experience. They are in preparation for the Arangetram, which marks their coming of age as dancers. They need to develop proficiency in all aspects of the dance.

This milestone in the career of a Bharatanatyam dancer is often misunderstood as the graduation event that ends the training of the dancer. It is actually a beginning of the dancer's career as a performer, and there's no end to the training afterwards. The word Arangetram translates as climbing onto (etram) the stage (arangam). The Arangetram is marked by a solo recital by the new dancer, attended by the teacher, mentors, and family elders. The real point of the Arangetram is for the dancer to deliver his or her first full solo performance, and receive the blessings of the teacher and other elders for a fruitful dance career. By the time of the Arangetram, the dancer will have learned all the elements of the dance, and demonstrates this knowledge and ability in the Arangetram recital.

Post Arangetram Students
After the Arangetram, the dancer can mature and develop further as a performer. More compositions can be learned, expanding the repertoire that the dancer can perform. By performing regularly, the dancer becomes aware of his or her strengths and weaknesses, and can work with the teacher to improve the weak areas, as well as to choreograph items that capitalize on the strong areas.

A seasoned performer can venture into choreographing new items. A teacher can be helpful in this process, bringing experience of what works and what doesn't. Experienced dancers can also begin teaching others. It's a good way to solidify one's own skills.

Experts Doing Further Study
A dancer who has completed all the training that one teacher can offer, who has gained experience performing, and perhaps has even started teaching, can benefit from further studies. Working with other artists can provide fresh ideas and perspectives. Training under other teachers can broaden the dancer's skills or add specific new abilities. If it hasn't happened already by this stage, the dancer may also benefit from traveling to India or practicing there for some time.

The classical dances of India were maintained for centuries using a system of training that fit the culture of that time and place. Today, society is different, even in India. The old systems of training don't fit with modern lifestyles. Perhaps by being aware of some key aspects of the traditional approach to training, we can build on the opportunities that are available today.

In the last few hundred years, the Gurukul system has all but disappeared. Fortunately, at least in India, the idea that a student of classical arts must dedicate a major part of his or her life to properly learn the art does remain. This is seen most often with classical music. There are some examples from the world of dance, as well.

Attitude of the Student
India has a tradition of respect for elders, and especially teachers. This attitude was a foundation of the Gurukul system. These days such respect doesn't come automatically - we need reasons. It happens that there are some practical and compelling reasons for an open minded, humble, and respectful attitude in a Bharatanatyam student.

Bharatanatyam has subtleties and nuances that a student can't pick up by listening to the teacher's words. These qualities are transmitted through body language. The student needs to be humble enough to be willing to emulate the teacher's every movement. 

Finally, Bharatanatyam is powerful at expressing emotions, and subtle variations in them. For a mature dancer, it's a vehicle for self expression. It's also a double-edged sword, as what's inside the dancer will be revealed. Humility and respect towards the teacher, the tradition, and the art, come across in the performance. Devotion to the divine, or Bhakti, is an ideal attitude for a Bharatanatyam dancer. These characteristics result in the disappearance of the dancer into what he or she is portraying on stage. The audience gets a direct experience of the theme of the dance item. 

Bharatanatyam is a full fledged Indian classical dance form. It takes a strong commitment from students and teachers to produce artists of a professional standing.

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