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Sunday, June 20, 2010

Dancing Impressions

Another school year's end, another 'debut' dance recital, another rite of passage.
The dancer danced wonderfully, the costumes were gorgeous, the stage settings were fabulous, the footwork was fantastic, the choreography was superlative, the arrangements and food were excellent...
But...the music was blah and a tad too loud, the air-conditioning inefficient, the speeches tedious, the makeup/abhinaya inadequate, the gentleman in front blocked the view...
Why do we in the Indian diaspora subject ourselves to the rigors of  organizing and viewing Arangetrams (of dance, and more recently, of music, as well)? Is it our answer to the  bat mitzvahs and quincenearas and graduation parties? Raama Bharadvaj has a fairly comprehensive article on the phenomenon.
There's a tremendous amount of hard work,effort and planning that goes into these events, which are now conducted on par with weddings, in many ways. Maybe some treat it as a sort of dry run to the wedding that they will have to conduct years in future. But for some, it may be an acknowledgement of the fact that in living outside India, there is only a miniscule chance that a purely traditional wedding  with their daughter as the premier element will be possible in future.
Cost is a prime factor, as is the parents' ability to pay. The numbers I cited in an earlier post on "The Bharatanatyam Blues" have now ballooned from a few thousand to at least few 10s of thousand dollars, on average. Inflation strikes, as it always does. It has gotten so expensive that parents now weigh the prospect of spending the equivalent of a year's college tuition on a single event to highlight their daughter's achievement.
But is it the start of a true dance career? Maybe in the case of 2 out of 10 arangetrams performed. The remaining treat it as a culmination of their dancing career and promptly march off to college to major in biology, physics, math, etc. and move in on their eventual career goals of becoming doctors, lawyers,investment bankers, scientists, engineers...
Life goes on, another check mark is in the book of achievements, another paragraph in the resume.
For the few, dance is truly a way of life, an end in itself.

Links:
Arangetram planning and resources
A History of the cultural and social implications of Arangetrams.

2 comments:

Lekhni said...

Think of it as the Indian equivalent of a "graduation party" that some people in the US throw when their kids 'graduate' from high school :D

Sujatha said...

Oh no, those are separate. The same kid may even have a graduation party as well as arangetram, though not necessarily in the same year.If these are subs for the graduation party, they are very expensive parties, indeed.
Actually, I think the bat mitzvah would be the better analogy.
Just as some have 'upanayanams' for the boys, they tend to put on arangetrams for the girls, since the 'coming of age' rituals are practiced privately rather than as a social occasion.