Does an Arangetram signify the completion of learning Bharatanatyam?
The answer is a definite NO. Here are the reasons why one should continue to learn–
1. Advanced studies – Arangetram is not the end of learning. It is just like a high school graduation. Metaphorically speaking, one still needs to go to college for undergrad/grad/… etc. So one needs to continue learning even after the Arangetram.
2. Wider repertoire – A student usually has learnt only one or maximum two margams [the traditional Bnatyam format starting from Alarippu, Jatiswaram, Shabdam, Varnam, Padams, Thillana] by the time they complete their Arangetram. They need to know a wider range of items.
3. Choreography – To be a complete dancer, students should know how to choreograph songs on their own. Choreographing is an intuitive art which comes after one has learnt and performed the dance for several years. Most people who do arangetrams know just one or two margams and have not been taught how to choreograph.
Step 1: Interpreting others’ choreography
The student will continue to ‘learn’ new mArgams, but should also try and understand the ‘whys, why nots, what other way can this be done’ not just for the abhinaya segments, but also on how the jati is structured, how it ends, the math that goes into it etc.
Step 2: Choreographing one’s own pieces
Even as they remain a student of their Guru and learning the guru’s choreography, and as one gets better at this, they can try to choreograph.
The foundation for choreography can be laid by the guru, but true skill only comes from experience and innate ability (creativity!). A critical component of the development of choreographic skills is watching a wide variety of artists and attending as many quality programs as possible. Understanding YOUR OWN body is paramount.
4. Theory and Nattuvangam – I think Bharatanatyam is incomplete without theory. Students should focus on learning more of theory after their Arangetrams. At this stage, they can also learn Nattuvangam.
5. Be your own critic – The student should perform and watch the videos and see how they come across. You must be a critic yourself of your performance. Then as you mature, you use that maturity along with intuition (which cannot be taught) in order to develop into a good dancer/choreographer. As you go along you blend the theory with the practice. I believe that one should become an artist in their own right and not just a copy of the teacher.
6. Use a mirror: The “mirrors” we should use are teachers, dancers or others who can help to correct. With those mirrors and continuous practice, dance will really come from within and you will know and feel when you are on the right creative path.
Those dancers who are truly interested in the art form will continue with the same enthusiasm as before. I think Arangetram is just the beginning of a dancer’s journey. Dance like any art form is a dynamic process which is learnt throughout life. There is no end to it.