Debut Dance

DanceHer feet move briskly across the stage, bells jingle at her ankles. He vibrant red pleats of her sari rustle with every step she takes. Sarita Kamath raises her arms and then clasps them together in a bow for her Arangetram, or ascension to the stage.

An Arangetram is the debut performance of a dancer after several years of study in Bharatanatyam -- one of several styles of Indian classical dance, dating back more than 2,000 years. It combines abstract dance, Nrtta, with interpretive dance or Nrtya. Bharatanatyam features several complex poses representing various gods and goddesses along with hand gestures and facial expressions symbolizing emotions such as love and anger.

Although Bharatanatym is based on Hindu religious stories, the dance form is not exclusive to Hindus. After several years of study, a dancer will perform a three-hour solo recital before friends, families and community.

"After several years of study, a dancer will perform a three-hour solo recital before friends, families and community."
Exhausted from a practice just days before her July 7 performance, Sarita, 17, rested and sat in her simple practice sari, a red tunic with a green sash. Although tired, she still smiled eagerly as Arun, a friend who performed his Arangetram a year ago, gave her advice. "You're better overall," he said, "but your left arm is dropping."

For nine years, Sarita has been learning Bharatanatyam. In the weeks before a performance, practice can easily consume six hours a day. During the past year, Sarita's parents have made sacrifices to accommodate her practice; they began parking outside and put vinyl down on the floor of their garage for Sarita to dance on.

To Sarita, Indian dance meant quitting piano and jazz dance, and giving up one month of her last summer before college for a rigorous practice schedule. The hours of practice in preparation for the Arangetram were both physically and emotionally demanding. While practicing the most elaborate ad difficult piece in her repertoire, Sarita began to fee ill.

Dance"I was going to throw up but I still finished," she said. "I ran to the bathroom, three up and started crying."

The years of time and effort culminated in a single, three-hour performance before hundreds at San Joses Mexican Heritage Plaza. Before the Arangetram, people filled the lobby, socializing or looking at dance pictures of Sarita. A table covered with carnations hosted a statue of the Indian god of Dance, Nataraja.

A Hindu priest lead Saritas family toward an alter on the stage to sanctify the area before Sarita's performance. Her mother and sister clasped their hands together I prayer while the priests chants echoed through the auditorium. The soft, melodic voice of the singer and the vibrato of the violin interacted as the drummer kept thalam, or rhythm.

"Sarita began invoking the blessings of Lord Ganesha, 'remover of all obstacles,' bowed and spread flower petals before her."
Sarita began invoking the blessings of Lord Ganesha, "remover of all obstacles," bowed and spread flower petals before her. During her recital, Sarita perfomed eight dances. In her last and favorite piece, she prayed to Laxmi, the goddesss of prosperity, while remember her grandmothers who passes away. After her final steps across the stage, Sarita's mother Veena walked out, tears in her eyes, and the audience rose in a standing ovation. Sarita gave final thanks, bowing before the musicians and her dance teacher Sundra Swaminathan.

The night was hers.

Sarita began studying Bharatanatyam to understand her Indian heritage. Dancers must learn facial expressions and hand gestures to act out religious stories.

Dance"You basically live the story," Sarita said. "If I'm supposed to be a goddess, that's what I'm feeling."

Throughout her career as a dancer, Sarita's family has strongly encouraged her. Her mother, who studied Bharatanatyam, but not long enough to have a Arangetram, was especially supportive.

"I'm so proud of her," she said. "I've seen where she was and I've seen her persevere."
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