Planning a Bharata Natyam Arangetram

     So you are planning an arangetram!  This web page was written soon after our older daughter's arangetram in 1999, and revised after our twins' arangetram in 2002.  We went through several phases of planning and revision, and I thought our experiences would be helpful to others….we did feel that we were reinventing the wheel in the planning phase!  Much of this document is written from the standpoint of a parent planning a his/her child's arangetram, but can be utilized for a person planning his/her own.
     The key to a successful arangetram is to get lots of help, and to do things well in advance.  While the suggestions below refer to "you", you could well delegate segments of work to friends or relatives. 
     But first…
     What are you getting into when you plan your child's arangetram?

A major event in the student's life. 
     An arangetram is the culmination of many years of learning dance.  The performance represents at least a year of concerted activity on the part of the student and his/her parents.  An arangetram represents much new learning in the area of dance and Indian culture.  The student rises to a new level of performance, and moreover, develops the discipline to achieve a long term goal.  As with any graduation, it is much more than a stamp of approval.

The student's commitment. 
     A year of dedicated dance classes, a concentrated end dose of 4 to 8 hours of class per week in the last two or three months, a great deal of practice through the year, with two to three hours per day in the last two or three months.

The parents' commitment: 
     A willingness to undertake a great deal of organization for the program. I would suggest that both parents take at least two weeks off work (if possible) before the arangetram (and save a couple of days for yourself for recovery!)

The expense 
     As with any event, one can go basic or deluxe, and I will list some of the possible categories of expense that you may want to consider.

     How does one plan and when does one start?


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A Sample Planning Calendar

     The time scales given below are approximate, and depend on where you live.  For example, there may be areas in the country where your favorite auditorium is booked two years in advance, or the video photographer is booked a year in advance – these are factors that you will have to consider based on your where you live.

About a year before you plan the arangetram, consider the following:

  • Discuss with the teacher whether the student is ready.
  • Discuss with the teacher and student if the arangetram will be performed with other students or alone.  Either is acceptable in most cases.
  • Set an approximate date, ±2 weeks.
  • Estimate the number of guests so you can choose your space.
  • Inquire into available theaters / auditoria, their rental costs and whether their schedules fit yours.  Be sure that the light and sound equipment, backstage and green room areas are acceptable. 
  • If it is important to you that you light an oil lamp, make sure that the theater's fire code is not violated.
  • Decide on whether you will serve snacks or a meal, and inquire whether you need a separate reservation for the space.
  • Make your space reservations as soon as possible.  Remember that you will probably need at least two on-stage rehearsals.  Decide these dates with the teacher, and include them in your reservations.  It is also useful to have the space available for most of the previous day and all of the arangetram day for decoration time.
  • Decide whether you will have a live orchestra or taped music.  This may affect which dances the student learns for the arangetram.  The schedules of the orchestra members will have to be considered in choosing your date.
  • If the student does not have dance costumes or jewelry, it is time to start thinking about acquiring them.  Some cities may have rentals available.  For the most part, however, the students we have met have all gotten their costumes made in India. This process can involve a lead time of six months to one year.   A usual minimum is three costumes. 
  • Some arangetrams have used elaborate stage decorations.  The simplest is to use plants and  flowers, fresh or silk.  Or you may want to use long garlands of paper flowers (jasmine or kanakambara ) from India.
  • If you plan to give the guests a small token present from India, it is time to plan on what it should be so you have time to get it.  The simplest is to have a tray of nuts and sugar candy, which requires little advance preparation. 

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About six months before the arangetram date, consider the following:

  • You should have a firm date.
  • The theaters / auditorium and the dining area (if applicable) should be reserved.
  • Check on who will operate the sound and light equipment, and whether you will need to hire a professional to do so.  Some auditoria have their own people, and require that you hire them.
  • Decide where you will get invitations and programs printed.  Some families have gotten them printed in India, others have done it locally, and yet others have done it themselves.  Getting them done in India is, in general, cheaper than getting them done in the U.S., but may need the longest lead time. Doing it yourself is the least expensive, but costs you extra time.
  • Consider formats for the invitation and program.  Do you want to include photographs?  Do you want a little booklet or is a single folded sheet adequate?
  • If you want to include photographs, decide on whether you want studio photographs or ones taken by yourself or a friend.  Do you want full Bharata Natyam garb or just a sari?
  • If you want outdoor pictures, the weather may be a factor.  Traipsing around barefoot in a Bharata Natyam costume in 40-degree weather (C or F) is no picnic.
  • Do you plan to have any chief guests?  If so, do their schedules work out? Do you want to include their names on the invitation? 


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About three months before the program….

  • The costumes, jewelry, hair accessories, bells, etc should be all arranged for, and you should know when they are coming in (if you don't already have them).
  • Make a detailed guest list. 
  • Decide on the food you will get catered / cook yourself / order by mail / purchase from a store.
  • If you plan to have it catered, it is time to talk to the catering service and get everything priced.  They may need an estimate on the final number.
  • Find out when your caterer needs the final menu, and the final headcount.  They often need the final headcount 7 to 10 days in advance.  You will need this information to set the RSVP date on invitations.
  • If you plan to buy some of the food, start thinking about what you will buy and from where.
  • If you plan to cook some or all of the food, it is time to contact friends or relatives who will be willing to help cook.You may want to put the whole menu together one day at home and have your family try out the dinner so there aren't clashing items or several dishes with similar tastes.  Most importantly, does the arangetram student approve of the food?  Does it adequately provide for guests who have special dietary needs (if that is a factor)?
  • Finalize the format for the invitations.  If they have to go to a professional printing service, it is time to get them to the printer.  An RSVP date of two to three weeks before the program will give you a few days for readjustment of last minute yeas and nays.
  • Finalize the format of the programs to be handed out at the arangetram.  If they have to go to a professional printing service, it is time to get them to the printer.
  • If you plan to hire a professional video person, contact him/her and make a reservation.  The same holds for a professional still photographer.
  • If you need to hire a professional light and sound person, contact him/her and make a reservation.
  • If you have any elaborate stage props that you wish to get built, it is time to start working on them.

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About six weeks before the program….

  • Decide on what you need in addition to the food: chafing dishes to keep the food warm, plates, silverware, napkins, glasses, cups, coffee percolator, tablecloths, bud vases….  Will you caterer provide all that you need, or will you have to provide them? 
  • Address the invitations and send them out.  It is a good idea to send them four to six weeks before the program. 
  • Inform the caterer of the final menu.
  • Decide on your stage god arrangement.  It is traditional to have statues of Ganesha and Nataraja, and tall oil lamps.  In addition, you may want to have other statues or pictures of other gods who will be invoked during the program. 
  • If you do not have statues and lamps for stage decorations, figure out whom you can borrow them from.  Be sure to visit and check them personally so that the sizes of the statues are not inconsistent with each other or with the nature of the program. 
  • Decide on your foyer decorations, if any.  People have used a small statue of Nataraja,  a favorite god, and/or photographs of the student.
  • Decide on what you need for other stage decorations.  Plants, potted flowers, fresh or silk, are easy to work with.
  • Makeup can play nasty tricks with the dancer. Your student has probably performed before but perhaps not for a couple of hours continuously.   Consider going to a professional makeover counter and getting stage makeup done one day, and having the student practice for two hours or so, in order to test the makeup.  All makeup should be waterproof, but all waterproof makeup is not made alike. This is particularly true of eye-makeup.
  • Decide on the floor plan for microphones, lights and podium for the theater.  It is a good idea to have a pickup mike close to the floor so that the sound of the bells can be fed through the PA system.  You may need to fax or mail this floor plan to the theater.
  • Decide on the arrangement of the dining area. You may need to fax or mail this plan to the dining area manager.
  • Decide on the exact format of the program:  for example, who will welcome and introduce the program, whether there will be a short speech / video / multimedia presentation during one of the costume change breaks, who gets thanked during the vote of thanks, whether any chief guests will be invited to speak, etc.
  • Decide on your master(s) of ceremonies, and contact them.
  • Contact all other people who will speak or be on stage for any reason.

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About three weeks before the program…The preparations get into high gear!

  • Collect all items that you need for the gods on stage, foyer and stage decorations. 
  • Get a friend or two to help and do a mock up of each set up at home, so you can add or subtract stuff for your decorations.
  • It is useful to pack stuff for each of the three areas (gods, foyer and stage) in separate see-through plastic tubs and mark them.  Put in a checklist of everything needed for that part of the auditorium and tape it to the tub.  This way your helpers will not wonder where the stuff goes, and won't constantly question you!  If something is forgotten, you will know right away.
  • Figure out what is needed backstage, and pack all the stuff in "backstage tubs".  For example, if the green room area is not private, you may need to run a temporary curtain (a dark shower curtain and picture wire wound over nails works).  If you need more light, you may need to take a tall lamp tree with you.
  • Dancers get hot and their makeup can run.  It is useful to have a portable fan near the wings of the stage, and another one in the green room / makeup refreshing area.
  • Your programs should be printed soon, if not already done.  Pack them in a small plastic tub and put them in the front foyer box.
  • If you are going to mail-order any food, you should go ahead and get the order set up to deliver a week before the program.
  • If you plan to get presents for helpers or relatives locally, it is time to get them.
  • Get all text of speeches written, or discuss them with those who will write them.
  • Work with the master(s) of ceremonies:  get their presentation down on paper.
  • Inform all participants of the rehearsal timings.
  • Decide who will direct the lighting and who will run the sound system. 
  • Check if you will have refrigerator space for food that you may want delivered or brought in.  Set up times at which you can put this food in the dining area kitchen.
  • Contact friends who will help you decorate the stage, foyer and dining hall areas, so they can come in the day before and on the morning of the arangetram.
  • Wrap all presents.
  • Polish brass and silver items, if any.
  • Fix bells, costumes, hair ornaments, if needed.
  • Call caterer with final headcount, as per their schedule.

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About one week before the program...

  • Purchase any food and drinks that you need.
  • Purchase or order floral arrangements, plants, and floral bouquets.
  • Remind all who will come to rehearsals of the timings.  This includes the light and sound people, video and still photographers, if any.
  • Get food cooked, if you are cooking any.
  • Iron costumes, any other clothes that need ironing.
  • Rehearsal with live orchestra, if applicable.

Two days before the program

  • Stage rehearsal --  Have the MC and other speakers present at the stage rehearsal. 
  • Try on makeup and an old costume.  Fix any makeup problems.


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The day before

  • Get in as much of the stage / foyer decorations and backstage material in place or at least delivered to the theater.  The more that can be put in ahead the less it leaves for you to do on the day of the arangetram.
  • Get as much of the decoration done as you can.  The exception will be decorations with cut flowers.
  • If you are renting lights from a different place, you should have them available in time for this rehearsal.
  • Conduct rehearsal with makeup to check if all problems have been solved. 
  • Have MC, and people who will speak on stage (as many of them as possible, but probably not any invited chief guests) present.
  • All lights should be in place. The light director should write down details of all fades, spotlight moves, color changes, etc. and the operators should do a run through.
  • Get any food into the refrigerator of the eating area.

The day of arangetram...Finally, the big day has arrived!! In the morning

  • Have your stage, foyer and dining hall decorators work with fresh floral arrangements, if any.
  • Sweep the stage after everyone is done with getting on and off it.  The performer probably does not want dirty black feet to show when s/he jumps!

About four to five hours before you leave..

  • Start with getting hair and head jewelry done (this was a major stumbling block for us!)...then makeup... then the clothes and jewelry...
  • Be sure to allow the student time for a decent meal about two to three hours before the program.  S/he should not be hungry, but s/he should not be stuffed either.

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Other Issues to Plan

Helpers:  

  • Decorations, set up -- four to six people, depending on how elaborate the decorations are.  You may need people who can lift a few heavy things.  These people should be available the day before and the morning of the arangetram.
  • Lights -- director and two light operators - one for the spot and the other for the rest of the lights.  The light director should be in contact the sound person by walkie talkie or internal phone
  • Sound -- one person (maybe more for live orchestra).
  • Backstage manager -- to tell the sound and light persons when the artist is ready to go, pull curtains, etc.
  • Backstage artiste helpers -- it is best to have three people.  One person can concentrate on refreshing makeup (which may be needed every dance in some cases);  the other two are needed during costume changes.
  • Foyer greeter --one or two near the guest book, and to direct people where to leave the presents. This person should keep notes on those who brought flowers -- floral cards seem to get detached and lost rather easily.
  • At each entrance to the theater, have two people -- one to hold candy / nut tray, the other to give out programs.  Young girls LOVE this job!


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Expenses:

  • Additional classes for arangetram.
  • Teacher's arangetram fees.
  • Costumes, jewelry, if not already available.
  • Rental of theater / auditorium.
  • Rental of additional lights, if needed.
  • Rental of stereo system, if needed.
  • Cost of personnel to operate above (some auditoria insist that you use their people).
  • If you serve food, cost of meals and snacks, silverware, plates, napkins.
  • Rental of dining area, if applicable.
  • Professional video person, if you use one.
  • Studio or own photographs, for invitation, program, and for display, if you so choose.
  • Photographer for during the program, if you choose.
  • Printing of invitations and programs.
  • Small gifts for the audience, if you so choose.
  • Gifts for others -- the teacher, chief guests, other friends and relatives, if you so choose.
  • Fees and travel costs of live orchestra, if you use one. They may need to make two trips, one for rehearsal a week or so ahead.


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Entry Foyer Arrangements
Here's what we used in the foyer:

  • Small Nataraja
  • Indian design tablecloth (or bedspread)
  • Two silk scarves (with gold embroidery)
  • 2 silver plates
  • Sugar candy
  • Almonds and cashews
  • Haldi and kumkum in boxes
  • Silver bowl for a few cut flowers
  • Two large photographs of dancer in frames, supported in plexiglas easel
  • Place mats to set under photographs
  • Two flower pots
  • Guest book and pen

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Here's what we used for stage gods

  • Large Nataraja
  • Large Ganesha
  • Saraswati
  • One large brass lamp, one small brass lamp
  • A large box and a 3' x 3' bookcase to form two steps
  • Two plain, neutral-colored silk saris to cover the steps
  • Fresh jasmine garlands for the gods
  • Silver plate with small lamps for arthi
  • Silver plate with fresh cut flowers for puja
  • Silver plate with small boxes holding haldi and kumkum
  • Flower pots and fresh flower arrangements.

*We were not allowed to use oil lamps, so we wired the brass lamps with small amber-colored  Christmas light bulbs and a 6 V power supply.  They did turn on all together when we flipped the switch, but looked authentic thereafter.  The arthi plate was rigged in a similar manner, with two AA batteries, a switch and two bulbs.
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Stuff that you will surely need…

  • Long extension cords (25 feet or more)
  • Outlet strips
  • Safety pins
  • Several pairs of scissors
  • Needle and thread
  • Tape : duct tape, masking, insulation, scotch…..
  • A sharpie marker
  • Fluorescent tape for marking the stage
  • Portable fans (two)
  • Tools – hammer, screwdrivers, a pair of pliers, utility knife, hot glue gun.

P. S.  A friend told me that planning an arangetram was a trial run for a wedding -- the only missing element was in-laws!
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Dressing Tips (for the dancer):

Here are a few tips collected from the experiences of several arangetram dancers:

  • Padding between your bells and your ankles: cut the feet off a pair of cotton crew socks and discard the feet. Wear the cut-off anklets under your bells. Skin color socks make them almost invisible to the audience. This keeps the bells from chafing on your ankle.
  • Padding the top of your foot: wear a skin-colored band-aid on your foot, just where the bells make contact with your feet. This prevents the repeated pounding of the bells on your feet from chafing.Use the above two ideas during your long practice sessions as well, not just on arangetram day.
  • Underarm sweat pads: if you are getting your costumes made in India, have the tailor sew them into your blouses. For those traveling from the US, cloth diaper material works well (available in most cloth stores). My daughters swear by them!
  • Pinning that necklace down: To pin your necklace to your costume (and keep it from flapping around) tie small loops of heavy-duty thread to your necklace so it can be easily safety-pinned to your costume. One to three loops, each 3/8" or 8 mm in diameter works well.
  • Bobby pins? or not: use curved scuni clips instead of bobby pins -- their curved contour hugs your head better and fastens better too. It is less visible too.
  • Decreasing hair woes: Get your braid made of false hair and get the flowers/ jewels/decorations done well ahead of time. Tie your own hair in a pony tail, then divide and braid into two braids. Fasten the false-hair braid with ribbons under your own braids, tying it above the pony-tail tie. Twist your own braids into a bun. Tie the hair-piece (rachudi) onto the bun. Cover with a hair net. Then fasten flowers onto your hair. This process will keep the long braid from tugging on your own braids. Experiment with how much fastening is needed so the braid does not fall off.

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Frequently asked questions:

What does a guest wear for an arangetram?
     An arangetram is a dance recital.  Wear whatever you might wear to a classical dance, ballet, or music recital.  If formal evening wear is typical or suitable where you live, then that is what you should consider wearing.

Are presents customary, and if so, what should I give?
   
It is customary to give the dancer a present.  Treat the arangetram as a graduation -- whatever present you think is suitable for a graduation should be fine.  Money and flowers work well.  Books about India or dance also make nice presents, especially if the dancer likes reading. I would stay away from picture frames....but that is a personal thing!
Check out this link for a book entitled Tales from Indian Epics
, or examine this unique Dashavatara and Ramayana jewelry.

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