The top 6 friends of the Arangetram student

​1. Extra makeup, extra jewelry, extra bells, extra hairpins extra safety pins, extra hair pieces – you know, extra EVERYTHING. You never know when you might need it. 

2. A big bottle of your favorite Gatorade in a convenient bottle, with a highly necessary straw. Although I never drank Gatorade during my practice sessions to help with stamina, I did have it backstage during my dress rehearsal and my arangetram.
3. A balanced diet of fruits and veggies (and meats is you’re not vegetarian or vegan)
4. Enough rest. Or you’ll knock yourself out during practice.
5. Lots of family and friends to support you throughout your performance, backstage and during your tough practices. It just really helps.
6. An “I believe in myself attitude!”

I promise, #6 will always be your bestie!


Using the stage

​Hi Everyone!

Today I thought I’d discuss one of the biggest struggles of a solo dancer – using the stage.

In order for a performance to be visually appeasing, there must be variety in movement. And that doesn’t just mean the dance moves, but also positioning.

One of the best ways to be interesting is to move a lot. There are certain steps in Bharatanatyam which sort of force you to leave one spot. Take advantage of those steps and make them bigger, so you scale more of the stage.

One thing I really made myself do was before a performance, if I knew where I’d be performing, I’d mentally mark where I wanted to be for certain parts. For example, during one of the most tense scenes of my Varnam, I knew that I wanted to be towards the apron the stage, because that was a point that I otherwise never reached until that scene in the Varnam, and so it emphasized the importance of that scene. Additionally, it worked out really well because this was the scene where Queen Kaikeyi is convinced by Mantra to exile Ram. Thus within the next couple scenes, it was much easier to establish the characters from the kingdom on the right side of the stage, where I had set up Queen Kaikeyi, Mantra and later (although much further back) King Dashrath, and the characters in the forest on the left side.

And one last note: in order to be able to cover a lot of stage, although it may seem otherwise, you actually don’t need a lot of space to practice. It definitely does help to have a lot of space, but for me I used to practice in my living room, and once a week at my teacher’s studio, which was still not as big as the Irving Arts Center stage. But mental marking in the studio, at the temple during our performances there, and on the real stage, along with enlarging steps with some movement made a big difference.

I hope this helps ya’ll out a bit. See you next week!

My first private class 

​Hi Everyone!

So as I wondered what in the world could possibly be interesting enough to share this week, I took a slight detour into memory lane. From there I thought I might share the details of my first ever private class in preparation for my arangetram.

So there I was: nervous, a bit rusty and after the school day, kind of tired. 
I remember this class being extremely  intense and tiring. We reviewed all the adavus and basically spent an hour going through them over and over at differing speeds. My legs were trembling pretty badly at the end, and I literally felt like I was made of jelly! It was quite the experience.

But what can I say? Looking back on it, it’s definitely made me stronger, and it’s made my adavus neater too. Big takeaway: practice your adavus! Seriously works like magic.

Anyway, I hope this brief anecdote was interesting and perhaps even amusing! It’s been a pleasure to share my dance stories!

We shall meet again next week!

9 things the arangetram process has taught me

​Hi Everyone! I thought I’d keep it simple this week. Instead of writing paragraphs upon paragraphs on my advice and experiences, I thought I’d just share the 9 things that the arangetram process has taught me:

1. Time management
2. Perseverance
3. Passion is more important than technique
4. Patience
5. Importance of organization
6. Improvisation and making the best of what I have
7. There is such a thing as trying too hard
8. What matters the most in the end is the dance. Not the decor, not the stage design, not the props and backdrops, not the lobby – nothing but your dance.
9. Life requires you to leave your bubble, and it’s a good thing. I had to really step out of my shell and work with the people in my community in order to figure out how to manage much of the planning and to understand what many things meant.

Well these are the biggest lessons I learned on my journey! I hope it helps those of you out there! Love you guys and see you next week!

Your repertoire

​Hi everybody! So I don’t know how much leeway you may exactly have in choosing your items, but if you need help in picking and choosing what to consider, here’s just a few tips in the general area of your dance repertoire:
– pick the items you’ve had the most fun learning – if you don’t enjoy the music and the dance, it’s not the best situation to be in, because you’ll have to practice it everyday. Have an emotional connection with everything you do.
– pick some items which are challenging for you – this will constantly make you feel like you have something more to work towards and will inspire and fuel your practice. It really worked for me. But at the same time don’t overwhelm yourself.
– Try to incorporate a few good poses. This sounds hard but is actually a lot of fun. It’s a bit risky, but with a lot of practice, it’s doable, and you’ll feel happy in the end.

I hope this helps all of you out there! We shall meet again next week!

At long last – a Kauthavam 

​Hi guys!

Okay, so this post is really personal, but this is something I really wanted to share. Now that my arangetram is over, I’m basically back to my old practice schedule, aside from the extra practices I have for productions with the troupe, which is really pretty neat in itself.

So something kind of interesting is that in my training I’ve learned several padams and thillanas, but somehow a kauthavam got skipped for me, and I just never got around to doing one. However, now I’m learning my very first Kauthavam, at long last!!!! This is super exciting for me!

The song is really gorgeous, and starts out with this long jathi with a great many peacock gestures. It’s a lot of fun!

I guess this has been a little bit of what I’m up to these days – aside from homework and college apps. And I just really wanted to be able to share this new thing that’s so cool to me!
Thank you all so much for all your love and support – we shall meet again next time! 

Tackling the Climax

To tell the truth, my Varnam was the hardest song of my repertoire. It was also the hardest topic to write about. If you have no idea what I’m talking about, I briefly discuss the Varnam in my earlier post titled The Structure, which you can visit for more info.

The Varnam is difficult for most students for several reasons:
– the steps are a lot more complex, especially the footwork
– the dance goes on for at least 30 mins ( mine went on for more than 40 straight)
– there is a lot to remember
– there are a great many more expressions to master
– there are a great many more characters whom you have to represent convincingly    through mannerisms and posture
– this is also the one dance your arangetram will be judged by

For me personally, since I depicted the Epic of the Ramayana, there were a multitude of characters and expressions I had to do. My two main struggles were in remembering everything at first, and in being satisfied by my expressions. I personally didn’t have issues with physical stamina or learning steps, but at the beginning I did find that while doing all my pieces at once, if the first half really wore me out, I would forget the simple parts of my Varnam and remember all the fast paced, complex steps. I thought it was pretty weird, but ultimately practice was the only thing that helped me overcome that hurdle.

The Varnam is pretty stressful but if you let yourself relax, it’s a lot of fun. On the day of my arangetram, all I thought about was the story I was trying to tell, and everything fell into place really naturally and perfectly. I still remember how exciting that was for me, and you will too 🙂

I do have a few tips for those of you trying to conquer your varnam and make it the very best you can:

1. For each character, spend some time just thinking about who this person is, how they will act, react, what their thoughts are, and how they are feeling. Feelings are the biggest part. Really try to put yourself in their shoes and feel from your heart what their pain, their joy, their sadness, their jealousy is like to them, and how they might behave as a result. It may be tempting to simply scratch the surface ( this character is just angry and arrogant and hated by all) but the character only comes out in dance when you go deeper (this person feels hurt and betrayed and is responding angrily to cover up his internal pain)
2. Say the story in your mind as you go. This helps because by just thinking about what you’re trying to say, your face speaks way more convincingly than you could ever teach it to.
3. I know I’ve said this before, but it really helps to practice your expressions in front of a mirror, or record them, so you can see how you feel about them.
4. Practice a lot. Everyday, just take out 30 mins and dedicate them solely to your Varnam. Just go over the problem areas repeatedly and enjoy being 20 people at once. It not only boosts your confidence and ability but also helps with stamina.
5. When you’re practicing, concentrate only on the dance. Don’t think about anything else, not school, not work, not even the fact that in a matter of time it won’t be just you in the living room, but you on a stage in front of an audience. That kind of pressure would just psych anyone out and isn’t healthy. So don’t take it! Be you, be happy, relax and have fun with the dance!

Well, now you have my two cents on doing the Varnam! I hope this was enjoyable, helpful and maybe even got you to relax a bit! If you have any questions, comments or concerns, be sure to let me know.

Thanks so much for all the positive love and support – we shall meet again next week!

Top 10 scraps of advice

​Hey everyone! Since now I’m all done with my dance debut, I thought I’d share some things I learned along the way! Here they are:

1. Practice is crucial. It is the one thing that cannot and should not be compromised in any way.
2. But so are breaks. While it’s not a great idea to take massive breaks between items while practicing your Margam, it is important to make sure you don’t practice too much and wear yourself out. Practice serves three functions. Initially it is to fine tune and learn steps. But after a certain point, it exists only to maintain stamina and to reinforce and internalize what your body already knows. So do justice to it, but don’t overdo it.
3. Towards the end, start to practice with bangles, maybe some jewelry and part of an old costume to help you get the feel of dancing with all the weight.
4. Practice your poses in advance, and be comfortable with them before your photo shoot.
5. Use a mirror or have someone record you so that you can see if your facial expressions are turning out the way you want.
6. Maintain a balanced diet and get enough sleep.
7. Watch other dancers to inspire yourself or to just learn. This helped me a lot, both before and during my arangetram.
8. Listen to your music and internalize it completely. It really helps. A lot.
9. While practicing, if you make a mistake, don’t stop. Just keep going.
10. This is the most important. Don’t let yourself get stressed out. Just have fun! This is a once in a lifetime opportunity. Trust me, once you’re done, you’re going to miss it. So enjoy it while you got it! 😉

I hope this helps those of you out there planning your own arangetrams! Even though I miss mine so much now, it means a lot to know that someone out there is benefiting from my experience.

Once again, thank you all so much for all the amazing love and support! We shall meet again next week 🙂

My Arangetram!!!! :)

Displaying IMG_20160828_143707.jpg

Hey guys!

I can’t believe that here I am, officially a post arangetram student!!!

First of all, thank you all so much for supporting my blog and my arangetram! I honestly feel so blessed to be part of such a large, amazing and global dance community. You guys are the best!

So good news, my arangetram was on Sunday, August 21, 2016 and it was the best show I’ve ever done, hands down even  better than the rehearsal. Before the show I was a raw bundle of nerves. I was really excited to go up on stage but at the same time I was nervous because I didn’t know how I might react on the spur of the moment nor what kind of a response I would get from the audience. From the moment I came up on the lotus to the moment I went down in it however, I had no fears because the audience gave me such an overwhelmingly positive response! I had so much fun dancing that I even felt comfortable enough to improvise on some of my steps just for fun! After the first two or three dances, I felt really confident in myself and my ability to perform. It didn’t feel like stage anymore, it felt just like the dance studio, but with heavier jewelry! I felt like I just breezed through all of my dances, because I’d done them so many times. The practice definitely paid off.

 I’m so glad this day went down perfectly! It will always be the most memorable day in my life.

I also want to thank Padma Events for their amazing job with the decor! They made this beautiful Ram darbaar for my lobby, and truly lit up the stage with their beautiful podium decor!

Here is a link to Padma Aunty’s decoration:

Be sure to stay tuned for more of my weekly tips on arangetram planning, the process, dance tips and events!

Lots of Love and Best Wishes,

Ritika Lal

The Dress Rehearsal 

​I honestly feel this could have gone a lot better. There were still a lot of kinks that needed to be worked out and I needed calmer nerves. However, for the most part, everything went pretty well.
For my dress rehearsal I had hair and makeup done exactly as I would for the performance, and wore one costume from beginning to varnam, and a sari costume for the rest. Usually people wear just one costume throughout, but I have a very different thillana and I wanted to be sure I could do it in the sari style.

Considering that I typically go onstage quite a few times annually between my 2 dance forms, I didn’t realize how much being alone onstage would affect me. It’s a good thing I got to experience this once before my arangetram.

I had a lot of fun trying out the props. There’s this really special one that I want to keep a surprise because of how cool it is. I hope you enjoy!

I received a tremendous amount of support from several other arangetram moms and dads and two of my fellow arangetram sisters. Without their constant cheering, help backstage and in the changing room, there was no way I could have pulled it off. Pretty much every volunteer there also now has a special place in my heart!

Although I was drop dead exhausted, I have to say that now I’m pretty pumped for my arangetram! Now I know what to expect, and I feel pretty confident about myself!