On Sunday June 18th, 13 year old Shreya Ram, a resident of Plano, performed her arangetram, or solo South Indian Classical dance debut, at the Medical Center Lewisville Grand Theater.
An arangetram (literally translated to ascending the stage) marks years of dedicated practice under a teacher (guru). The year prior to an arangetram generally consists of the most rigorous training and preparations for a perfect day. Shreya’s parents, Shyam and Anu, worked out numerous details, coordinated volunteers and supported their daughter's passion to make this day come to life. Many members of Ram's family flew in from different states to attend her performance.
Ram's guru is Smt. Madhusri Sethuraman, resident of Plano, and director of Srutilaya School of Dance. She teaches at her house as well as a dance studio in Plano and is fondly addressed as “Madhusri Aunty” by her students, who grow closer with her during their arangetram year.
Since establishing her bharatanatyam dance school in 1991, Sethuraman has conducted over 90 arangetrams, taught over 700 students and won various accolades. On Sunday, Ram and all Srutilaya students who attended her arangetram presented a token of appreciation to Sethuraman. Thus, the event is not only special for Shreya, but will also be treasured by her guru for years to come.
Ram's performance consisted of eight items that either highlighted a certain Hindu god/goddess or were purely rhythmic. Ram performed an invocation piece known as pushpanjali to seek blessings, a rhythmic composition called Jatiswaram that highlighted her nimble dexterity, various padams devoted to different deities, a varnam centerpiece and ended with a fast paced thillana.
The varnam is the longest piece and highlights both the nritta (footwork) and abhinaya (facial expressions) aspects of the dance. Ram's varnam told the tale of the Indian Classic Ramayana and captivated even the youngest members of the full auditorium.
Her dancing was accompanied by a live orchestra of 5 members: a vocalist (Smt. Neela Ramanuja), flutist (Sri. Krishna Prasad), mridangam/drum player (Sri. Janarthan), rhythm pad player (Sri. Arun Kumar), and Ram's teacher (Guru Smt. Madhusri Raj Sethuraman). The first four of the aforementioned members traveled from India to work with Ram.
Ram danced beautifully and maintained a vibrant energy throughout the roughly two and a half hour performance, receiving special acclaim from Sethuraman for fully developing into the characters she portrayed and allowing the audience to live the stories with her. Sethuraman also applauded Ram's growth/maturation as a dancer and person over the course of year.
During the two costume changes, respected community member Uma Rao, who is the director of North Dallas Sathya Sai Balvikas delivered an inspirational speech, focusing on the spiritual aspects of dance and appreciating Ram's cheerful disposition. Ram's brother, cousins and grandparents delivered sweet, heartfelt messages as well. Her brother spoke on Ram's resilience in the face of challenges while her grandparents commended her for being the first dancer in their family.
The theater was adorned with a variety of lobby decorations, including statues of various gods with a prominent display of Lord Rama, a welcome table for program brochures/scrapbooks, a photo area and grand photos of Ram in her dance costumes. After the performance, guests gathered in this lobby area to congratulate Ram, Sethuraman and further appreciate the performance.
Ram herself thanked the multitude of people who contributed to her special day in a memorable speech and described how she learned, “you have to be genuinely happy, not just put a smile on your face when you dance,” and most importantly that, “you have to live when you dance.”