Community Contributor: Bharatanatyam, An Ancient South Indian Classical Dance

Bharatanatyam is to India as ballet is to the western world. A Bharatanatyam dancer goes through rigorous training just as a ballet dancer does who aspires to become the prima ballerina.

imageThe ancient classical dance of India, Bharatanatyam, has no date however historians and archeologists have found evidence of it dating back to the Tamil Sangam period in 300 BC including sculptures of dancers in ancient temples.

Bharatanatyam is the oldest form of Indian classical dance. The name can be broken down as Bha-ra-ta-natyam. “Bha” is for Bhavam meaning expressions. “Ra” is for Raagam meaning melody/rhythm/music. “Ta” is for Taalam meaning beats and “Natyam” means dance. The theory of this art form is described in detail in the ancient literature of Natya Sastra written by Bharata Muni (Sage Bharata).

There are three main aspects to the dance: 1) Nritta – rhythmic movements; 2) Nritya – movements in which Bhavam or expression is emphasized; and 3) Natya – drama.  Jathis (footwork), mudras (hand gestures) and rasa (emotions) contribute to the performance as a whole.

A Bharatanatyam student’s glory is the performance of an Arangetram which is the debut of the dancer and denotes the end of a Margam or path of dance after years of consistent learning and rigorous practice. In Tamil, the word ‘Arangetram’ comes from the words “Arangu” meaning stage and “Yetram” meaning climbing which translates to a debut performance. The teacher decides when the dancer is ready for an arangetram.

Local Hopewell Valley Central High School student Michelle Ancil of Pennington, NJ completed her Arangetram on November 15, 2014. As a sophomore at HVCHS, Ancil will be assisting at an after-school enrichment program this winter on Indian classical and semi-classical dance at Stony Brook Elementary in Pennington, NJ. She will also be conducting workshops and performing at local events.

Contributor: Cecilia Smitha Jackson is a resident of Pennington and a Bharatanatyam and Mohiniyattam dancer. She has conducted various workshops on Indian dance in Mercer County libraries including having taught an 8-week class at the Hopewell Branch. She will be teaching an after-school enrichment program on Indian semi-classical dance at Stony Brook Elementary in Pennington.

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