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Mother, daughter learn and dance together in Indian classical style

Mother and daughter Aneetha and Arnika Karthik dance Sept. 6 on stage at Steinbrenner High School in Arangetram, a traditional debut performance after years of studying the Indian classical dance Bharata Natyam.
Published Sep. 18, 2014


Aneetha Karthik danced in her native India for about four years as a child, but stopped when she was in sixth grade. So unlike many other Indian girls, Karthik never got to experience Arangetram, a traditional debut performance that is the culmination of years of intensive study.

Until recently, that is.

As her own daughter Arnika approached the milestone, Karthik decided to study with her. Both mother, now a full-time dentist, and daughter, a junior at Hillsborough High School, knew it would be an unusual arrangement, and there might be some bumps along the way.

But there they were, on a recent evening at Steinbrenner High School's auditorium, in front of hundreds of guests gathered for the Bharata Natyam Arangetram.

Bharata Natyam is a classical style of Indian dance that dates back to about 2000 B.C. and focuses on Hindu temple tradition. The scriptures were difficult for the average person to read, so a visual form of entertainment was created to communicate the stories.

Dancers reach the Arangetram level of proficiency after several years of training, allowing them to ascend the stage for the first time before a live orchestra. The dances are actually a visual test for hundreds of people in the community to judge whether the teacher has the capacity to teach and the student has the capacity to perform.

With five changes of pure silk embroidered costumes flown in from India, an orchestra, backstage crew, lights and cameras, the dance is a production much like a wedding, according to organizers, since it makes memories the dancers would never forget.

Dances vary in length from the Alarippu, which was about four minutes, to the Varnam, which was around 20 minutes. Alarippu dance resembles a bud blossoming into a flower. The movements transition from the eyes to the neck, and then to the limbs. Varnam, a test of the dancers' stamina, skills and ability, combines expression, melody, and rhythm.

A few other dances include the vibrant temple invocation dance composed to rhythm and interspersed with words in praise of Lord Ganesha, the remover of obstacles, and two solo performances.

On this night, the daughter danced in the first solo performance, Devi Neeye Thunai, about the universal mother, the goddess Parvati, who was described as "the one who is our strength."

The mother danced in a second solo dance, Chinnan Chiru Kiliye, describing through expression the love of a mother for her child.

The entire program, with orchestra solos, a special performance, speeches and awards, lasted three hours, followed by dinner. The special performance featured Arnika's brother, Adarsh, clapping his hands over his head and moonwalking in sneakers and jeans to Happy by Pharrell.

While an Arangetram is a fairly common feature, a mother and daughter taught by a mother and daughter to perform the dance together is not, said Sheila Narayanan, who runs the dance school Shreyas — An Expression of Dance in Carrollwood, where the performers trained.

Narayanan teaches classes with her daughter, Shreya Narayanan, who makes time to teach on the weekends or whenever she can as a third-year medical student at the University of South Florida.

"I'm extremely lucky to have Arangetram with my mom because not many people get to do this," Arnika said in her award acceptance speech. "My mom and I got into intensive arguments every day about the sequence of steps, but we had twice as many ups as we had downs, and my mom and I have never been closer. I wouldn't trade this experience for anything."

Her mom added: "I know I didn't make it easy on her in this journey, but she blossomed so beautifully. "This definitely is a dream come true for me."


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