Secrets of success of a solo Bharatanatyam recital. Learn how a Bharata natyam dancer can get a lot of fans who had no idea that Bharatnatyam can be fascinating. :)

Warning: this article is not meant for those who are doing Bharatanatyam just as a hobby. Only 1% of Bharatanatyam students have a chance to become real professionals.

While 2000 years ago people had very few options for entertainment, the age of TV, Internet and theme parks brought about the enormous competitive pressure. While they too are already successfully using the new media, the TV and the Internet, the Bharatanatyam dancers are facing a stark reality: their “art” (well, is Bharatanatyam just “art”?) cannot stand the competition as far as the entertaining aspect is concerned.

But Natya has two aspects: entertainment (desi) and enlightenment (margi). As far as enlightenment goes, Natya is beyond competition. The problem is, there is very little left out of margi in the contemporary Bharatanatyam…


50% of your success will depend on your orchestra and music. That’s a lot!

If your vocalist can modulate his voice and produce intense and varied bhavas at least as well as Manasi Prasad or Unnikrishnan…If your mridangist can vary the strength of the beats every 2-3 seconds on a wide range and as fast as K.S.Sudhaman does… If you understand that violin cannot be a replacement for flute, and that veena alone is suitable for making many passages interesting…The reason that Saraswathy holds a veena (not a violin or saxophone) in her hands…

Can you afford additional instruments, such as morsing, kanjeera, tabla, ghatam, etc.?
If you prefer to blur your music in a jazz-like way Udupi Lakshminarayan does, add a keyboard player so that he would completely wash out everything else and destroy your recital. (Keyboard players do not have the same degree of control over their instruments as the non-keyboards, so the timing for each note cannot be as precise as in veena, for example).

The music arrangement is to be done in a professional way that would utilize the strength of each instrument in a suitable manner at the appropriate times. Even the traditional, often performed (stale) items, can be presented in a totally new fashion.

Do your items have only 3 fixed (flat) tempos? It would be boring! “Predictable” means “boring”. The professionals vary the tempos gradually and continuously (with lots of surprises) throughout each item, even introducing pauses here and there. And each item has to end in a distinct way.

If you want your music to be as good as Anita Sivaraman’s, Padma Subrahmaniam’s or Alarmel Valli’s, you may either go bankrupt or invest a lot of time searching for and training a good but affordable orchestra and the composer/music arranger. 😦

Topics & themes

The dancer has to be aware that the selection of the themes (mostly grouped by the rasas) and techniques (classified by the tattvas) for his/her items has to accommodate different types of spectators.

Natya Shastra tells us a lot. Here, we’ll give you some hints. :

The elderly like the tales of virtue and puranic legends.
The reason that 90% of the rasikas are elderly people (who bring their grandchildren along). Bhakti, Vatsalya & Karuna rasas…

Young people are pleased to see the scenes of love.
If your recital does not attract the youth, ask yourself what is the ratio of rati sringara in your items. Want to compete with the young film stars of Kollywood or Bollywood? Look in the mirror first. If your face looks like Meenakshi Chittarajan’s or Priya Murle’s, or if it’s as expressionless as A.Lakshmanan’s, don’t even try to do it. If your figure is Padma Subrahmaniams, people will laugh at your “sringara“. Know your limits. πŸ™‚

The learned want to see a reference to some religious/philosophical teachings
If the dancer does not understand these, there is no way he/she will be able to present these things adequately. In other words, if you are dumb, don’t try to interpret the mystic doctrines!

The seekers of money love the topics of wealth and its acquisition.
If you want to get rich sponsors at a corporate, that’s what you have to start with! There is a wealth of ancient topics that deal with it. Read the Artha Shastra.

The passionless want to watch the topics of liberation.
Shanta rasa…. If you are going to present your recital in an ashram… But if you are not even close to understanding what liberation stands for, don’t make yourself a clown.

Heroic people want to see the scenes in Rudra- and Jugupsa-dominated rasas, with combat scenes.
Not just the army and police folks. Well, hard to compete with the Bruce Lee movies! Why is it that whenever the Dhananjayans produce anything of this kind, it makes me laugh??? πŸ™‚
I have just imagined the 80-year-old Sudharani Raghupathi doing a combat scene…. Would put me to sleep… Snoring…

Common women, children and the uncultured men (murkha) are always delighted with the comic scenes and fascinating costumes and makeup.
Since this category is the most numerous, think of putting more Hasya scenes. Make sure you don’t look too ugly while laughing! Get a nice costume and learn good makeup. If you are a fat, clumsy and ugly dancer, that’s your audience.

Know your audience

Why nobody wants to watch us dance???? We are discriminated against!!!

Why nobody wants to watch us dance????

Do you know that most brahmins today are of the shudra type, but some (2-3%) contemporary SC’s and ST’s have the sattva-dominated nature of the true brahmin? 😦 Although Natya Shastra tells us that, for example, the cheri (inferior human type) spectators will not appreciate the finer art that is appreciated by the superior, uttama, spectators, this limitation can be overcome to some extent by mastering all the necessary techniques.


We will classify them according to the main chakras:

No faith (shraddha), no (spiritual) gain. If you have a divine inspiration and tejas, you may already be a saint. The problem is, saints are usually recognized and get popularity long after they are dead.

Here is the control over the Hasya.Β  The dancer has to be cheerful and even playful (the dancers with some Kuchipudi training understand what it is better). πŸ™‚ It has some connection with Medha (it’s not related to Medha Hari! πŸ™‚ ). Open this lotus and learn how to bring joy and humour even to the most depressive of the rasikas.

If the rasikas are not paying attention to your dancing, think why one of the 64 vedic arts was “taking control of the crowd by mystic means”. It implies looking into the crowd of the rasikas in a certain way (they have to feel the “eye contact”). It is related to Drishti (something that most dancers are clueless about!). The more focussed you are, the easier you will engage the audience. Take some lessons from Barack Obama πŸ™‚ Don’t complain if you can’t move your eyes at will! 😦 Want to test your mental concentration? Close your eyes, try to dance and see how good your balance is! πŸ™‚ Oh, you still have the ambition to become a professional Bharatanatyam dancer, eh??? 😦

Music and voice (already described in more detail above). Bring good music (and make sure the loudspeakers are good). It is related to Laya, Vacho and Geetam. Train your voice and introduce your items the way Alarmel Valli does, and the success is yours. Before each item she establishes rapport with the audience. Remember, she speaks from the heart or the throat registers, not from the head. You can’t speak? Hire a good compere.

Make your bhavas profound and intense. Be sincere, understand your characters’ relations and minds. If the audience are the refined rasikas in a small auditorium, don’t overdo your expressions! πŸ™‚ Remember: those miserable spectators came to seek for a spark of joy, so don’t overburden them with the tragic expressions!

Do the brisk nrittas and difficult karanas. It’s about Javaha. πŸ™‚ If you are doing it effortlessly and irradiate the energy, it will draw the attention. Stamina problems? πŸ™‚ Sweating too much? The jaw drops every now and then? πŸ™‚ Look miserable after dancing for 5 minutes? Need to do kapalabhati, eh? πŸ™‚

If you are a woman, have you wondered why your recitals don’t attract men? Cannot do Lasya properly? People complain that you look and move like a eunuck? Ok, we have a hint for you. The people who are selected as “sex symbols” have the uncanny ability to attract the opposite sex. Hint: learn the sexy karanas and bhedas. Learn to move gracefully. And a lot more. See how sexy Alarmel Valli moves her shoulders and chest? Oh, look at the flutter of her eyelashes! Now, don’t you want to murder Rukmini Devi for popularizing her unisex bland Kalakshetra version of Bharatanatyam devoid of talukku, kulukku, alakshyam, midukku,or any graceful ottam adavus?

Purely physical things. How good is your angasudhi? Cannot sit in araimandi, eh? Cannot do atami? Cannot lift your leg? Do your fingers bend properly in all the mudras? How many hastas do you use, actually? (It seems there are 548 , but you need to do Alarmel Valli-style introductions for all these mudras, or else nobody will understand!)

You have to be beautiful, wear a beautiful costume, makeup and jewelry! πŸ™‚ Ever wondered why the scriptures have… errrr… certain physical requirements for professional dancers? :)In other words, if you are a woman and excel by your beauty, youthfulness, brilliance and other qualities all other women standing by, you will not have to compete for attention! πŸ™‚

10 thoughts on “Secrets of success of a solo Bharatanatyam recital. Learn how a Bharata natyam dancer can get a lot of fans who had no idea that Bharatnatyam can be fascinating. :)

  1. Dear blogger!
    This is a very informative piece of literature.kudos to your indepth knowledge and passion for the art.
    Under the sub-title KNOW YOUR AUDIENCE, you have mentioned that most of the brahmins of today are of the sudra type.What exactly do you mean by this and also the following sentence where you have mentioned that some (2-3%) contemporary SC’s and ST’s have the sattva-dominated nature of the true brahmin.Do you mean to say a person’s inherent nature depends on the caste/community he belongs to? Is it not the upbringing,education,family,friends and values inculcated since childhood that have a direct bearing on his nature/character? Am sure dance transcends the pseudo barriers created by mankind,with specific reference to the Indian scenario.
    Iam given to thinking that the above sentences are unwarranted in the otherwise absorbing write up.
    Thank you,

  2. The 3 guna’s were not created by mankind. Are you Christian, by the way?

    All the Hindu scriptures state that in Kali Yuga the “brahmins” will be the same as “shudras”. I am surprised you don’t know it.

    Castes didn’t use to be inherited. Today, your caste will greatly influence your upbringing, education, friends and values. However, the balance of the 3 gunas of your nature cannot be changed by education or environment: it can only be changed by yoga. Or by doing Bharatanatyam in earnest πŸ™‚

    You may remember that Vishwamitra was not satisfied with the status of Raja-Rishi (Rajas-dominated human type), so he had to do quite a tapasya for thousands of years to become Brahmarishi (no printed certificate was required). I don’t believe you can do it, can you? They don’t teach it at Madras University, do they? πŸ™‚ How do they explain Natya Shastra then, and the 3 human types (high, middling and low)?

  3. Dear blogger,
    Iam not quite sure why we have to talk about the Hindu Scriptures when the point I was trying to make was that all are equal when it comes to ART and savouring it.Do you agree to say that by the word ‘audience’ you meant only the ‘Hindu’ audience? How does it become relevant apart from the Indian context while otherwise this article covers a wider spectrum!
    If you believe that in kali yuga there is no difference between the brahmins and the sudras,why did you have to say at all that most brahmins of today are of the sudra type? Well, no offence meant though!
    I honestly thought this was a brilliant piece sans those sentences,so just wanted to put forth my thoughts!
    With regard to what is being taught at the University of madras,I will let you know once I start attending their contact classes……….
    And dear friend,I totally disagree with you that one’s caste influences the other factors that you have mentioned!
    Indeed Iam Hindu! Wishing only that the caste barriers among the hindu fraternity slowly but steadily diminish!

  4. Natya Shastra or any other serious text explains why all are NOT equal when it comes to ART and savouring it. The nature of human beings differ on a vast scale, whether they are Hindu or not. I meant to say that not all brahmins of today are of the sudra type, and not all hereditary sudras or some people from Europe or Japan are of the sudra type. The caste barriers are evil as long as caste is automatically inherited, without relevance to one’s type of nature.

    Of course, audience’ should not mean only the β€˜Hindu’ audience. However, it would quite a challenge to observe the principle of locadharmi fully and compose Bharatanatyam to, for instance, songs in Japanese. You would have to change most of the adavus (which are desi, actually). The North Indians or westerners are unable to savour the Carnatic music, so we have to go for something like this ( ) or else all kinds of transitional fusions like Ravi Shankar’s compositions. Apart from the Indian context, I explained it to Mallika how to put in other cultural contexts (Christian) , but you need to know other cultures really well (heathen, buddist, arab, etc) in order to connect with their souls. I think this is what they should teach at the university: how to put Bharatanatyam compositions in other cultural contexts (do they still have an allergy for swastika in Germany? πŸ™‚ .
    That’s as far as desi elements go. I am not sure you would be able to adapt the margi elements. Hardly. It would be easier to explain the Hindu context to the audience. It’s either you reach to them or help them reach to you. πŸ™‚

    Are you studying by correspondence?

  5. Dear blogger,
    You are a very intelligent and captivating writer.
    No it is not exactly called the correspondence course,though trailing on those lines.It is called the private study mode.Dancers of a certain experience and who are 32 years or above are permitted to enroll…………contact classes are not conducted in the likes of other correspondence courses where the students are intimated of lectures and study materials given.Here the student is only required to attend 30 classes along with those pursuing the regular mode.The choice of days and sessions are entirely at the student’s discretion.

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