The early stages of Bharatanatyam training involve learning the basic steps, called adavus, and movements of the dance. These elements are the building blocks for subsequent, more advanced, sequences of dance. The exercises condition the body for the unique postures of Bharatanatyam. They also develop the student’s sense of rhythm. Students also learn eye movements, which are done in synchronization with body movements in the dance. At this stage, students also learn the names of hand gestures called mudras and hastas, which are an important feature of Bharatanatyam. They comprise the descriptive language of the dance. Students also learn about the history of Bharatanatyam, the musical instruments used, and other related topics.
At the intermediate stage, students learn more advanced adavu steps and complicated patterns of movement. They also learn the names of facial expressions, which are a distinctive feature of Bharatanatyam.
The students begin learning some basic dance compositions. The choreography is simple, and there isn’t much expressive content. Examples of these Margam items are the alarippu and jatiswaram. These items may be performed on stage at cultural shows and annual functions.
These students learn the remaining dance compositions that make up the repertoire of a full Bharatanatyam recital. Although they may only learn a single instance of some types of items, the repertoire or Margam covers all the features of the Bharatanatyam dance. It includes rhythmic dance, emotional expression, and a variety of both. The items they practice and perform will include the shabdam, varnam, padam, kirtanam, ashtapadi, javali, thillana, and shlokam.
Advanced students may wish to prepare for and perform a Bharatanatyam arangetram on stage with live musicians to showcase their achievements of perfecting the Margam or dance repertoire to an audience. A diploma of completion is presented to students who present an arangetram on stage.