Monday, November 09, 2009

Daylight Robbery


(photo had nothing to do with the article and was not taken during the said performance)

The progression of Indian arts in Malaysia often leaves me with a bad aftertaste. Outsiders are often awed by the glittery jewellery and costumes, not knowing the industry has become a get rich quick scheme for so called teachers who are nothing but half baked opportunists.

There are probably more dance schools in the country then dancers itself. Most of these schools that seem to spring like mushrooms in the monsoon season teach only Bharathanatyam, even though India has another 6 official traditional dances Kathak, Kuchipudi, Odissi, Manipuri, Mohiniattam and Kathakali.

Prior to becoming a credible Bharathanatyam teacher, the individual should not only have mastered the 108 adavus (steps), hastas, bedas, jathis, karanas and more but it is essential that said individual be an apt choreographer who understands the basics of rhythm and is able to make their students comprehend, able to do the nattuvangam (rhythmic playing of cymbals) and has sound Carnatic music knowledge for dance is nearly impossible to execute without music.

Unfortunately not only aren’t these schools teaching all 108 adavus, they’ve shrunk it to a mere 40 or less steps for their convenience, rarely teach the theoretical part of Bharatanatyam nor are they accomplished choreographers or nattuvangist. Even worse most of the new breed of teachers aren’t even average skilled dancers.

They breed and grow in small towns, blindfolding innocent gullible families who know nothing about dance into thinking they are such amazing teachers and dancers.

When I started learning dance as a kid there were just a few main schools in the Klang Valley. The quick study set of adavus had already begun but the one thing I can attest is most of the dancers and the teachers made sure the quality of dancers were at least average and their performances were usually accompanied by live musicians were the teacher was always the nattuvangist.

There was however one school that often got dished by the other schools as her students were always less than average and she was not a nattuvangist.

Last Saturday I attended a Salangai pooja of this new breed opportunist who made that school’s dancers seem like the best dancers in the country!

Now the Salangai Pooja scam was probably created by one of my ex teachers who was one of the leading dance schools then. The truth is salangai poojas are supposed to be simple poojas for the salangai (bells) done at the teachers home/school in front of the Lord of dance Nataraja which will then allow the students to begin performing.

However Malaysian teachers created a new tradition where a function is held in a temple or hall just like an Arangetram (debut solo performance) but for a group of students who share the cost among themselves. It is usually done with 5 to 7 dancers where an Alarippu, Jathiswaram, Sabdham and Thillana are performed together with at least one solo padam for each dancer. A total of 7, 8 dances are performed. The students are usually accompanied by musicians and the dance teacher helming the position of a nattuvangist.

The Salangai Pooja on Saturday had 5 dancers and 5 dances. None of the children were ready to perform, they had no sense of rhythm or coordination, they didn’t know where to begin or where to take a step as the music progressed, they weren’t familiar with the music, each adavu and hand gesture was a mess, there was no aramandi, there was no 90 degrees holding of arms. Was it their fault, NO it is entirely a teacher’s responsibility to prepare a student for a performance. Not everyone was born a dancer but they can be taught the nuances of a proper dancer. While excellence is a students responsibility, the sharpening of basics is a teacher’s responsibility.

And there’s that so called teacher, not only was she singing off key much to the displeasure of the amazing violinist she held the nattuvangam in her hands for show, played 1 minute of a 1 2 3 4 beat and stopped. Oh and guess what she teaches music as well!

The poor children and their unsuspecting parents had been made a laughing stock to fill the teacher’s coffers. Ah the story doesn’t end there. Let me explain why I am so angry and have titled this article as such.

Bharathanatyam is by no means an inexpensive hobby. Every single item needed for a performance can cost a sizeable amount of money but there are cheaper alternatives. Originally dance costumes were sewn out of Kanchipuram silk sarees (RM 250 and beyond) which can cost an arm or leg depending on how much you can spend. To cut cost people began using the cheaper but still costly Dharmavaram sarees (RM 180 – RM 250), people have now begun to use imitation silk sarees that cost between (RM 50 – RM100) to further cut cost. The cost for stitching this costume in Malaysia usually comes to about (RM 180 – RM 200). So the cheapest with an imitation silk saree will cost about RM 300 max.

Then there’s the jewellery. There are 3 kinds of dance jewellery. The most expensive being Temple jewellery which can cost from about RM 700 – RM 1200 for a full set depending on the number and kind of pieces you purchase. Temple jewellery is actually jewellery made of silver and plated in gold. Every 5 years depending on its wear and tear, the sets can be re-plated in gold and stringed for a fee to bring back its lustre hence why its worth purchasing. My set is about 20 years old now and I’ve only reset it once.

Then there is the new imitation Temple Jewellery which looks nearly as same as the Temple Jewellery from afar but is clearly different when inspected closely. There is also the fake stone dance sets. Both these sets cost nothing more than RM 300 for a full set and can be easily purchased in one of the cash and carry outlets in Malaysia in Brickfields and Klang.

Guess what the parents were charged from Saturday’s function? A solid RM 2000 just for the imitation silk costume and an imitation temple jewelery set. Even if you minus an RM100 for the bells, hair and flowers that’s a RM 1300 profit from each student. The parents were told the costumes were pure silk and it was a temple jewellery set.

The debacle doesn’t end there, each student was made to pay RM 750 as guru dakshina (teachers special fee) which doesn’t include the extra fees for intense training that they paid for the last 2 months. Not enough each student was told they must present the teacher with a saree. You know what’s the best part, the guru dakshina which is supposed to be given on the day or after was collected during Navarathri about 1 and a half months ago. Perhaps she needed money for Deepavalli?

When I did my Salangai Pooja 20 years back, the pool was split into 5 for the 4 artist and teacher and we each paid RM 500. That’s a total of RM 2500.

While times have changed and cost has definitely increased, the last I heard a teacher was being paid about RM 1000 while the artist (usually only 3) were each paid between RM 500 – 800. That’s a total of RM 2800 max.

While I’m not sure how much the musicians were paid (total of 3), I do suspect the singer was paid a larger sum than usual. The teacher got a total of RM 3750.

Now the singer whom I once knew, laughed at me for doing a Salangai Pooja years ago saying such things don’t exist, she also made fun of my ex teacher. For the numerous times she made fun of other teacher’s students in her old establishment, she sure sang and guided such an amazing production by this great opportunist who apparently is her disciple. I am sure she is mighty proud of herself.

Of course the cost of food and other event related fees hasn’t been added. The opportunist just made a total of RM 10 000 from one Salangai Pooja. While I do suspect some of the money did go to a third party for the purchase of costume and jewellery, the bulk of it has gone to the opportunist.

Fees is one thing, cheating people is another. If you had quality I could have toned down this post, you had neither that nor integrity. I wonder how you sleep at night? After cheating unsuspecting parents of so much money?

They say cheated money never sticks. Trust me I have seen people lose their health and wealth as much as they scronge from others.

So if you’re planning to enroll your child, sibling or even yourself in Bharatanatyam, perhaps its best you enquire about their future extra costs, ask around about the teacher, find out if they teach the shortcut dance or the full syllabus, or ask me and I’ll gladly recommend a few institutions in Klang Valley and Ipoh.

If you’re reading this on Facebook and you are from my town, there is only one good master and he teaches in the Kali temple. I have watched his class and seen one of his students Salangai Pooja. The rest are a bunch of clowns just like the opportunist above.

I didn’t need to write this, what concern is it to me if someone gets cheated? The thing is I rather be the horrible person who tells off others for their scam then sit and do nothing. Trust me this article will make its way to the opportunist. I could write her name and schools name but I’m reserving it for now. If you must know who it is I’ll message you.


Anonymous said...

this is ridiculous!! i was planning to enroll myself for a barathanatyam class... and thank god i read this... i am from klang... can you please suggest to me a good place to learn?

kuttykancil said...

dear Visithra, i didnt realise d possibilities of such dramas during the purpose of learning dance. im also planning to take up barathanatyam class - its been my childhood passion but i dont wanna end up in such places. Where can i find a proper school & guru around KL area?
DO you hold classes maam?
Pls adv, thank you

Para Timberlake said...

hhye there, could u please recommend me the best classes around klang valley?

Mahen Kanesan said...

Tell me which school n teacher. I know one in klang

Mahen Kanesan said...

Tell me which school n teacher. I know one in klang

Mahen Kanesan said...

Tell me which school n teacher. I know one in klang