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Arangetram: Dr. Poonam Modha And Attorney Roopa Modha

Rama Modha

In the life of an Indian classical dancer, there is nothing more significant than an Arangetram, which literally means, “ascending the stage.”  Very rarely, one gets to witness a performance where not only the dancers, but also the entire audience ascends into a spiritual space.  It speaks volumes about the caliber and ability of performers when they are able to transcend beyond the stage, connect with the audience on a deep intimate level, and transport everyone to such a blissful state.  That is exactly what happened during the Arangetram of sisters, Poonam Modha and Roopa Modha, disciples of Smt. Neena Gulati of Triveni School of Dance, on June 30, 2019 at the Mosesian Center for the Arts.  The performances transfixed everyone present, and left each attendee speechless, spellbound, and emotional at the end of every piece.  So much so that many commented that it felt like they were privy to an intimate expression of service to God.


As young girls, the two trained under Neenaji for around 4 years and learned over 30 dances in such a short span of time.  The year of their Arangetram – which was supposed to be when they were young – Roopa sustained a sports injury in her hand that turned into chronic pain, and the two had to give up on their dream.  This could have been the end of their dance story, but the two remained positive.  Poonam and Roopa loved Neenaji immensely and they all kept in touch over the years.  Thankfully, over time, Roopa’s pain diminished.  Finally, a couple years ago, Poonam and Roopa returned to Indian classical dance, and resumed their journey to the Arangetram.  Poonam is a physician and Roopa is an attorney, anchor/emcee, and journalist.  So, it was difficult to make time for such an event, but they were blessed to have the support of their parents and incredible Guru.


The Arangetram featured a line-up filled with upbeat, intricate, and difficult pieces featuring complex movement.  Act one began with the two performing an invocation piece called, Poorva Rangam.  The girls danced with confidence in perfect unison and precision to the melodious music.  Accompaniment was provided by: Smt. Neena Gulati (nattuvangam), Dr. Maitreyi Sharma (vocals), Shri Gaurishshankar Chandrashekar (mridangam), Shri Surya Sundararajan (violin), and Smt. Hema Balasubramanian (flute).  Following the invocation, the two girls showcased their strengths in solo pieces.  Poonam exhibited her incredible technique in a Jatishwaram, while Roopa displayed her love of ‘abhinaya’ (expression) with an amazing spiritual Krishna Shabdam.  They then performed their centerpiece, Das Avatar, depicting Vishnu’s 10 incarnations.  Audience members said Poonam and Roopa did justice to each Avatar they portrayed and many said they had truly embodied Vishnu.


At intermission, the audience could not stop raving about the girls’ dancing as they were treated to delicious snacks.  Many were already in tears as the pieces had moved them beyond words.  A common comment heard was, “I have never witnessed anything like this in my life!”  It is an understatement to say everyone was looking forward to the next act!


Act II proved to be just as exhilarating as Act I.  This time, the girls began with solo pieces.  Poonam did a complex piece called, Nrityalaya Vinyasa (dedicated to Shiva), where the dancer has to have mastered all aspects of dance to match the mridangam and taalam.  The audience was amazed that Poonam did not miss a beat as she displayed the complex moves on a variety of rhythms.  Roopa then did a high-octane dance, Shiva Navarasa, dedicated to the Lord of Dance, where the dancer takes on the role of Shiva and features a portion where Shiva displays 9 human emotions.  The audience could not stop talking about the skill with which Roopa developed each expression, contrasted each emotion from the next, and seamlessly portrayed Shiva’s strength.  The girls then did a lovely pure dance piece called Swara Pallavi.  Again, they showcased how precise they are as dancers as every movement matched.  Finally, the dancers effortlessly performed on the rim of a brass plate in the Balagopala Tarangam.  The show ended with the Mangalam thanking the Guru, orchestra, and audience for gracing the event.


At the end of the Arangetram, the girls’ uncle, Dr. Bhaskar Dave, shared the audience’s perspective that the girls dancing had left him “speechless” and that his handkerchief was wet with tears from the emotional performances.  The girls then gave moving speeches to thank their parents, Guru, orchestra, and beyond.  At the reception following, guests were still awestruck with what they had seen – many calling it a “historic” event and requesting the girls to perform again soon.  Audience members commented that the event was beautiful from beginning to end.  The shared consensus was that every piece was captivating as the two had masterfully demonstrated intricate and complex dance patterns, and had perfectly synchronized hand gestures, facial expressions, and neck and eye movements.  Here’s what some who witnessed the day had to say:


“I was so moved and proud to be part of Poonam and Roopa’s Arangetram. Thank you for including me in this very important, significant milestone.” – Dr. Maitreyi Sharma


“I couldn't be more proud of Poonam and Roopa's Arangetram performance... It was a culmination of years of hard work and dedication. Their grace and beauty left tears in the eyes of the audience.” – Dr. Sonal Dave


“Riveting and impactful performances, especially in interpreting moods and storytelling.” – Kuldip Singh


“Lovely and full of abhinaya, graceful movement, and rhythm.  Poonam and Roopa really excel at whatever they do.  Such a joy to see!  It was like Poonam and Roopa were doing seva to the Lord through their dance. I enjoyed the whole performance. It was just so darn good! A lot of people around me were literally either gushing, speechless or in tears [witnessing the] two achieve this milestone.” – Sheetal Karhade


“The combination of storytelling, music, and movement made for a riveting performance.  I was in awe of what the dancers were emotionally able to project with only their eyes.  The whole experience felt like I was being allowed to partake in a very sacred rite of passage.” – Dr. Kathyrn Fleming-Ives


“Elevated every spirit as each performance progressed.  Every expression was so pure and pleasantly expressed.  Both sisters are individually soooo pretty that their beauty distracted the audience focus frequently. Music of the support artistes was so unique to meld the north and the south versions seamlessly, especially the Thali dance which was most difficult.  All items were pure - no influence of other dance forms on the Indian classical dancing.  This must be so difficult since both sisters have awards and accolades in western dances and other styles.” – Rajoo Ananth


“The performance was breathtaking. Poonam had impeccable precision, and Roopa beautifully captured the full range of human emotion.” – Alison Errico


“It was a transcendent experience.” – Vivekanand Pandey


“Poonam and Roopa’s Arangetram was amazing! It was obvious how much hard work went into the training and preparation for the event, as both Poonam and Roopa danced flawlessly.” – Karen McNally


“The art that Poonam and Roopa displayed was like watching a breathtaking piece being painted across the canvas of the dance floor.” – Juhie Patel


“It was a wonderful celebration and an opportunity to experience a culture different from my own.  I have a lot of respect for the amount of intricate movements that were a part of Poonam and Roopa’s performance.  I personally enjoyed the portion of the performance in which they danced on a thali (brass plate)—this was a dance that included rhythm, balance and core body control.” – Michelle Laroche


“I was utterly transported by the dancers and their incredible performance.” – Dr. Tom Morison


“It was amazing and really cool!  My favorite part was when they danced on the rim of the plate.” – Hugo Morison


Poonam and Roopa’s Arangetram was truly an event where dance and expression met passion, love, and dedication to result in a unique and memorable occasion.  It was obvious that Nataraja (Lord of Dance) and Saraswati (Goddess of Knowledge, Music, Art, Wisdom, and Learning) have blessed the two of them with immense talent.  Moreover, Poonam and Roopa have embodied their Guru Neenaji’s passion, humility, and love of dance and Indian culture.  Though their Arangetram is done, their dance journey will continue to flourish.


(Photo Credits: Naga Gandham, Ashish Singhvi, Rohan Wadiwala)

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