TRIBAL CORNER

By
Alaine Haddon-Casey

Christmas greetings to all tribal dancers and enthusiasts. This is truly the season to be loosening the headwraps and letting our hair down! Already some of you will be enjoying both formal and informal dance through this holiday season, whilst others will be giving their feet a well-needed rest! Whatever you are doing, I wish you all the best for a wonderful Christmas and an exciting, healthy and rhythmic New Year.

For me this tends to be a time of reflection on the events of the past year and a time of planning for the New Year. In particular I am grateful for the support and nurturing of my teachers over the years and thank them for their encouragement in leading me through the many facets of MED toward my passion for ATS. Their patient faces and words of wisdom are always with me. To all of you, THANK YOU.

Thanks must also be extended to Carolena Nericcio and the teachers at FCBD, Kajira Djoumahna for her encouragement, to US, UK and Oz tribal ‘sisters’ for their friendship and support and of course, to all ATS students who are helping to raise awareness of this wonderful dance form.

PROFILE ON PAULETTE REES-DENIS: Director of Gypsy Caravan. In Australia March 2004

One of the most inspiring aspects of the dance journey has been travelling to the USA to train with ATS teachers. It has provided me with the opportunity to meet other dancers and in particular, to see first hand how Tribal is growing and developing and to bring new skills back to students. Whilst FCBD remains to many, the ‘definition’ of Tribal, a number of branches of the ATS ‘family tree’ have emerged from the early years of FCBD.

Early members of FCBD include Jill Parker, now Director of Ultra Gypsy (San Francisco) and Paulette Rees-Denis, Director of Gypsy Caravan (Portland, Oregon). These women performed with FCBD in the early years and have branched off, taking their considerable knowledge of ATS style and further developing their own dance and music philosophy and ‘hallmark’ moves.

Most ATS enthusiasts have heard of Carolena Nericcio, Paulette Rees-Denis and Kajira Djoumahna. A few have been fortunate enough to meet and study with these women, others have worked through their instructional videos. Now Australian dancers and ATS enthusiasts have the opportunity to learn directly from one of the most well known ATS teachers and performers, Paulette Rees-Denis.

I first met Paulette at TribalFest in California a couple of years ago. It was a pleasure to be able to spend some time hearing of her vision for Gypsy Caravan Studio performers and students as well as learning a little of the popular Gypsy Caravan musicians. Last year we picked up where we had left off and the conversation turned to ATS in Australia.

Although Paulette has taught throughout the USA and Europe, she had not yet taught in Australia. We set about rectifying that and I am delighted to advise that my Gypsy Trail Tribal Dance Company (Perth), Devi’s Ghawazee Caravan (NSW) and Dianne (Auckland) are co-sponsoring Paulette’s ATS teaching ‘tour’ of Australia and New Zealand in March 2004! We are particularly excited about this tour as it provides the opportunity for students at all levels (including absolute beginners!) to access direct teaching from an internationally renowned Master ATS teacher. So, who is Paulette Rees-Denis and why are we so excited?

DANCE:

With a 30 year classical dance background and armed with a Fine Arts Degree, Paulette found her ‘soul’ in ATS 15 years ago whilst studying and performing in the founding days of FCBD…yes, she was truly one of the ‘old school’!

Since that time she has been researching, performing and reinterpreting the tribal, Gypsy and folk dances of India, Turkey, Tunisia, Morocco, Egypt the Middle East and Spain. After relocating to Portland Oregon Paulette continued to expand and develop her vision and her teachings of ATS, combining structured dance skills and artistic expression. In 1991 she founded Gypsy Caravan and set about turning her vision into reality, evoking a feeling of ancient times, of family, community, group spirit and camaraderie and in the process, becoming one of the most highly regarded ATS teachers and performers in the USA.

Guided by her vision the original Gypsy Caravan has now grown to include the Caravan Studio, a community studio and resource centre established in Portland, Oregon and home to dancers, artists and musicians. Paulette is also the founder/director of two additional ATS troupes, Sister Caravan and Caravan Daughters. The three groups are not only impressive in their skills, but the energy levels and connection between the dancers is palpable; these dancers really enjoy dancing together. Highly sought after, their performances range from Tribal, MED dance and music festivals to mainstream dance, college and community performing arts productions throughout the USA and Canada. Their appeal is not just restricted to the ATS dance community. In 2002 and 2003, Gypsy Caravan received Zaghareet Magazine’s ‘Best Troupe’ award as well as receiving the Giza ‘Best troupe’ award in 1998.

In addition to performing and teaching students, Paulette’s commitment to ATS teaching is demonstrated through the development of a popular ‘flagship’ ATS Teacher Training Accreditation Program which provides standardised teaching and testing to ensure delivery of high quality ATS dance instruction and movement development.

Gypsy Caravan is renowned for ‘pushing the ATS envelope’. Their performance of ‘classic’ ATS is wonderful, but their incorporation of additional folkloric and traditional dance and music elements which includes dancers playing huge tambourines and frame drums throughout some of the performance whilst accompanied by the musicians, creates an exciting spectacle of sound, colour and movement.

MUSIC AND VIDEO PRODUCTIONS

Encompassing both music and dance, Gypsy Caravan is a total performance experience. Playing a combination of traditional and modern instruments, the musicians are also responsible for six music releases composed entirely for ATS dance and in consultation with dancers. It is a measure of the quality of the music they not only produce some of the most sought after cd’s in the ATS community but have also received a number of music awards from the broader MED community.

Paulette’s musician husband Jeff will be accompanying her on her visit to Oz and he has promised to ‘help’ Paulette with the workshops. Participants will delight to Jeff’s mastery of ancient woodwind as Paulette leads us through elements of performance and rhythm. This will offer the opportunity for a total improvisational experience and having experienced their good humour, laughter and fun is a given! Whilst over here Jeff will be meeting informally with Australian musicians and will be undertaking some study in didgeridoo from one of our own Master teachers.

In addition to music releases, Gypsy Caravan has produced a total of eight instructional and performance videos between 1993 and 2002. Each year has seen a improvements in the quality of the productions, attracting three nominations and two awards in ‘Best’ video categories, placing them firmly alongside FCBD in providing worldwide access to ATS teaching and performance.

PUBLICATIONS AND PUBLISHED WORKS

Paulette’s philosophy of ATS is inclusive of a number of art forms. She collaborates on a regular basis with poets, storytellers, musicians and actors to create multi-media and dance productions. Her photographic art is exhibited nationally and is available in book form and she is contributor to, and has in turn been interviewed for a number of dance magazines. Believing that tribal dancers have a lot to say about their dance, their spirit and their lives, in 1998, she established ‘Caravan Trails’, a quarterly tribal belly dance journal of contributors experiences and inspirations.

TRIBAL VISION TRIBAL TRANCE: A Celebration of Tribal Bellydance, Women, and Community

One of the most intriguing and attractive elements of the Gypsy Caravan experience is the development by Paulette and colleague Patrice Hawkwood Schanck of Tribal Dance as Ritual, integrating the spiritual, emotional, and physical aspects of tribal belly dance. Since 1992 these workshops have been popular with US and UK dancers; offering a broader, spiritual vision of the fusion and evolution of this dance through ATS technique, ancient mythology, discussion and meditation. In addition to her ATS workshops, Paulette has agreed to conduct a Tribal Trance workshop in Perth in March 2004! This workshop will be open to weekend workshop participants and will be a holistic and uplifting experience, adding a whole new aspect to your ATS dance!

When I first met Paulette I was taken by her warmth and regard toward the many people who approached her. Her openness and patience in responding to comments and questions after a 12 hour micro-bus drive from Oregon to California and throughout a weekend of performing, vending and teaching was truly remarkable! Feedback from Paulette’s US and UK students and workshop participants confirm that she blends these skills with her personal philosophy of fun and support to make learning ATS a truly valuable, long lasting and holistic experience.

It is rarely that we meet individuals with this level of patience, warmth and humour. Let alone such a wide range of internationally recognised performance, teaching and arts administration skills.

Gypsy Caravan ATS is a ‘First’ for Australia! So whether you are a beginner or an experienced tribal dancer, get out your diary, pencil Paulette in for March and we’ll see you there!