Alaine Haddon-Casey

From Friday through to Saturday on a magical ‘long weekend’ in March, the Bashirah Belly Dance Academy studio came alive to the sounds of zills and zaghareet’s, drums, didgeridoo, mizwiz and zurna as Paulette Rees-Denis, founder of the Gypsy Caravan Studio, Portland, Oregon wove her special magic. This was an important time for Western Australia’s ATS community as Paulette is the first ATS teacher and performer to have travelled to Western Australia, and the first founding ATS dancer to have taught in Australia! Many people don’t realise that Paulette was an original member of Fat Chance Belly Dance before she moved to Oregon and established the Caravan Studio. In the USA and Europe she shares recognition in the ATS world with Carolena Nericcio of Fat Chance Belly Dance. In short, Paulette knows ATS!

It was also an important time for the Gypsy Trail Tribal Dance Company (GT). This was the second in GT’s international ATS dance exchange series and it took a couple of years of negotiating around Paulette’s busy performing and teaching schedule to find a space that could accommodate the travel and workshop time. Having experienced Paulette’s teaching and Gypsy Caravan’s amazing performances at TribalFest in California it seemed important to persuade her to ignore the 27 hour flight and to come to WA to experience our great lifestyle and hospitality. To maximise the visit, GT co-ordinated a co-sponsorship arrangement with Devi Mamak, director of NSW’s Ghawazee Caravan and Dianne in Auckland. To Devi and Dianne, thank you. This wonderful magazine and Sheik to Sheik ‘What’s On” also provided generous support to the venture, providing promotion and advertising – thank you. Special thanks also go to Leanne of Diaspora, who in the spirit of true tribal sisterhood courageously opened her home to the crazy members of Albany’s Maiyermar Tribe! To all involved, I thank you and I know Western Australia’s tribal dancers thank you.

In addition to members of GT’s Diaspora, Urban and Vientre tribes, we were pleased to welcome members of Maiyermar, Kismet and Black Swan Tribes to our ‘tribal home’. We were also delighted to have Nikki and Deborah from Bunbury and trust they enjoyed their first experience of ATS. So, what did we do?

It’s often hard to get to know people in a workshop, so we started on Friday night with a party. This gave everyone the opportunity to meet each other and to spend time talking to Paulette and her husband Jeff (Gypsy Caravan Band) about dance, music, favourite foods, performance experiences and pets! Helen the Henna Goddess arrived to work her special mehndi magic and we were soon joined by Diaspora’s incredible didge player, Matt and Trevor Osborne, Perth drummer extraordinaire! After being hennaed Jeff picked up his mizwiz and zurna, Matt his didge, Trevor his dumbek and Paulette her tambourine and then the party really started! It was an incredible start to the workshops, having such great musicians making music for us to dance to and we took every advantage of it. By the end of the evening we were fed, ‘watered’ hennaed and all danced out!

Paulette had also brought ‘goodies’ – music, costuming, video’s and dvd’s. We were in tribal shopping heaven! By the end of the evening, connections were made and friendships formed. This held us in good stead for the Saturday workshops.

Paulette began by introducing the basic movement vocabulary. We also spent time discussing the philosophy and spiritual elements of tribal dance. We were also introduced to Gypsy Caravan’s multi-directional format with vocal cues. This created a great challenge, much laughter and cries of ‘oh, you mean my other left!’ Gypsy Caravan like so many tribes in the USA has further developed ATS by adding its own set of movement’s cues and transitions. This offers an even greater variety of movements to add to our “group improv’ bag”. Oh, and how could I forget, for a bit of extra fun, Paulette also introduced us to ‘puffy bun-buns’ – the latest, greatest tribal hair trend since the shedding of the headwrap! (see pic)

Saturday evening was a full moon and the night of Diaspora’s regular beach celebration. Paulette and Jeff joined us and the African Drummers and fire twirlers for an incredible two hours of music and ATS-Afro fusion dancing on the beach. Leanne ‘dragged’ Maiyermar along and pretty soon zills, mizwiz and zaghareet’s joined the drums and the sound of the ocean, making the best music and atmosphere a tribal dancer could ever ask for.

Sunday had a ‘civilised’ start, with cups of tea and a thorough exploration of the goodies on the table. Once everyone was truly awake Paulette really worked us, introducing Indian and Spanish inspired moves to further increase our tribal dance vocabulary enabling us to really express in dance elements of the Romany Trail. A number of the hand gestures, turns and combinations were quite complex but very beautiful and well worth working on! Later we explored partnering and mirroring and a number of formation and leadership changes – a little harder with the multi-directional format, but great fun (more cries of ‘oh, my other left?!’). It was a full-on day but as an extra special treat, Paulette had asked Jeff to play for us. He in turn asked Trevor to join him and we found ourselves once again dancing to great improv’ music. It’s a measure of the co-operation among the musicians of the tribal community that they often play on each other’s cd’s and join each other for performance and there is little doubt that the co-operation and respect that signifies tribal made the weekend truly exciting. It was a great way to finish the weekend workshops. Could anything be more special? We didn’t think it possible, but the Monday night workshop – now THAT was special!

I had heard so much about Paulette’s ‘Tribal Vision: Tribal Trance’ whilst in the USA. I really wanted her to share that with us and was delighted when she agreed. Paulette introduced us to trance dances and chanting and the use of these in many cultures with a particular focus on India and the Middle East. The evening was an incredible, heady blend of incense, ritual, chant and free dance and movement, enhanced by the trust formed between the dancers during the weekend spent together. We learnt to centre, connect and flow to an even greater degree, finding our bodies had a far greater range of flexibility and movement than we had previously thought. Grounding ourselves later with a cup of tea we sat talking into the night, reflecting on the workshops and what we had learnt over the past days together. Paulette again sharing stories, laughter and giving great encouragement to all dancers. We were pleased to hear how much she had enjoyed her stay in Western Australia and her regret that it wasn’t longer. It was mutual. And in the face of persistent encouragement Paulette agreed to try to schedule a return to Western Australia next year to provide advanced ATS training!

In the meantime, Diaspora members performing in the USA this year have scheduled further training with Paulette whilst in the California in May and I will be extending my usual training trip to San Francisco and taking up an invitation to head to Oregon after TribalFest for ATS teacher accreditation.

As an aside, since the workshop I have received a number of enquiries about the music and videos. I’m pleased to advise that both are now available here in Perth. Matt’s shop, Didgeridoo Breath in Fremantle has agreed to carry Gypsy Caravan’s music, so for those of you who missed out, get down to Freo and experience some great new music. GT will be carrying the videos and dvd’s, so for those who want to save on shipping, or who just have general queries about ATS give me a call or e-mail me (