Behind Collective Soul

Just what is Collective Soul? Or more pointedly, what is the Collective Soul certification course put on by me, Paulette Rees-Denis from Gypsy Caravan Dance Company?
Many of you ask me that, and I have given short descriptions, and I have given longer descriptions, but let me try to be more succinct. Or for those of you who have heard my diatribes, maybe not so succinct, but at least descriptively unfettered!

First, my role is as the teacher, coach, director, hostess, and instigator for you to be the best dancer you can be. Plain and simple. The rest is a bit more involved and complex. I have been teaching Tribal Style Belly Dance for eighteen years and dancing it for over twenty-two. My assorted professional, semi-professional, and student troupes have been performing for that many years, in many formations large and small, but it is the dance itself that I am focusing on here. Over the years, from the needs of my students I have developed six levels of classes—Beginning Levels One and Two, Intermediate Levels One and Two, Advanced, and Performance Preparatory—before getting into the performing groups.

Most importantly, however, is to recognize that Tribal does not have to be about performing. There is nothing like the magic of dancing Tribal, as some of you have experienced. There is the synchronistic group energy of dancing improvisationally together, of creating in the moment, of feeling the music within your soul, of connecting with your dancing sisters through eyes and bodies, of feeling the glistening sweat on your skin as you dance hard. There is a pulsing energy when you really allow yourself to dance, not just memorize the steps, or just mindlessly follow your leader, but to truly dance, and take the lead. Your dance is your gift to yourself, for so many of these reasons, and more. This dance can be a meditation and a prayer, a spiritual awakening. Dancing can be an aerobic workout, a way to tone up the body and lose weight. Tribal can be a way of meeting and connecting with people of all ages and backgrounds, because you are feeling disconnected from any community and have the desire to find one. A big part of that includes lots of laughter along with confidence building. And the dance steps are just great fun to execute, some physically challenging, others a breeze, while you get reacquainted with different muscles and parts of your body! An incredible component of tribal is the costuming. Dancing tribal can be about making yourself beautiful, looking at yourself in the mirror, wearing assorted gorgeously vibrant costumes and hunks of delicious jewelry, elaborate glittery makeup, fanciful head wraps and hair adornments. That is the icing on the cake.

The meat (unless you are vegetarian like me) is most importantly getting to know the steps, feeling them in your muscles and your bones, and being comfortable dancing them. Tribal can be intimidating for some dancers, with the idea of using improvisation versus choreography. To dance Tribal includes understanding how to use your body, how to take care of and take pride in your body as a dancer, being able to identify rhythms so that you can move with the music, and later on adding zil (finger cymbals) playing, and dancing with props as other exciting layers of your dance.

Giving you helpful information, extensive drilling, body and movement corrections, more discussions, and even more drilling, is what I do for you, as a dancer in my Collective Soul certification courses. I find it necessary that you have some tribal belly dance experience before you start my course. Either that or be a fast learner and study my first few technique DVDs intently. I also do not mean it be a course to take so you can chalk one up on your tassel belt, where anyone can just take the course and get certified. That does not cut it for me, and doesn’t do you any favors, either. The intensive classes are small, usually from two to ten dancers, so that you get as much personal attention as possible. In addition, you are tested at the end. We both need to feel confident that you understand the movements, the history, the ideas behind what makes tribal Tribal. Some dancers freak a bit at the idea of being tested. I may be a taskmaster, but I am also a loving teacher! And no sweat if you do not pass right away, there is always another chance. I honor the fact that you might need more time to study and work on your steps. That is so not a problem! You just redo and review what you need to do, by taking the course again, or by testing again, or by sending me a DVD if you live far away. But you need to do it! You need to understand and be able to dance and move with grace, integrity, and confidence, and be that beautiful dancer that I am here to make you be.

Obviously, we start at the beginning, with Level One. But it is not just about re-learning
or reviewing the basic steps, because we spend time talking with each other, as learning not just from me, but from your peers is an invaluable learning situation. We study the body, the moves, and the music, along with talking about tribal and its evolution and revolution! We talk about artistic integrity and being an artist, not just a dancer that follows the trends. I don’t want you to look like every other dancer out there, tribal, fusion, or whatever is the new gimmick. I want you to be your own artist. We find out what it means to support each other. Mostly, it has to be fun. And we probably share a glass of wine or two!

Then we continue on with the next levels. There is so much more to learn, and as I dancer, I never quit studying and learning. That is why I love to dance, and why I love this dance specifically. It is constantly growing, being a living, breathing art form! And Tribal has an ever-growing repertoire of dance moves, using levels of dancer ability and knowledge. Good, fun stuff!

Collective Soul is also a pre-requisite for those who want to continue to study with me and take my Teacher Training intensives too. Collective Soul got started because there were dancers who wanted to teach but were not ready to. There is so much to learn about being a teacher, including marketing, teaching skills, and business plans, besides the logical ideas of running a dance class.

Now also, the Caravan Soul Collective International is growing, and that is certified dancers who are being able to perform together with me, if performing is your path!

I want to support you, and guide you on your tribal path. No, you do not need to get certified to dance tribal, but it is a way for you to study with me intensively to understand the roots and to get it in your body. And your reward for being certified is saying that you have done the work and you know the foundations of Tribal. For most, tribal becomes a lifestyle because of the invaluable lessons it has to give. Collective Soul has been a way for dancers from around the world to connect with Tribal Belly Dance, and with each other. My reward is to see you truly blossom as that dancer that you want to be. As the numbers of certified dancers grow, the worldwide connections grow. Way cool.

From Dee, Tribal Blossoms, in Adelaide, Australia, Feb. 2009:
Going to Adelaide for studies with Paulette was amazing, firstly we had three days of Collective Soul – intensive training with Paulette going over moves, rhythms, zills and technique. I swear its changed me for workshops forever!! It was so inspiring AND exhausting! By the time the test came around I wondered if I’d have any more energy in reserve….but passed thankfully! Paulettes a great teacher. I totally recommend anyone wanting to really experience being a student to get themselves along to the program…..for me it was also a humbling experience – learning that I hadnt gotten it all right, but this was my chance to really learn…its hard to put it into words. She makes me want to be a better dancer and a better teacher.

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