In a teacher’s meeting the other afternoon, my lovely Caravan dancers and studio teachers, Karen and Carol, and I were discussing the longevity of Gypsy Caravan. Karen was saying that it is Gypsy’s history, the trueness and longevity of what Gypsy does that is so attractive, that makes dancers want to be a part of this dance. Yes, Gypsy has been around, in it’s many incarnations, since 1991. With the ongoing weekly classes, weekend workshops around the globe, the student performing troupes, the semi-pro troupes, the band, the professional dance group, we have gone through several changes but have remained true to our roots and our core, keeping the feeling that Tribal bellydance evokes—connection, unity, synchronicity, power, magic, feminine beauty and strength, movement and art, ancient tradition, contemporary times, modern ritual, belonging. Costumes change, music changes, steps evolve, dancers revolve through, and transition in their own art forms or troupes, but the feeling remains the same.
I say Bonnie Raitt in concert the other night. She still evokes the same feelings that her music has always given to me. Over her, what, 35 year history of making music, her sound, her voice, has only improved, gotten better with age, and she still plays and sings from her soul. Even her hair style has barely changed. Not faddish, not trendy, she just plays. And wow, she is hot! And she can still make me cry…
I think, too, of others who have keep true to their music—Chrissy Hynde, Joan Jett, Lyle Lovett, Tom Waits—there are many. They have their own style, brand even, and they can play with it and try new things, but without compromising themselves.
Isnt’ that much of it? Not compromising ourselves, doing what we love? I’ve thought about that over the years of teaching and performing, as I have experimented with ideas, costuming, music. I may have the dancers try something, but I stand back to watch the whole picture to make sure that it looks and feels right, that it feels like me, what I want to put out to the world with my work, and that if what I”m saying I’m dancing is tribal, then I am. I have never wanted to compromise myself, and I know along the road I have in bits and pieces to make everyone happy, but not much.
Collaboration is about compromise. But as the director, teacher, leader, instigator, I”m as strict as I can be about my performers working their bodies into good technique, attending classes, being at all rehearsals, taking other workshops, and making this group the priority, the main focus. Some dancers want to dance other styles, either solo or with others, which is great, but if you dance with me, that is your main thing. No competition, no compromise, just commitment.
Life happens, and since this particular style of dance troupe does not make enough money to call it a fall time job for all the dancers, everyone must work. Some are teachers, writers, office workers, but I have enjoyed the commitment that my dancers have given me.
It is that longevity. I have built trust, with a somewhat solid backbone. A little waivering here and there. As artists, don’t we all take time to think about what it is we are doing? Don’t we need to change, and to evolve? I have been doing this a long time. I must change. I must create. But I still dance tribal because it is what feeds me, makes my body happy, my soul content. It makes me smile and glow.
The community has given me respect, respect for longevity. I am foever grateful to have had all the opportunies I have been given, or have made for myself and my dancers. Even within the community sometimes there are splits, but still, in the big picture, it does take everyone to complete our circle. That is the way I like it. Some people dance into the circle. Others step out to create their own. Life. Art. Personal vision.
A few years ago, when I was interviewing Michele, (one of my dancers at that time) for my book, Tribal Vision), she said to me
I don’t want to put so much time and energy into something that is going to be fleeting. I like to be a part of something that can be sustaining. I do not like
short-term projects; I like longevity and sustainability in life. Your format allows for that and calls for that. It has evolved that way, and everyone I talk to … feels that way. The younger girls are waiting to be the older women, and look up to the older women.
A dance for all ages, for life. Gypsy Caravan continues.