The Tribal Lifestyle: What this dance has taught me

The Tribal Lifestyle:  What this dance has taught me

… part one

(this was previously written for a 3 part series for Zaghareet Magazine! sharing here now…)

Who knew that taking a bellydance class could change one’s life? Really, it’s just a dance class…Ha…


Paulette through the years!

Having developed this particular style of Tribal style dance, once called just Tribal Bellydance until that became the name for everyone’s fusion of fusion dances, now called Gypsy Caravan Tribal Bellydance ®, it has been my passion, my love, my hate, my pride and joy, and my career for over twenty four years. But this dance foundation has also developed into a way of life, with history, ethics, parties, and theories, and has been a wild ride, an enlightening journey, and always a cause for celebration.

It is a dance of beauty, an inspiration to many, a crowd pleaser, a solo voyage, a personal joy, and so much more.

I started teaching my style in 1991, and it has morphed, expanded, contracted, changed, solidified, became a sought after method, and a rendezvous through people and places and adventures and heartbreak and love. Oh, what I have learned through teaching and exploration, developing my own style that I so gracefully and gratefully share with incredible dancers around the globe. Wow, really, wow.

From the basic dance perspective, being a movement based art form and a physical workout, it has been a way to become and stay aware and very conscious of my body, and its changes over the years. As a woman, dancing these steps has healed me when I’ve had menstrual cramps, emotional highs and lows, aching joints, and has gotten me through menopause. I acutely notice the way my body has shifted over the years, partly because I look in the mirror at myself a lot in the studio, and mostly because I really know my curves, indents, bulges, weight gains and losses, that beautiful sense of familiarity with this temple that I inhabit. I know that moving and dancing will always make me feel better, starting back as a wee babe at 7 years old, and always having the desire to continue dancing. Because it warms the body, loosens the joints, strengthens the muscles, breaks a sweat, which is great by oneself, but then making beautiful sensuous movements that feel great in the body to provocative music, and then doing the dance with another one or ten like-minded souls which can form a smile, lighten the load, bring me back to the moment, the now, with the improvisational method that the dance is based on.

Then the magic really begins.

I have always loved to dance, from my young days as a ballet dancer, with a great aptitude for jazz, (many of you know I channel Bob Fosse!). I think everyone, and I mean truly everyone, needs to dance, to move the body in some way, for optimal health and happiness. As all my students find out too, after a few classes, that they find muscles they never knew existed! Yes, it is a workout, and I love to lead my workshops with that in mind, working up a glisten, getting all parts of the body juiced up and moving. From strengthening the core–doing a lot of ab work, crunches.because that is where we move from, that is where we create, from our womb and our core. Powerful stuff. And then we build heart pumping stamina by kicking it up with aerobic sets of moves. Oh yes, no lazy dancers here!

I personally love to work out because it feels so delicious on my body and that ultimately makes me feel great. And that is what I want, how I want to feel. And look even greater. I can go to the gym and lift weights or workout on machines, or take Zumba or Yoga, I enjoy a variety of workouts, but I have found many folks have come to my classes because they just want to join together in our sacred cirlcle to dance a cool feminine dance style, with some philosophy, history, a spiritual bent, put together with inspiring and invigorating music and come out high from a good exertion, add some laughs with the other dancers—pretty much full on dance and groove and fun! And that in itself becomes a good addiction. Once you get moving, you really don’t want to stop.

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I desire my dance classes to be a challenge, it is hard stuff, but in such a good way. And the outcome is a feel-good sense of accomplishment. You get that ‘yes!’,that rebel yell, as a reward when you finally get that fast shimmy or you can start to see your belly roll. Or you can lead an entire song, and you remember all those new combos, and your body really moves the way your mind sees it moving! That is instant gratification with a wowza! And in my tribal classroom, we are all supporting each other and applaud the accomplishments of each dancer as we get to know each other. Over the many years I’ve been guiding and teaching, the lessons I have gleamed from my students has been a constant source of awe, of gratitude, of core inspiration. And it also keeps me dancing forward with reverence.

Being seen in our daily world these days is what everyone desires; to gather up with a sense of belonging to something, we all crave community of some sort, and that something here is this dance. To belong to a tribe, to feel connected, and to feel important. Yes, we all do matter. We have our circle of dance, a sacred space with which to explore how the body moves, and how the soul connects, with ourselves first, and then with each other. The exploration is the journey, going down the tribal road. And we all belong in the circle, no matter where we come from or where we are at in our dance. How freakin’ cool is that?

Exploring cultures and music, having a taste of the historically exotic as well as the modern and contemporary, and then bringing it home to oneself. Feeling at home in the body, what can be more important, more satisfying? Making art with one’s body with the movement. Feeling the ancient, the history in one’s own body, the collective unconscious that this dance evokes, as if sharing the women’s history and creative sources through this global dance, is something that invokes creative power and connection unlike anything else. The knowing of the not knowing of what has come before, and the sensuous feeling that comes from gliding the bodies in synchronistic movement.

Then along comes the creative adornment that makes your eyes open wide and your heart pump faster, thinking that, OMG you have to wear that incredible jingly necklace or that embroidered belt or those Indian colorful choli tops, and goes hand in hand with the dance. Fabrics and colors and swirling skirts. The cultural fusions of hip sashes of metal and mirrors and tassles that sway with the hip-swinging ghawazee step that put extra weight on the hips so you can feel your body move, and you can feel how the dance makes so much more sense to you. The layers of jewelry, the face painting with that black eyeliner, glitter, red lipsticks, bindis to outline the eyes, the halos of flowers and feathers make you look at yourself like you never have before. You see you in the most glorious way, and you share that sparkle in your eye as well as your soul, with those you dance with and for.

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With or without those extra accouterments of the dance, but with the support of your dancing sisters and brothers comes learning to be non-judgemental in our circles. The eyes are opened to each other’s dfferences—age, size, language, cultures, jobs, sexual preferences— but that fades into the background, becoming non-important. Just being together in this creative moment is all that is necessary., because you have this passion in common. And you have learned how to dance together, no matter what the chosen style is. In my classes I always wanted the student to be first, a dancer, learning how to move the body in many different ways, and then to be the Tribal dancers, learning the language and nuances that make our style, our style. I never want the dancers to get stuck in one format, but learn how to use the format as a dancer, using eyes and bodies, to move, and change, and dance with grace. With focus and perseverance and determination, with passion and commitment. That makes a dancer.

Thank you, with loves, and thanks for being here!

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