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Reflections on Breitenbush 2009


This planet spins faster every year, doesn’t it? My Reflections on Breitenbush 2003 doesn’t seem so long ago, yet it is really worlds away, in time and in space.

My dance experience has grown. My dance family has grown. My dance world has grown. And every year at Breitenbush is a time to look back and see where I have come from and see where I am going to. But if I am being honest (and what else would I bother with?), with each year at Breitenbush I feel less and less of a need to be there. What do I mean? Read on…

Michelle, Sharon, and Rochelle
Breitenbush 2001
When I first started attending Breitenbush, around the turn of the century (that makes me giggle to say), tribal bellydance was sparse. Most dancers I knew didn’t know much about it, and there certainly wasn’t any to be had in my neck of the woods. I remember taking workshops with Paulette each month that I could, learning more about this dance of which I knew so little and yet felt such a strong pull to be a part of. And I got to know Paulette more, and basked in the atmosphere she created around her–at the time, the word “community” didn’t come to my lips as quickly as it does today, so I hadn’t really identified it as that yet. I loved the feeling of connection found in the dance (and was sometimes overwhelmed by it, too), and I remember wishing so much that it didn’t have to come and go in a single day each month when Paulette was in town.

Dance Intensive Participants
Breitenbush 2001
When I went to Breitenbush, it was a kind of tribal bellydance nirvana. I was constantly surrounded by not only this magical forest, river, and mountains, but all that amazing energy and creativity of tribal bellydancers flowed through it all. I met dancers from other cities, saw different styles, talked about dance, moved through the dance, thought about dance…I was seeped in it. Add hot springs and chocolate and you have the makings of a very heady concoction. Each year was a family reunion, where I would be reunited with friends old and new who shared this love of tribal bellydance–I could completely immerse myself in a community that “got me” and what I wanted to explore in my dance. I would carry home an emotional and technical goodie-bag filled with all this new inspiration and uplifting energy that I simply could not find anyplace else.

As I began to expand my own classes and workshops, having been trained by Paulette personally, it meant a lot to me to be able to take home “source material” from my own mentor to carry into classroom and share with my students. I wanted to share with them even a small piece of the unique experiences I had soaked up in my days away, and try to find a way to keep that momentum pushing forward for myself and for them. Every year was a new chance to fill the creative and energetic wellspring, and then bring that back to dip into at will to slake my artistic thirst, for my students and my troupe.

And something wonderful happened. I won’t say unexpected, because truly, this is exactly what I was trying to do. Somehow, I took all those bits and pieces of Breitenbush–the community, the positive energy, the creative forces, the connection–and I started to seed my own dance family with it. I tended my own p-patch of tribal bellydance, and it flowered more than I could have imagined. Pretty soon, I had my own community right here under my nose! Weekly class had become a “family gathering”, and events I put together drew our collective even tighter together. Our shared joys and sorrows over months and years bonded us, and our shared love of the dance was the foundation of it all.

I remember back to my first phone call to Paulette where I shyly asked if she might teach me how to teach this dance, I told her it was because I wanted to build a community in Seattle like she had in Portland. I suspect that very phrase probably endeared me to Paulette–hearing that my motivation was rooted in the community of the dance, and not necessarily making money, or chasing fame. Knowing Paulette as I do, I like to think that this motivation mirrors a lot of what makes the dance important to her, and at that moment she saw the chance to nurture that in me…I was so grateful she said yes!

And here I am. I have arrived at my goal…inasmuch as one can arrive at a constantly shifting destination. ­čÖé I have built the community I dreamed of those years ago, and continue to water and til and nurture this garden of dance. And around me has also grown up more tribal dancers and their classes and troupes, and the delicious overlap and interplay within our greater Seattle bellydance community has been such a joy and an honor to be a part of. And in the national and international bellydance community, tribal has exploded such that “tribal” is a household word–there are entire websites, businesses, festivals and more built completely around this branch of the bellydance family tree–it even has sprung its own sub-branches!

Whenever I want to talk dance, I can log on to any number of dozens of online websites and communicate with like-minded artists the world over. Whenever I want to see dance, there are thousands of videos on YouTube, performance and practice videos for sale on Amazon.com, and the art is being performed on stages and in clubs and restaurants in every major city in every part of the world at any given time. If I want to meet other dancers, there are workshops and festivals and meetups happening nearly every weekend most of the year. And of course, I have my students and my troupe-mates–amazing women who come to classes every week and sweat and laugh with me, or are cheering enthusiastically in the audience when I perform. I literally can get overwhelmed sometimes with all the ways in which I can get my daily dose of dance.

Partying in Santa Rosa
2008 Tribal Fest
inFusion Tribal and their sisters of Gypsy Fire
who we met at Breitenbush in 2004
So that grasping need for “someplace I can dig into my dance” that pulled at my gut all those years ago is gone. I don’t feel the same desperate fervor to go somewhere (anywhere!) to seek information, inspiration, community and connection. Because I have it, right here in my back yard. And more than that, with each passing year, more and more of my students have joined me in my trek to Breitenbush. And even students of students, and friends of students…the Seattle(ish!) contingent grows every year. Sometimes it almost feels like walking into a class or workshop back home with the sea of familiar faces–albeit one far more scenic and relaxing!

In the past few years, I have found a lack of enthusiasm for this event which once got me so excited I would be babbling about it months in advance. I have spent a lot of time meditating on why I have found my fervor for this annual pilgrimage waning; and I can see a glimpse of the root of my ennui.

At first I thought it was the result of the event getting shorter each year. In the early years I attended, there would sometimes even be a pre- AND post- extension, where we would arrive on Thursday and not have to leave until Monday. This gave us plenty of time to really sink into the energies and experiences the weekend had to offer. With us driving 6 hours from Seattle to attend, every moment counts, whether you fill it with dance or soaking or hikes or naps. And when you only have one full day without being in a car for 6 hours, as has been the case the past couple years at least, it can be hard to feel like you ever even arrived before you are back in the real world again. With limited time, you have to make hard choices on how to spend it. If you choose to hike or soak, you miss out on the meaty workshops which were the focus of the retreat in the first place. But if you only attend the workshops, then really the event could be held in a conference room at the Hilton and it wouldn’t matter–half the point of going all that way is to be in that place, so the pull to skip workshops and do other things around the area is strong.

But no…that isn’t quite it. When I would go to Breitenbush, it was a chance to step out of my usual life–my patterns, my thought processes, my expectations, even my relationship dynamics. I didn’t have to be a teacher or a mentor or a director. And I could just be a pure lump of clay, molded by whatever Paulette brought. And that was what I needed and wanted at that time in my dance: someone to mold me. But as I grow more into my own unique dance-self, and develop my own approach and philosophy around the dance, I don’t have the same need to be molded so firmly by stronger hands. And as more and more of my dance life has become my life, and as more of the relationships and dynamics of my daily dance life follow me to Breitenbush, the result is, sadly, that I don’t get to “switch off” as much as I used to when I first went.

My inFusion Dance Family
With each passing year, a combination of a stronger sense of my dance self having asserted itself, plus the abundance of dance community and connection to be found back home on a daily basis, plus those roles and responsibilities of director and teacher following more closely on my heels into this “other realm”, I have felt more and more detached from what once drew me to this magical place. I find myself spending more time in my room, more time on my own, more time journaling quietly and avoiding the workshops and discussions–something which lays a heavy layer of guilt on my heart for coming all that way, and then appearing disrespectful of, or disinterested in, Paulette and the other teachers for not showing up, which is simply not the case. I find myself more distracted and pulled in other directions by the forces around me, rather than the pure focus I had in the earlier years (is this a common stage of development for full-time dancers, I wonder?). With the shifts in my personal style and development of my own teaching methods, what I often learn is not quite as compatible with my direction as it once was. It doesn’t directly translate as effortlessly as it did in years past, and I find myself further distracted by my critical thinking processes as I dance–turning over how to alter or approach it differently to make it work back home–rather than just being able to sink into the new ideas and modes of movement with a pure mind and body.

This change in attitude and mindset are entirely in my hands, and a result of my personal perspective and how my dance world has evolved over the 10 years I have been dancing. Breitenbush is beautiful as always. The workshops and themes presented throughout the weekend are just as important and inspiring. My Dance Momma just as dear to my heart and linked to my soul as ever she was. I will still and for ever more sing the praises of this retreat to all who will listen, and continue to encourage my students to make that trip and soak up all the joys and inspirations it surely has to offer them. But this retreat does not fulfill the same need for me as it once did. That space that was empty, which Breitenbush used to fill, is overflowing with regularity for me right here at home. All the preparation and long drive feel more like running a gauntlet, without the same prize waiting for me at the far end. Today, the most compelling motivation to make this trip is an amazing circle of women that I am lucky to know, but this is no longer the only, or even the most significant, link between us as it once was.

Sharon and Paulette, 2001I will not say something so flip as “I am not going back.” Because I know that to say “never” is a very short-sighted and silly way to compartmentalize things in your life, which I am not interested in doing–I want to stay open to possibility in every way I can, in heart and mind. And I know I would miss the chance to see my dance Momma in this most special if all meeting places we have shared so many years. But right now, I can’t be sure that what I bring to this event through my participation and energies, and what I carry away, is of a great enough measure to warrant taking a spot away from someone else who would like to go. In years past I have been so certain of my intention, I would put down deposits for the following year the day the current retreat ended. But for right now, I will be grateful for the many blessings I have been privileged to receive through the friendships and knowledge that this retreat has offered up to me each year. I embrace the understanding of myself enough to recognize the change within me, and honor it however I can. As for the future, I will wait and see…

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Shay Moore is the director and primary instructor at Deep Roots Dance in Seattle, WA. She loves writing, movies, costuming, knitting, cooking, and bellydance to the moon and back again; and loves her amazing husband and doggies even more than that.

2 Responses

  1. Avatar
    | Reply

    Good thoughts. I wanted to say it can be a relief, even for people who have a life immersed in dance, to be in a space where everyone already knows all the important info (what is BD, what is tribal, who are the big teachers, etc.) because so often we have to explain what we do, how we do it, who people are even within the BD world. Going to Triboriginal was like that, 3 days of people who’ve “got it”, so you can start at square 10 or 20 instead of 1, and go from there. I’ll be staying home from TribO this year, I just can’t spend the money on it, but I’ll be missing those 3 days of dance, food, dance, laughter, dance, reflection, dance and friendship.

  2. Avatar
    Paulette Rees-Denis
    | Reply

    Ah, having just found this post, so much I would like to say here, dear Sharon, but must sit and reflect even longer…all the questions I wanted to ask you about your non participation…it is nice to get a glimmer of your thoughts, as you reflect and try to understand…

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