Many of us who have long been in the tribal bellydance scene remember that Paulette Rees-Denis used to publish a newsletter called Caravan Trails. It was a quarterly booklet filled with stories, poems, art, reviews, and more. For a couple of years just at the end of its run, I was lucky enough to be a regular columnist for Caravan Trails–my column was called ‘Of the Tribe’.
This week I stumbled across a draft (I don’t know if it was the final draft?) of my column I wrote remembering my experience at Tribal Quest Northwest 2003–this was, I believe, the final edition of the newsletter. I was honored to be invited to teach at that very festival not long after this and vended many years at the shows, which is a joyful story in itself; and I can honestly say every year of that festival is seared on my heart and mind as some of the most magical moments I have enjoyed in the tribal bellydance community. My lengthy retelling of my weekend surely bubbles over with enthusiasm and awe for the community Paulette and her tribe fostered during one of the golden eras of tribal bellydance. Walk down memory lane with me!
“I Am a Belly Dancer
I am a belly dancer. I know it because I look at these beautiful women, and feel in my heart and soul that I am One of Them. I watch them dance, smile, and give of themselves, and I reflect on it all. There are too many common threads between us to deny it. And as I join my tribe in joyful celebration, I am thoroughly “of myself” among them. Some people call it “being in their element”. For me, I am among my sisters and brothers. My mothers and daughters. My tribe.
I look at all the diversity around me. All the different styles and interpretations. All the ages, all the shapes, all the pasts and futures joined in one place. How can this all be Tribal? It is because Tribal honors so many cultures and so many creative visions, joining them in one big artistic pool. The dancers can take it in so many different directions. And they came from all over the nation and beyond to share their experiences with us at Tribal Quest NW 2003.
I volunteered to write about my experiences at Tribal Quest, specifically the Friday night potluck at Paulette’s and the Saturday night show and after-party at Chameleon. I knew it would be overwhelming trying to put into words the joy and awe I find when I am gathered among my dance sisters at big events like this, and I was right. So bear with me as I try to share something that is really so unique, you have to be there to believe it (join us next year if you have never been—you won’t regret it!)
Friday night is a potluck at Paulette’s home, open to workshop participants only. I marvel at how, in the middle of quite certainly the most hectic week of the year for Paulette and her studio, she opens the doors to her personal sanctuary—her home—to all of us. I can barely find the time to pick up my house for a few friends to come visit, and here she organizes an amazingly joyful and intimate (compared to TQNW as a whole) event for us to enjoy at her home in the middle of one of the biggest tribal festivals ion the world. I want to start by saying thank you, Missy P, for inviting us over and showing us such a wonderful time.
For those of you who have never been, let me paint a picture Paulette’s home has a large and beautiful garden she cultivates herself, which greets you as you come up the walk. In the center of this oasis is the beautiful home she and Jeff share together, and decorate with imported furnishings and decorations, the walls painted in bold yet warm colors. But it’s the back yard and gardens where the real magic happens. There is a fire pit in the center of the yard, flanked by a patch of lawn, trees and flowers. Further back in the yard is a lovely fountain with a statue of dancing muses bubbling forth with water and ambient light. Beyond that still are gravel paths winding through lovingly kept flower beds to explore, and in the back corners you will find benches to sit on to relax and take in the garden in solitude or with friends. In the garage to the side of the yard the walls and ceiling are festooned with bright fabrics. Tables are laden with food and wine brought by the party-goers, and one half of this room is dedicated to Kree and Gilded Lilies, hennaing hands, feet, backs, and bellies all night long. The night is carried along by the sounds of the Gypsy Caravan and pick up musicians and drummers. Dancers circle the fire pit, dance along the edge of the fountain, and even in the driveway if the mood strikes them as the music wafts on the warm night air. The sounds of laughter and joyful conversation fill all the spaces in between, all joining to create the feeling of a big family reunion. And it was. It always ends too soon…
Saturday night is a culmination of days of anticipation. Anticipation to see Gypsy Caravan and the guest teachers perform on one stage together. The evening began with shopping in the bazaar. Upstairs from the auditorium are the vendors invited to vend at Tribal Quest. Paulette juries the few coveted spots in order to bring a wide variety of great tribal items, and we were not disappointed in the offerings. So many goodies! Shopping! But quickly, we have to finish our purchases and take our seats for the start of the Best of the Quest showcase!
The show began with an invocation by two members of Blue Dragon, from Arizona. Dressed appropriately in blue, they shared a mesmerizing dance which instilled a sense of give and take, of push and pull between the two dancers, as well as with the audience.
Following the invocation was Judy Piazza and her truly magical drumming. I never cease to be amazed and moved by Judy’s drumming. She uses the entire frame drum–front, back, and sides–in the most innovative ways, and also employs her voice creatively in sound, song and poetry. She even graced us with her skill on a dulcimer, keeping rhythm with a shaker in her other hand, all while leading us in a group song in Portuguese, which translated into “We dance, we dance”. Simply amazing, and so moving.
Urban Tribal Dance Company is a troupe like no other, and they proved it again this night. Coming out on stage in sexy costumes of black and red, each one designed uniquely to that woman but cohesive in implementation, they were on fire from the minute they came out. Their music is a blend of ethno-techno, hip hop, and other club genre stylings which reflect their backgrounds in dancing in clubs for fun and as hired go-go dancers. They admit that belly dance is a layer they put on top of their mixed backgrounds in western styles of movement, each woman bringing something of herself to the group and shaping their overall look and dance interpretation. This openness to all inspirations, and the fearless and seamless fusion of modern with what has come before makes UTDC really stand out. The audience went wild for their set.
Zafira came up next. Their choreographed duets and solos always wow me in their skill and diversity of movement. They really embody the tribal aesthetic of feminine-but-strong. Their backbends seem to go on forever, and their skills as captivating soloists is enviable. I aspire.
Domba took the stage with a unique twist.Their performance began with Tom completely veiled, playing a tar with a striking image of the All Seeing Eye emblazoned on it. The other dancers joined him on stage, adorned as huge 8 foot tall puppets w/ colorful African-styled faces, trimmed with feathers and tassels. What appeared to be a symbolic dance ensued, with each puppet taking center stage, interacting with the others and moving about. Another highlight was a skillful sword dance. I never tire of seeing Domba perform their amazing dances.
The incomparable Dalia Carella was the next act. The last time I saw Dalia was at this same theatre, and it was a joy to see her again. Dalia is an educated fusionist of the highest caliber. Her work is so inspiring and admirable. She studies cultural dances in depth, and then rather than just grab bits and pieces, she finds a way to integrate them in a way that is honorable to the culture from which it is derived, as well as aesthetically pleasing to the audiences she is trying to reach. And to top it off is Dalia’s sassy style. Leave them wanting more? HA! No way! Not Dalia. Give it all has got to be her motto. We were all dismayed when her music began to skip near the end, but ever the professional performer, she used the frantic skipping as an excuse to swish her skirt wildly in time and shimmy her way off the stage. I am sure she was disappointed at the way it ended, too, but I am here to tell her that she made it perfect from beginning to end.
Gypsy took the stage with colorful costumes and an uncharacteristic dark mood in movement and music. They shared the many faces of their diverse tribal improvisational style, spanning the globe from African to Andalusian, Turkish and Arabic, and beyond. The synergy that this group has between the dancers, the musicians, and the audiences they entertain is unique in its intensity. There is a reason why TQNW is such a success every year, and the reason is clear to anyone who was in that audience that night. Who wouldn’t flock to be inspired by these women and the community they create with their dance and music?
The night rounded out with every group taking the stage and doing good old fashioned Tribal improv. While it was clear that many of the groups were rusty in their tribal technique, lately favoring choreographed performances, they did their improv thing “Old School” to show the common thread which runs through our dances. Each of these groups have found a home for their hips in the Tribal style, and specifically the fusion of Tribal style elements with their own artistic visions. It goes to show there are no limits to what we can do if we are open to the possibilities.
Everyone did a little more shopping upstairs before the Hollywood Theatre closed its doors to us for the evening, but all of our minds were on the banquet set out at Chameleon, and the celebration surrounding it. Chameleon is a charming little restaurant just walking distance from the theatre. It has tile floors, a cozy sun room, and this year they put seating outside thanks to the heat wave that week which made the nights gloriously warm and inviting. The band set up in the front corner, and nearly an entire room was set aside for dancing.
I attended this dinner last year as well, and I thought nothing could top jamming with Paulette, Heidi of Domba, and Kajira Djoumahna. But this year, I have to admit, this joyful feeling was topped by the elation of seeing my own beautiful students dancing the night away with looks of such joy on their faces. I just sat back in awe of how this dance can grow and change around you and within you without you even knowing it. (A good reminder to stop and smell the roses, hm?)
A troupe-mate of mine and I ended up staying until they kicked us out, just sitting and chatting with the girls from Urban Tribal, Domba, and Romani. We drove back to our hotel filled with just plain good feelings about the whole night. Getting to witness such inspiring dancing, and then close it out with dancing among our friends and peers, chatting about dance, life and everything with new friends. It was bliss.
Thinking back on the events of TQNW 2003, I realize: I am a belly dancer. Damn straight. Thanks, everyone who made TQNW possible. We who make the pilgrimage to share in the celebrations are so grateful for all your hard work. And thank you, of course, Paulette, for being such a big part of building up a community of dance that is so rewarding, so fulfilling, and so amazing. God bless you all, my tribal family.
(Thanks Paulette for giving me the opportunity to write this column in Caravan Trails. I have really enjoyed sharing my thoughts with all of you. To the readers who helped support this wonderful resource for so long, and read and supported my column as well, my heartfelt love and thanks. ~ Sharon – Mandala Tribal http://www.mandalatribal.com )”