Experiences and Inspirations:
How to keep our dance from getting stale
by Sharon Moore
Originally published in Caravan Trails, 2003

About 8 weeks ago as of this writing I was visiting Caravan Studios for my continued teacher training with Paulette. After attending a few classes, I was invited out with some of the wonderful students for a bite to eat and some good company.  As we sat and chatted about this and that, the subject of the length of time each person had been studying tribal belly dance came up.  One woman had been studying with Paulette for 8 years, and remarked what a marvel it was to her that Paulette still manages to keep everyone interested after so much time.  This topic was of keen interest to me--as a teacher myself, I have wondered how I will keep my students interested well into the future.  What will keep things fresh and new for them?  And tied into that is the question of how I will keep it fresh for myself? How will I develop my performance techniques over time to keep the audiences coming back for more?  How do I keep my dance from getting stale?

The theme of this Caravan Trails is the key to keeping your dance new and interesting--seeking out new experiences and inspirations, and invoking them or integrating them in our dance.  Nothing exciting ever happens in a vacuum.  There has to be flow and shift. There has to be change.  We have to step outside our every day existence now and again, and open ourselves up to possibility.  I have had two recent experiences which have provided inspiration for me: the Ancient Echoes of Tribal Belly Dance retreat at Breitenbush, and Tribal Fest 3 in Sebastopol, CA.  While both are focused on the interests of tribal belly dancers, they are each very different events with a unique atmosphere.

First was Breitenbush, at the beginning of spring and the blossoming of the land. I love attending this retreat every year.  It is a touchstone I have for myself, where I can spend a few days in the company of my sisters in dance and really delve into this passion of mine.  The activities at Breitenbush can be broken down into three categories, as I see it--discussion/introspection, dancing/drilling, and relaxation.  The relaxation, to me, is just icing on a very thick and delicious cake. Soaking in the tubs is socialization time, time to soothe aching muscles, to breath the air deeply into myself, to fill myself with nothing but peace and laughter.  The dancing is a chance to absorb new skills. Dancing there is a challenge to my body and my mind as I learn to execute new moves and incorporate familiar moves in a new way into my dance.  Since the Gypsy Caravan style is my main study and focus in both my performance and my teaching, this is a chance to develop my core vocabulary in a supportive space with others who share my deep appreciation for this format.  Lastly, the discussion/introspection time is an opportunity to examine where I am at this point in my dance life, and consider how it fits into the larger community.  It's a chance to look ahead and set goals and to look back and appreciate how far I have come. It is the time when we all get to share our accomplishments and our frustrations, and find connectedness in the common truths we find among us.  When I come away from Breitenbush, not only do I have new inspiration, but more than that I find a centering of myself in my dance.  I find validation in my own growth and challenges, and come home with a newfound motivation to create.  When I return home, I am newly grounded in my community.

Tribal Fest is another experience altogether.  I vend at Tribal Fest, but even if I didn't, I would make a point to attend. Spending two days watching so many distinct interpretations of our art form is truly inspiring, and challenging in a different way than Breitenbush.  At Tribal Fest, there is no one helping to guide my thought processes--what comes from my time at Tribal Fest is more raw and unfocused, but also more diverse thanks to the diversity of what I am witnessing.  There is  no real down-time throughout the day. It is a constant barrage of music and movement.  I bring my notebook to jot down ideas I see and want to emulate or completely new ideas that come to me as I watch. I sketch costume thoughts, formation ideas, new music I want to explore. I briefly journal on how what I see is the same or different from my dance experiences, and my overall impressions of the performances I see.

While Breitenbush is a very concentrated immersion in one style, Tribal Fest skips the surface of a huge array of styles.  At Tribal Fest, I get a glimpse of the artistic vision of dance sisters I am just getting to know or have yet to meet.  Women from all over the US, and the world, converge on Sebastopol to share their concept of tribal dance.  The workshops cover varying topics taught by dancers from different communities.  This year I took a workshop on what I would call "Classic Tribal" from Carolena Nericcio of FatChanceBellyDance, and another workshop on what I would call "New Tribal" from Heather Stants of Urban Tribal Dance Company.  Each was so different from the other in both approach and execution. Heather's unconventional and cutting edge choreographies are a sharp contrast to the more traditional tribal improv and belly rolls workshop by Carolena. But both filled me with new inspiration on how to approach the evolution of my personal dance style. While I don't come away with the same sense of grounding and connectedness (though the parties after the show are a different story * smile * ), attending Tribal Fest reminds me that the possibilitites are truly endless.

I have had students ask me on many occasions which event I would recommend they attend if they had to choose--Breitenbush or Tribal Fest (they are all coming to Tribal Quest--see you there!). Honestly, I have a very hard time recommending one over the other because each is so unique from the other.  Each event provides me with an oportunity to explore the dance in a new light.  This is the reason I go--to strive to see things differently as often as possible.  To step outside my every day experiences, break out of my ruts, and challenge myself to grow and innovate.  To reconfirm why it is I chose to make this dance my life's work. To spice up my performances and develop my teaching so I can keep myself and my students excited for years to come. To be inspired.

Whatever events you attend--these certainly aren't the only opportunities to find your inspiration--just go.  Dedicate some time to seeking out new experiences and sources of inspiration, and your dance will never become stale.