Tribal Happenings & April Erzetich in India

Tribal Corner
Tribal happenings plus Devi talks to our very own April Erzetich & her travels to india

Bellydance Oasis Issue 38. April 2010

Hi everyone. Can’t believe the first term is already almost over and it has been a very busy time as it has for many of you.

When I last left you it was towards the end of the year & myself & Ghawazi Caravan were busy preparing for El Mirage which was a show that we co hosted with Jrisi Jusakos & the Hathor Dance Theater. This show was the first of its kind in that it featured both Oriental & Tribal artists doing what they do best but as an extra treat & experiment, both Jrisi & myself choreographed for each others troupes! Can you imagine the look on their faces when we told them! After much blood, sweat & tears…literally, we got it, tweaking little details here and there to make it our own. It was defiantly worth the effort. I have to say that the sell out show ran very smoothly, so smoothly in fact we plan to do another later in the year so keep watching this space for more details.

In February I held for the very first time my new certified course entitled “Drills & Individual Critique”. This is something that I have wanted to do for awhile. The idea came one afternoon when I was thinking back to when I was first learning to dance. I wanted my teacher with my at every step to give me critique & feedback, maneuver me around & tell me exactly what I needed to do from the top of my head write down to my little toe. This was of course impossible, especially since Carolena was in another country!

I knew that I wanted the workshops to be small in size [max 15], but how do you give that many people private instruction [which is basically what I am doing]. Here is where I bring in another Ghawazi Caravan teacher. Cristie Fuller so far has been my right hand with this. After we demonstrate and explain each movement, Cristie stands out the front and Drills the movements. Everyone drills and I walk around the room, offering pointers and writing up critiques for each person.

The course covers all FCBD movements as well as movements used specifically by Ghawazi Caravan, zills and musicality, formations and chorus line. The full course goes over 4 levels and is 36 hours long & can be broken up over 4 weekends or 2 , 3 day weekends. After each session each participant will receive a certificate and within 2 weeks or so will receive a full written critique via email by me.

So our first session went very well. There were seven ladies who attended from all over and we had a wonderful time learning and dancing together. It was particularly inspiring for me to see many of them improve on their technique as we moved through the 3 days. There is no way I could have done it without an assistant and Cristie as always did a marvelous job in assisting me.

Our next session [levels 3 & 4] in The Blue Mountains will be held in August. If you would like to come along to that or host the series up your way just drop me a line

A week after the Drills & Individual Critique series I was off traveling up to Gympie QLD for the 2nd annual Tribal soul dance retreat hosted by the soul fire dance academy. Kerrianne & Melanie did a marvelous job at making everyone feel relaxed & welcome at the beautifully restored Soul fire dance studio. I was privileged to be with other special guests such as Ravyn Wynters Nite [formely Saaghirah Ravyn]. Her medusa dance literally gave me goose bumps but I wanted more! What happened to medusa after she came to terms with her new face & hairdo?! I needs to know! The other special guest was Belladonna from the North coast of N.S.W. I have noticed that every time I watch her dance my face starts to ache from too much smiling. Her enthusiasm and joy spills out into her dance and affects everybody! I loved her Bollywood dance with her students & her brand of Tribal fusion which she aptly names Tribal confusion…love it!

Unfortunately numbers were a little low but this only added to the friendly and intimate setting and feel of this event. I would strongly advice that if you live in the local area, or even if you don’t to give the next Tribal Soul dance retreat a go. Definitely worth a look see.

In March we had another Tribal Soiree. This time it was held in Sydney and hosted by my good friend Hilary Cinis and Sydney Tribal Belly dance. Hilary hosted it at the Red Rattler room in Marrickville. This is a small little theater that has a cabaret type feel with its little dark red room and Lounge room type setting. I thought it was a great venue as it really gave the students the feel of performing in a theater rather than a community centre.

I haven’t been able to get to the last few soirees but what I noticed this time was that all the different groups are starting to gain their own unique sense of style and this made for a very interesting show. I believe that Annie Alchin will be holding the next soiree in the Campbelltown area. To find our more please contact Deb Napier at

While we are talking of Deb Napier [soiree organizer and fearless Tribal and Trance Festival host..not to mention great gal and fabulous dancer] has just given birth to her second son Judah Napier Moore. As you can imagine her and hubby Chris are thrilled. Congratulations to you both and to big brother Tobias.

So now for our main feature. April Erzetich who is a dancer with Ghawazi Caravan and is also one of our teachers while she is in Australia has been spending a fair bit of time in India studying Indian dance at the Shakti school of dance. We sat down for an email chat so she could tell us all about it.

What have you been studying whilst you are in India?

I have been studying Indian Odissi Classical dance, Rajasthani Khalbelia folk dance, and Indian fusion dance.

Tell us about the school you are learning at.

Oh my gosh! It is just stunning!!! Shakti School of Dance is set within the grounds of the Old Rang Nath Temple in Pushkar. The class room itself is a gorgeous marbled floored room with traditional lotus style archways and stone carved windows. It is so elegant and really sets a mood for learning sacred dance. I don’t think it was a coincidence that Colleena was given this space and permission to open the school.

The Temple is a Black Krishna Temple and traditionally one of the offerings given to Krishna in this form was dance. Odissi itself is Temple dance originally performed as an offering to God so it is perfect that this is the location for the school. Around the outskirts of the temple are many rooms which were traditional used for schooling. A student of Indian architecture came through the school and told us that the rooms’ location within grounds, according to astrological guidelines to building such Temples, would have traditionally been the place for dance and yoga! So it is so meant to be! We really can feel very special energy within the classroom.

“Their dance is like life. There is a history to it but as life changes and the people are exposed to new things so the dance changes. Khalbelia dance looks really easy but when you start to learn it, you find it’s essence it quite hard to capture. The steps are quite simple but the beauty of it is subtle and somewhat hard to replicate.” – April Erzetich


Can you tell us about the different styles you are learning?

Odissi is a sacred temple dance. It originates from Orissa where the women who used to perform this dance were called Devadasi. Literally they were married to God, Lord Jaganath, performing this dance as an offering to him. Lord Jaganth is another form of Krishna and incarnation of Vishnu.

At the beginning of each day we do Puja [prayer] to Him, Durga Ma and Shiva, we recite mantras and then begin our dance practice as an offering. It is quite unlike anything else I have ever experienced. The lower body is bent in the knees with the legs opening out, you have to work the lower body very hard, and this is the Tandavo, the strong masculine element created by Lord Shiva. We have to slap our feet hard into the floor, yes onto the marble, to make a sound. The slapping keeps you in time with the music. We perform with ghungaroo (ankle bells). This is important, but also helps to build strength and muscle memory.

The upper body is soft and subtle. This is the Lasya, the element of the Goddess Parviti. Containing torso movement, hand mudra and eye movements to express emotion in the dance Lasya flows more with the melody while the Tandavo goes with the beat. Within the dance there are compositions which are just dance or pure dance known as Nritta and then there is Abinaya, story telling dance. This is where we get to act out stories from sacred Indian scriptures, like the Geet Govind, we use the dance principles to dance the characters, Gods and Demons. Everything within the dance is very structured and ‘just so’ after all it is a classical dance, so it takes alot of discipline and effort to get things right. It is quite hard training, what we perform after one month of training is traditionally taught after a year of stepping exercises so we ‘westeners’ get an easier fast tracked path to an outcome.

Khalbelia Dance on the other hand is almost the opposite. It isn’t structured, choreographed or thought out. It is completely spontaneous and in the moment to how that dancer feels with her mood and the music. I find it to be very cheeky, fun, engaging and full of the ‘gypsy’ attitude. It is quite an aerobic dance. The feet are always stamping in time with the beat, ghungaroo’s employed of course, and the arms and hands moving about displaying different mudra’s while you try and exude charm onto the audience. There are movements taught, certain foot work with certain arm movements etc, but there is also the adaptability to fuse moves or introduce moves that they learn along the way or see in a movie.

Their dance is like life. There is a history to it but as life changes and the people are exposed to new things so the dance changes. Khalbelia dance looks really easy but when you start to learn it you find its essence it quite hard to capture. The steps are quite simple but the beauty of it is subtle and somewhat hard replicate. Being an outsider who hasn’t lived in the desert from birth, you notice the difference in posture, hand gesture, the structure of dance and the attitude towards the audience. It is these things that seem to make the dance; it’s like the essence of them, their people and their way of life, something that is hard to teach.

Indian Fusion Bellydance is taught by Colleena the director and creator of the school. This class is also really fun. Colleena has a great knowledge of Indian dance from various classical styles to various folkloric dances and she it is so amazing to watch her dance Rajasthani Dance. She fuses arabic belly dance and ATS moves with Indian dance to always create a very elegant mix. Her classes are always so relaxing to be in, especially after regimented classical training, where you get to float and feel very feminine and spin alot. Colleena is great at teaching Indian spinning which is quite different to spotting spins we do in Tribal style. She teaches beautiful combos and everything has a gracious, strong, feminine element to it.

Can you tell us more about the ‘gypsies’?

They’re an interesting people. They are quite sweet and funny and oh my gosh soooo cheeky! They walk the market everyday trying to make money by selling their beaded jewelry or making henna. They love drinking chai and smoking beedies. They are very in the moment people moving from here to there trying to get what they need to survive. This is a reflection of their previous nomadic existence. They live in a semi nomadic encampment outside of town with the basic essentials. They now have a well making daily water supply easier to obtain, the carrying of water on their heads definitely gives them their amazing postures. They love to sing and dance and make jokes at you. Khalbelia is a low caste so unfortunately a lot of town people look down on them. Being low caste they make their money via henna and dance mainly and selling their stuff, they don’t really have a choice.

Khalbelia are also the carers of poisonous creatures, cobras and scorpions so these are the people we know as Snake Charmers. They used to only make their way via snake charming and begging. Many years ago a father took his daughter Gulabo to dance in the market. She proved to be popular and a money “spinner” so henceforth dancing their dance became a new way for the people to earn a living and brought the beautiful folk dance out into the world.

How many times have you been to Indian & for how long?

This is my Second consecutive year. Last year i came for four months and this year three.

You have also been teaching ATS at the school this year, how is that going?

Oh it’s been great. Three times a week I teach a drop in class to tourists from all over the world. It keeps me fresh and revised in my ATS skills and I also like the fact that it is a drop in class so each day I don’t know how many students I will have, if they are new or have been coming for a while. This gives me total freedom to assess each class as it comes. Some days I have experienced dancers some days those who have never danced before. This might seem like a nightmare to some but having so much structure in my classical training this is my one hour several times a week to just know that my mind and body know exactly what to do and I walk in and work out what moves to teach according to who is there and how I feel. It is a tourist town so people are here to learn something and have fun sometimes for one day sometimes one week so it is a very light and fun class to run….. I’m also making great contacts!

What are your plans once you are back in Australia? i.e what do you want to do with your new knowledge?

I want to continue dancing with you & Ghawazi Caravan! We all get along so well and have so many good things in the pipe line! I don’t want to loose ATS skills either. It has its place within me and everything can mix in there together. I would like to teach more workshops this year and share what I have learnt. Last year I had some very successful Khalbelia workshops and performances and would like to continue with those this year but definitely do more performances in Odissi and create some intensive weekends.

You and I will be traveling to N.Z in June to teach a fusion of ATS and Indian dance and again at TTF. What do you think works and doesn’t work with fusing such styles?

 I think with fusion there needs to be a balance, a harmony with the movements so things flow. There also needs to be an understanding of the context of traditional moves if you want to use them, ie what do they represent, how were they used in dance originally, this gives respect to the origins of the movements and the culture it comes from.

Odissi has a very long Lineage and history and through my Guru this knowledge is being passed down to me. When I think of fusing I consciously think about what I’m doing as I wouldn’t want to insult my Guru or his offering to me which is this dance. If the music, costume and content of the choreography are sensitive of these things then it can work and be quite beautiful. Some things work well and easily, like when we put on a tikka with one hand and look in the mirror of the other hand, this is about adorning yourself as a dancer and enjoying your beauty so it fuses well. I have never really felt comfortable with the poses of Gods appearing in belly dance. These are really strong powerful poses representing God on earth so throwing them into a dance routing seems strange, take the pose of Shiva Nataraj, this is Shiva in his most powerful destructive form destroying all ego and sin in the world, not really a light hearted gesture between hip bumps, after all this is an element of worship and an aspect of religion. This I feel in particular to the sacred temple dances, fusing other styles that don’t have such a weighty content to them is different, like folkloric styles. So as long as there is integrity and respect behind the fusing it can work well.

So what are your plans when school is finished? Do you plan to travel before returning home?

Actually I’m staying to help Colleena with a project. This will involve travel to Jaislmer and Jodphur and around Rajasthan. Rajasthan in the hot season, better pack a sweat towel!! I’m privileged to be helping her with her production of DVD’s and a CD of Rajasthani music and Dance. It sounds like a great project. She is creating some instructional/educational DVD’s on Rajastahani dance styles as well as a Performance DVD and taking her musicians into the studio to record and remix some of her favorite tunes. So I am excited to hit the road with her to see some amazing sites that will be locations for the filming.

Shakti school of dance is open January to March yearly please see

So that’s it from me for now. There are so many exciting things happening in the world of Tribal bellydance this year that I simply cant keep up with it all and there are probably loads of events I am not even aware of as our community keeps on getting bigger and better every year. Just this week we had Sharon Kihara and Deb Rubin teaching week long workshops in Melbourne with the Underbelly girls and Shameela from Indra Bellydance hosted the first Tribal Fusion Retreat in the central coast of N.S.W. I am sure we would love to hear how these went so if you were there and you feel so inclined please write in and tell us all about it. Likewise I encourage all of you to write in and tell me about what is going on in your part of Australia as I am sure that our readers would love to hear about what you tribal gals and guys are up to.