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Spotlight ON: Misha of ShimmyBOOM Bellydance (Sarasota, FL) and Global Caravan International

1. Tell us all about Global Caravan and your group!

Global Caravan (GC) began as one woman’s inspiration and has grown into being one of the

main group improv fusion dance forms in the world. The brainchild of dynamic creatrix Paulette Rees-Denis, GC burst onto the scene back in the early 90s. The movements of this style are earthy and feminine, yet powerful and strong, drawing inspiration from Middle Eastern, Indian, Spanish, Moroccan, and North African dance, and fusing it together with modern and contemporary dance ideas and approaches. The style is both enticing and mesmerizing as dancers often share their art in an improvisational format, speaking to one another in a physical language of cues as they dance together. As you watch, the audience can see glimmers of the many different cultures that weave together the global dance, all coming together with a theme of community, joy, and connection.

Originally based in Portland, Oregon, the Global Caravan format has expanded exponentially, and now has certified teachers and sister/brother troupes all over the world. I’ve been dancing for over two decades now, and while I absolutely love MENAHT styles the inclusivity and vibe of GC completely captured my heart. I first met Paulette back in 2007 at a workshop in Orlando Florida, and I can remember just how fierce and yet friendly she was...smiling at you and encouraging you to do the thing even if you felt it was outside of your reach. And every single dancer who was part of her style carried that same energy. One that was welcoming, supportive, and empowering. I was so shy and very unsure of myself, and yet all the dancers in that room including Paulette were so kind and gentle with a fairly new dancer who was trying their best. I can remember Paulette gathering us all into a circle at the end, smiling at us, and telling us to take whatever we had learned and loved, and just let the rest go. I was so impressed by her dedication to the art (because, well, she was a fierce taskmaster over the weekend!)...yet she also reminded us to stay true to ourselves and take what worked best for us. That made a huge impression on me; that in this style we could be a community yet all still have our own magic and do what worked for us. Fast forward to 2013 when I randomly saw that she was finally offering her certification training in GC online. I jumped in to doing her Collective Soul Level 1 online, found that same energy and joy, and immediately knew I’d finally found my dance home.

After years of study with Paulette directly, as well as continuing on my own adventures in

MENAHT research and dancing with many different teachers, I became a Master Teacher of

Global Caravan. This means that I have the honor of holding space for others to grow, learn,

and develop their own dance journey, helping them to become stronger dancers and GC

teachers. I regularly teach GC certifications in the style both in person all over the world and

online. It’s absolutely amazing to me that I can help others find the joy in their dance just as I

did, and I so love empowering others to do so. I especially relish creating safe spaces for all

to dance - no matter how they choose to express themselves all are welcome to join our dance form.

Locally I teach in person and virtually online at Cypress Pillar Healing Arts, my studio in

Sarasota, Florida. We have an incredible community of dancers who call Cypress home. I lead an amazing professional GC dance troupe, ShimmyBOOM, which includes dancers from all over the Bay Area, many of whom are certified GC dancers and/or teachers.

Working with these dancers has been one of the greatest experiences of my dance journey, and I am just thrilled to see them each week in class. We have an absolute blast, and I am constantly awed and inspired by their dedication and commitment to the dance.

I fully believe that there is space for EVERYONE in the GC circle. No matter your age or level or abilities or beliefs. We all have different experiences to share. The circle we create together is beautiful and can hold us all. To me this ability to include everyone is one of the best parts about this form, and I love sharing that with others and welcoming them in to dance.

2. What are your biggest influences and perspective on Fusion as it applies to your projects?

As a global community, I am lucky to have inspiration coming to me from all over the world. My dance family just absolutely shine, and that is always something that I can look at and draw from. Of course, Paulette remains a guiding light for GC, and the global Master Teachers often work together to shape things like costuming trends, formations, and movements. Many have their own signature elements, and so we can share and collaborate to create things outside of our own scope. It is fascinating to be able to work as a team and pull together our strengths, sharing our ideas and creating something unique. We’ve had different dance challenges and collaborative opportunities too which has been a really fun way to get creative.

Apart from working on the global scene, I will often return to my personal roots in MENAHT

style dance for influence. This year I’ve been expanding the GC vocabulary to include Saidi and Raqs al Assaya elements, which is probably one of my favorite MENAHT dances. For me,

fusion means offering my own take on the art, allowing me to share my great love for it while

still respecting the roots and original forms. So to create this signature vocabulary I’m spending a lot of time digging back into years of workshop notes, research, and articles, as well as reaching out to modern instructors to continue to learn. I’m going to say this a lot in this article, but I really truly believe that we need to keep the source cultures in mind as we work in fusion, and so that’s always a big influence in my projects.

3. What are your biggest considerations when creating new work and choreography?

This is often dependent upon the inspiration for the work itself. Is it something we are putting together for a themed show? Or did I just hear a really great song and think, oh, yes, we simply must dance to this one! For me, the inspiration is often at the heart of each piece we present. I start with that seed idea, and then the dance takes shape from there.

Because I work with a group that can range from 2 to 12 dancers and any number in between, I typically consider things like the formations and shapes I want to create on stage. In ShimmyBOOM, we have a range of abilities and specialties as well, so I frequently am

considering everyone’s strengths and where they can shine as I plan out our dances. We also

frequently have guest dancers joining us from all over the world and so that can also influence the arrangement and plan for each piece.

As group improvisational dancers, part of the fun is crafting the dance together, so there’s a lot less structure. When we improv we usually will have a very lose plan of who will lead and go from there. Many of the formations that we use are set up so that multiple dancers will have a chance to lead, and we know how the formation will work so that once they start we can stay in that formation and just dance together. If we want to change out of them, we do try to plan that in advance so that everyone can feel comfortable with the overall plan. Because improv gives us the chance to be in the moment, together, pretty much anything can happen. But having at least a loose plan means that we have a direction we are heading as the moment unfolds.

4. What keeps you motivated?

Honestly, the good times with my amazing dance family! I’ve danced both as a soloist as well as with different groups and both definitely have their benefits and magic moments. That group improv of creating art in the moment? Oh! It is sooooo good! To be able to look over, see your friends, listen to the music, and move together with one grounded breath, one joyful heart, one inspired mind. The connection is electric, inspiring, and just so super fun. I’m always left wanting to keep going, to keep dancing, to keep smiling. So that’s pretty good motivation. But beyond the time spent on stage weaving movement and music into magic what really keeps me going is seeing the transformation in many of these dancers. I am always awed, and motivated, by seeing people grow and step into their own power and confidence. I love love love seeing them go from brand new baby belly dancers, uncertain students who say things like “I don’t know...I’m super uncoordinated” into absolutely freaking incredible shining stars.

Getting to watch people find their own unique gifts and expression in the art is super

motivating, and having the opportunity to help guide and support them on their journey just

makes my heart sing.

5. What do you believe are the most important things to consider with Fusion?

This is probably one of the most important questions that we need to consider as dancers, as performers, as artists, as teachers, and for many of us as guests exploring cultures that are not our original homes. When I first started dancing Middle Eastern styles, it was imperative to me to be very clear about what I was doing in order to honor the source cultures and their dances.

I was really lucky to have teachers that did an amazing job of helping me to understand the

nuances of music, costume, and of course the expression of the movements for different

styles. Whenever I performed, I knew that since I was not a source dancer I needed to be

precise and careful in how I communicated the dance, and I worked really hard to research,

learn, and understand so that I could accomplish that goal.

While I have transitioned to focusing a lot more on fusion in my dance, moving from more

classical MENAHT styles to group improv format, being mindful and respectful of the source

cultures and dances is still very important to me. As fusion artists, we often are able to meld

together a number of different elements that inspire us as artists. But I think that means that we have an even bigger responsibility to try to understand the different places we borrow from, being diligent in choosing what we combine together and making sure that we do so

appropriately and mindfully. We have an incredible opportunity to educate our audiences

through our dance too, and to share not only the dances of a place but also the culture. This

means that we ourselves need to be as informed as we can about the people, places, and

dances that inspire our art. It’s critical that we keep our minds and hearts open, listening to

source and BIPOC dancers, and always making sure that we are open to learning so that we

can keep that element of integrity and respect in our dance.

I think it’s also very important for all of us to remember that at its core all dance is a living art

form. It is something that is ever evolving, growing and changing. This means that what may

have been acceptable a few years ago might not be today, and we really need to be ok with

that. We need to allow ourselves to release whatever no longer fits and instead embrace the

new. Doing so gives fusion dancers a great opportunity to explore so many different themes

and stories which is just so exciting. Our own dance can evolve and transform alongside our

understanding of our many inspirations.

And for those dancers who are not fusion dancers...please remember to be gentle with those

that are sharing this style. Part of the beauty of this form is that it is an art that is more than a

bit outside of the bounds of the normal context of MENAHT dance. So there are very few

“rules” and this means that you will absolutely see some - interesting we’ll say - interpretations and expressions. We can certainly experience an exciting variety of dance that can fall into this category. Sometimes, that can be hard for other dancers to accept. Especially if what they are seeing is something they’d never do. However, there’s so much freedom in fusion art, and when one is watching a fusion piece it’s so important to remember to just hold the space and witness, even if you aren’t 100% enjoying what you are seeing.

Social Links: @mishakitty78 Instagram ; Misha Cain Nell on FB

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