I have spoken of Colleena Shakti and her work so many times. There is so much about her that is amazing and inspiring that her story gets richer as we share it with one another. Her life is like a dream that all us dancers envision but only a few, just a few, manage to embark upon.
Message From Colleena
“The depth of our art reflects the work which we have done within ourselves.” -Colleena Shakti
Colleena’s dance life began with exploring dance as a child and deepened as she began Belly Dancing in 1997. It was the richness in Belly Dance vocabulary that sparked a curiosity in the wide range of cultures across the Orient which Belly Dance drew its movement from.
In her first Odissi class (with Dr. Ratna Roy -Washington, USA) she struggled to hold back tears. They were not only tears of pain from the difficult steps, but from a feeling of being totally striped down to her essence. Odissi made a powerful impression on her and after just a few classes, with a complete feeling of fearlessness and a dream that lit a fire in her heart, she bought a one way ticket to India.
“It is my experience that the process of learning Odissi dance is a complete tearing apart of the ego. Once one feels the ‘self’ which is made up of ego does not have the power to successfully maneuver in this dance form, you begin to realize that it can only become possible if you seek a source of power that is MUCH bigger than yourself. “A source that is pure and never-ending. It is here in your moments of utter exhaustion, utter confusion, utter gracelessness, utter loss of ego; you arrive at the conclusion that ‘you’ are nothing. The only way you can stand up again and raise yourself off the floor is if you invite the divine into your heart. Here you begin to feel pure power and the dance comes alive in your body.”
Colleena has devoted her life completely to dance upon arriving in India in 2001 when she meet her Odissi Guru, Padma Cheran Dehuri and settled in at Bhubaneswar, Orissa- the capital of Odissi dance. The task of training in Indian classical dance in a very traditional manner is not an easy thing. Just as the life of a Yogi must be disciplined and strict, so is the careful transformation into an Odissi dancer. Her Guru has constantly been the driving force and flow of inspiration that allowed her to see the possibilities of a ‘dance life’ and do the work to manifest it under his guidance.
It was a long-awaited dream for Colleena to come to Rajasthan and saturate herself in its rich artistic culture. Over the past decade in Rajasthan, she has been living closely with a tribe of Kalbelia ‘Gypsies’ and has witnessed many stages of evolution within their nomadic culture. Khalbelia people are some of the last semi nomadic tribal people on the planet, and have remained that way by developing dramatic personalities, cleaver wit and an extremely loyal nature.
It took years for her to observe the details and accents of their dance form, because it is constantly evolving. She travels India performing at village fairs, for royalty in Rajasthan’s great palaces and at prestigious arts festivals with her Rajasthani Musicians.
Today, Colleena feels most at home in the ‘Gypsy’ camp, sharing much of her time in Rajasthan with this tribe of Khalbelia and performs with them throughout India. She gives credit to them for revealing so many insights in Rajasthani culture and communal thinking. She has taken many years to research and study dance in various corners of Rajasthan with both famed teachers and with local villagers to gain a well rounded understanding of the rhythms and movements of Rajasthan.
In 2004, with great love and support of local people, Colleena founded Shakti School of Dance within the historical Rang Nath temple in the holy town of Pushkar, Rajasthan. Their school offers intensive training as well as drop in classes in Odissi classical dance, special workshops in Belly Dance and various Rajasthani folk dances. Colleena’s dream of creating a sacred dance space for all dance forms has included having her Khalbleia ‘Gypsy’ sisters teach classes in their dance style, which offers them a chance to feel respected for their art form and make a fair wage.
Drawing from her in-depth study of Indian artistic traditions, Vedic philosophies, classical Odissi and Kathak, Rajasthani folk and tribal dance forms, her strong background in belly dance and the rigor of her practice as a dedicated dancer, yogini, teacher and performer, Colleena offers students a rich and holistic workshop curriculum.
Annually, she presents the Pushkar Temple Dance Festival, a classical music and dance festival in the temple, which houses her school. Over the years she has continued to encourage dancers from all over the world to come to Rajasthan, learn and soak in the dance form and perform at the Pushkar festival. This year, Mrs Sujata Mohapatra performed alog with all other dancers from the Shakti School of dance.
This video gives us a glimpse of the beautiful journey that Colleena Shakti has embarked upon.
Colleena and the Khalbelia tribes
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Colleena Shakti (Pushkar)
Shakti school of dance