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Somewhen everybody has heard of „Shakra“ or even saw a video from them, but nobody seems to know much about them. This group (mostly performing as a trio, sometimes as a duo) can be seen this coming weekend in Amsterdam, Netherlands, at “Beyond Bellydance III”, promoted by The Uzumé. “Hagalla” had the chance to talk to this group a few days before the event and thus became a little bit more wise about them …
History of Shakra

The Shakra Dancers of the Tribal Grove was founded in 2002 by Bronwen Cox and Na'la Phillips, in Alexandria, VA (Washington DC Metro Area). Bronwen and Na'la were beginner belly dancers at the time, both very interested in American Tribal Style, and regular attendees to the annual event, The Pennsic War, PA. Pennsic is a medieval reenactment camping event held by the Society for Creative Anachronism (SCA) and played a huge role in the making and shaping of Shakra, as well as many other East Coast belly dance troupes/performers/musicians still around and thriving today. (Awalim, Zafira, Baraka Mundi, Khafif, Turku, Ishtar, Anthea, etc.) Shakra's style at the time was earthy, tribal, and upbeat with most of the movement vocabulary based on ATS.

Two events changed Shakra dramatically. One was watching Domba!, AZ, at the 2003 Rakkasah East festival. Bronwen and Na'la immediately fell in love with their high energy tribal belly dance, in which the troupe fused movements from Ghana, Senegal and Guinea. Domba inspired both women to start learning music and dances from West Africa, and fusing belly dance with it. The second event was meeting Hilary Egan at Pennsic in 2004. Hilary had been trained in West African, Belly, Bhangra, and Ballroom dance, and had a vast collection and knowledge of a variety of music, especially of the Gothic/Industrial variety. Na'la and Hilary began to collaborate immediately, and Shakra took off in a entirely new direction. We played with theatrical and mythological concepts, we explored our darkness, our egos, our creativity and our range as dancers and performers, and we learned how to work and play together.
An important aspect of the dance troupe was to allow ourselves to grow, change, learn and evolve, and not be scared of being different, or being the deviant. To help us remember that fact, to keep it close to heart, we use the tag line :Evolution Deviance Variance (see question below for more detail on this) We were growing and evolving as women so it made sense that our dance changed as well. Shakra was gaining in popularity, something new to all of us in the troupe, and that had an effect on the nature of what Shakra was, and how much more time and energy went into it.

Bronwen went on to explore other options in art and motherhood (such a cute baby, that lil Nixy!) and Na'la and Hilary attempted to find their sense of humor.

As evident here:
As Hilary pursued a video editing career, Na'la pursued a place in the belly dance community by training with Rachel K Brookmire, director of Sahara Dance in DC, and collaborating with DC dancers Ariel and Belladonna. She completed Sahara's teacher training program, and was teaching the Raqs Sharqi beginner vocabulary, as well as her own developing tribal fusion style, at three of the Sahara locations. Through the Sahara school she met and taught Abby Gillet, who would become the third Shakra member in June 2010. Abby's fierce stage presence and keen military mind were a perfect fit for the troupe, as well as her ability and enthusiasm to explore her own dance range.
You being based in Washington, D.C., would you see yourself as part of the East Coast belly dance community.

The East Coast tribal scene is vast. New York City, Washington DC, Atlanta, Miami, Ashville, all large cities with established communities, plus dozens of others in cities up and down the coast. I also consider Pittsburgh and Pennsic to be a part of the East Coast Scene. Through events and festivals like Pennsic, Spirit of the Tribes, Rakkasah East, Spring Caravan, Tribal Con, and now Art of the Belly, we have always felt as part of the East Coast tribal belly dance community. DCTribal also played a huge role in that. DCTribal was formed in 2004, and it brought many of the DC dancers together and provided performance opportunities for them. They also supplied out of town teachers, and gave us a link to the national tribal belly dance scene.

Could you be a little bit more specific about Deviance, Evolution, Variance?

Evolution: any process of formation or growth, development, a motion incomplete in itself, but combining with coordinated motions to produce a single action, as in a machine, a pattern formed by or as if by a series of movements.

Deviance: departure from an accepted norm or standard.

Variance: the state, quality, or fact of being variable, divergent, different, or anomalous. A difference between what is expected and what actually occurs.

These terms resonate with us, not only in the physical expression of our constantly evolving dance form, but also our shared outlook on life. Life is a process that is forever changing, yet most people resist inevitable change. We strive to allow that perpetual state of evolution, and look at evolution as the art of adaptation. We hope to learn and grow as dancers and individuals. We wish to explore and express the variance that art, life, and dance imparts upon us. We do not shy away from trying new and different forms of dance, music, or philosophy.

Shakra’s deviation stems from an ability to fuse different styles and cultures of dance together producing hybrid movements that are unique and innovative. When combined with theatrical expression of deep emotions and personal experiences, these movements come to life on stage.  Shakra’s art is created from life experiences and interactions which influence our exploration and representation of a variety of genres. These three words were chosen because they each embody how we choose to live our lives and share our joy of life and dance with others.

"The only way to make sense out of change is to plunge into it, move with it, and join the dance."
— Alan Watts

In your list (my space) of favorite music groups one finds a lot of German industrial/Gothic bands (Qntal, Wumpscut, Corvus Corax) Do you have a special affinity to these groups or is there in your opinion a difference between German underground music and others (and please could you also say a few words about the Slovenian group "Laibach", which you also mention, but which only few people over here seem to still remember, unfortunately ... )

At the time that list was written we were exploring music that was mainly German underground music. It is dark, edgy, mysterious, powerful, and at times very angry, which matched the mood of Shakra at that point in time. The music we listened was very good at expressing some of the darker emotions we experience as humans. Most people are not trained on how to deal and express these darker emotions in a healthy way, and dancing and creating to this music allowed us to do just that. Musical artists, such as :wumpscut:, Qntal, and Corvus Corax, gave us a way to channel that through dance, so we will always have a special affinity for such music as long as we are human.

However, that list was created years ago, and now through much personal exploration of our emotions as individuals and a group, we have broadened the range of music we dance to. We have enjoyed exploring our sense of humor by performing to Queen, Flight of the Concords, and House of Pain. That doesn't mean we have abandoned the “dark side” but have been enjoying the ability to pull from both, sometimes all in one performance.

Laibach has a fantastic military feel that we are drawn to and they do a beautiful job of weaving that through the art they create. That is what is so inspiring ... the amount of art that is involved in Laibach. It isn't just music but they include video and other mediums to make their point. The best part is that their art is so open to interpretation and it gets people talking about what exactly their point is. They really experiment with art as a communication form and that is something that we definitely appreciate!
SHAKRA will perform at The Uzumé's Beyond Bellydance III in Amsterdam/Utrecht (NL) March 26/27 :
Homepage SHAKRA:
Photos © Cielo Photography, and SHAKRA
We didn't call ourselves “belly dancers”, yet we definitely had a place into the belly dance community. We often thought of ourselves as the industrial cheerleaders, something completely different and exciting in the middle of a belly dance show, whose job was to get the crowd pumped up and invigorated.
We discovered Laibach through the birth of short digital films:
( Until then, we had never heard of them. Since then, we have choreographed a dance to “Tanz mit Laibach” and I have bought a couple of albums (“Wat” being my favorite).

Interview with SHAKRA
by Marcel Bieger