Tuesday, March 3, 2009


Queen Harish and Colleena Shakti:

A new Chapter in Bellywood history…
Performance and workshop tour: August 2009

Our favorite dancing desert drag queen and innovator of Indian fusion belly dance bring to you the first chapter in Bellywood history. Comic, elegant and delightfully fresh, Queen Harish and Colleena Shakti whirl together Bollywood, Fusion Belly Dance, Indian Classical and Rajasthani ‘Gypsy’ dances with climactic emotion.

*‘Queenz’* is a fluid one hour show contrasting the many faces found in Indian cinema. Bellywood dance is created as Queen Harish and Colleena tie Belly Dance and Bollywood together with finishing touches of Rajasthani ‘Gypsy’ dance. This stage performance highlights all new solo and duet pieces set to a most bizarre and eclectic soundtrack.

· Bellywood Breakdown:
Part One:

Technique: Setting the stage for fusion
-Basic footwork to understand where we keep the rhythm in our body in Indian dance
-Postures and arm movements. This is where the elegance styles of Bollywood get their moves!
-Spins: Techniques and mysteries revealed.
-Eyes, head and torso movement to give softness to your dance.
Belly Dance:
-Basic and original movement vocabulary used in our fusion.

Part Two: Style, emotion, sequencing and choreography!
Bollywood: Mujra style
-Sequencing movements with a song
-Emotion: facial expression and using the moves to tell a story
Bellywood!- A fusion all our own, you’ll have to come to see for yourself!

The first half of the workshop is technique based, with an introduction to classical Indian dance technique (both Kathak and Odissi). There will be a clear break down of postures, spins and common movements that we will use through out our course. Indian aesthetics will be discussed and subtle stylistic details will be revealed to teach students not only the movements, but the personality and life of Indian dance.

Kathak offers excellent techniques in understanding rhythm with the body through footwork and has various beautiful spins which we will practice. The movements of Kathak are identical to the Bollywood Mujra dances. Odissi technique for eyes, head movement and mudras are a wonderful way to enrich your dance with refinement of details.

Belly Dance movements which we will be working with will be drilled and later sequenced together to guide us into the fusion.

After establishing technique we move into the elegant Bollywood dance style from the romantic epic films about court dancers: Mujra. Sequencing together movements and slowly layering in emotion and expression, a small ‘semi- classical’ choreography will be presented in the Mujra style. It will be full of languid expression and oozing charm, the dance will surely melt your heart.

Bellywood… A whole new kind of dance mixing the serpent like movements of Belly Dance with the poses and personality of Indian Bollywood dance. A short choreography will demonstrate the possibilities of this style.


· Rajasthani Dance:
A complete introduction to the most beautiful tribal dance of India. Main focus will be on Khalbelia ‘Gypsy’ style dance which is known for its witty charm and rapid spins. A wide range of movements will be taught along with short sequences. Queen Harish and Colleena share their experience and secrets to creating an improvisational performance in Rajasthani dance.


Colleena’s profile reveals the timeless grace of India. With a meditative presence, each turn and subtle glance of the eye is illuminated with detail and improvisation, bringing classical and ‘Gypsy’ together in one body.

Colleena is a classically trained Odissi dancer (Odissi is one of India’s 7 classical dance forms and originates in East Indian temples) and has recently added Kathak to her repertoire. Odissi has a long history of scriptural reference and divine origin, making it not only a dance, but literally a means of prayer and way of life. In addition to classical dance, Colleena has spent nearly 7 years living in Rajasthan with Khalbelia ‘Gypsies’ performing in various places from remote tribal Rajasthani villages to immaculate palaces for Maharajas and statesmen. In 2007 she and her Rajasthani musicians performed for Pratiba Patil (president of India) and was honored for her work with Rajasthani dance. Originally from the US, she brings elements of tribal and fusion belly dance to blend delicately with Indian dance, making a new fusion style. The culmination of her passion for dance led to her opening of a dance school (Shakti School of Dance) within the historical temple in the holy town of Pushkar (Rajasthan, India) where she lives most of the year when not teaching and performing internationally.
Queen Harish:
Queen Harish became a dancer purely instinctively, with a total connection to the rich cultural roots of his environment in Jaisalmer, Rajasthan. Gossip would reveal it is his serious addiction to watching Bollywood movies that has been his greatest teacher.Harish started touring the world in 1997, dancing, as early as 18 years old, and was featured on stage with legendary Rajasthani music groups such as Musafir, Maharaja and later embarked as a solo performer. Harish literally lived on tour without a pause for years. He also developed a dance career in India learning much from his travels in the world of performing arts. He assimilated elements of Flamenco and Middle Eastern dance and also met contemporary dancers who introduced him to concepts like acting, body expressionism and pantomime. This lifestyle of experiences makes him a remarkable and unique performer. Labeling Queen Harish, we could say he is the Indian contemporary performer who has the most deeply rooted cultural traditions, or, taking it the other way, as the most progressive, modern and versatile Rajasthani traditional performer!

How the duet was created:
These two performers met in a floating castle on Lake Pichola, Udaipur (Rajasthan, India)… Brought together by an exclusive performance in one of India’s most dreamy royal settings, the two dancers immediately made a strong artistic connection and continued occasional performances together over the years. Their bond was founded on mutual respect, similar vision and experience of the Indian dance life. What you will see in their artistic union, is a natural sensitivity to the sentiments of Indian dance as divine expression. In their own way, each dancer is the embodiment of an Indian Nayika (heroine defined by subtle traits) because the dance is not only a job for them, it is a way of life.

What is unique to both artists is that neither falls into a typical category for a dancer in Rajasthan. Generally, you find women born into dance by caste, for example the Khalbelia ‘Gypsies’ (which both Queen Harish and Colleena have worked with since their beginnings as dancers) or you will find classical dancers who keep firmly within the lines of classical tradition. Social taboo keeps many Rajasthani women from outwardly expressing certain aspects of the artistic experience. As a foreigner and a drag queen, they can walk the razors edge and at the same time, embody a deep respect for Rajasthani tradition. This position of independence, and the passion they each have for Rajasthani aesthetic has lead both dancers to explore new dimensions of dance within this context. Queen Harish has pushed the limits of Rajasthani movement to the higher levels of charm in Bollywood dance, while Colleena brings the fluidity and curvature of Belly Dance to blend with the energetic tribal movements in Rajasthani dance. Refinement is their trademark which remains unequalled in this genre.

Queen Harish and Colleena have spent years dancing with Khalbelia ‘Gypsies’ in Rajasthan and carry the seed of their energy and humor as an important secret to how they perceive their dance experience. A kind of natural mysticism learned from the ‘Gypsies’ guides their art from its origins in the desert to the intricate fusions which they share with the world.

Indian Classical Dance:
Elements of Indian classical dance forms are used in this project. You will find influences from both Kathak, the North Indian classical style and Odissi, from Eastern India. Kathak itself evolved through time from a temple dance to a court dance for Mughal rulers and finally found a place in cinema from the very start of Bollywood. The Mughal era left a strong stylistic flavor in North Indian dance, bringing a clear connection of aesthetics which linked the Muslim East with Hindu India. Pirouettes and arabesque lines, as well as complex rhythmic patterns are highlighted in the Kathak style, though we could say that the most loved element of Kathak is the chumak (unexpected bursts of energy in the dancer; ie. A quick glance, turn of the head, etc.), which adds the element of surprise. You will see this element clearly in the work of Queen Harish. Since Rajasthan is home to Kathak dance, both the classical and folk styles have progressed together in movement, but have stayed quite separate in practice and intention. The artists borrow from the structure of Kathak to teach clear technique of both Rajasthani and Bollywood dance in their workshops.

Odissi has remained more aesthetically isolated and has seen fewer traces of fusion or influence since it became a classical form in the early 1950’s. Odissi as well traces its origin to the Indian temple dance tradition, and continued to be used as a means of worship in temples up until the 1950’s when it immerged on the public stage. Odissi’s style is considered to be the most feminine of all India’s classical dances, mainly because of the languid curvature in the body created by the tribhangi position (literally meaning 3 bends in the body). Odissi utilizes deep bending of the legs and pronounced torso movement in contrast to neck and eye movements. The feminine curvature might remind one of the articulate torso and hip movements of Belly Dance, but the technique is quite different. Nevertheless, Colleena seems to bring all of her fusion pieces a distinct control and subtlety in eye, head and torso movement as only Odissi training can offer.

With deep respect for the purity and integrity of both Odissi and Kathak, the artists intelligently utilize specific techniques learned from classical dance in their fusion. Never will you see a misrepresentation of Indian classical dance, only a reverence for the refinement taught by generations of its masters.

Rajasthani Dance:
Rajasthan is a desert state in Northern India, bordering with Pakistan. A land of ‘Gypsies’ and Kings, Rajasthan’s artistic traditions enjoyed great patronage and outside influence through out the ages making it a land of rich fusions. Rajasthani dance grew hand in hand with its classical sister, Kathak, through early periods of religious celebratory dance, to a dance performed in majestic palaces of the Maharajas. The various styles you will see in Rajasthani dance, generally differ because of the traditional castes of people which perform the art. Each community has a slightly different take on dance, yet many will perform to the same traditional songs. Ghoomar, Chedi, Bawaii, Teratalli, Khalbelia, etc. are just a few of the popular folk styles found in Rajasthan. The most loved style is the dynamic Khalbelia dance in which you will find the dancers imitating movements of the cobra dancing to a snake charmers flute and falling into rapid spins.

Belly Dance:
This ancient dance in celebration of the female form has travelled throughout, the harems of history, to the nightclubs of Cairo and finally is thriving in the West as it morphs back to a tribal dance in America’s fusion era of ‘Tribal Belly Dance’. Such a history of constant fusion and evolution make Belly Dance a difficult genre to define. We can agree that the intoxicating element of the dance which unites all sub styles is the emphasis on rhythm in the hips and snake like fluidity in the arms and torso. Colleena will point out that while Indian dance keeps rhythm in the feet, Belly Dance expresses rhythm in the hips, yet both keep the melody in the upper body. Her fusion vocabulary will make sense quickly if this concept is considered.

Queen Harish and Colleena use various Belly Dance influences to create their fusion, particularly seeking a movement vocabulary which stays away from categorization. Though one can see that as Rajasthani dancers, they prefer the ‘American Tribal’ and ‘Tribal Fusion’ style movements as they remain more closely linked to the grounded nature of Indian dance.

As Moghal kingdoms flourished in North India, the Kathak style dance was adopted as the official entertainment for the Moghal rulers. Dance and music were used by Muslim kings to relax from the stresses of duty. Lavish dance episodes took place in the palaces and an enormous stipend was reserved for the delicate priming of the refined ‘nautch girls’ or mujra. The mujra dancer was for society a pinnacle of refinement not only in dance, but in dress, speech, intellect, musical ability, poetry, wit, etc. Some dancer’s opulence and grace reached such heights that tales are still recounted to this day of their beauty. Their dance style is similar in design to modern day Kathak, yet was more loosely woven together and relied on captivating the royal audience at any cost to gain patronage. Once India won independence and the era of maharajas was no more, these highly trained women found their only new outlet to be in the early era of Bollywood film and soon they were replaced by actresses of Bombay who imitated the mujra style in movies like: Mughal-E-Azam, Umrao Jain and Devdas. Mujra can be defined as one type of Bollywood dance yet differs from other Bollywood dances by its classic design, subtle expressions and rich costuming.

Dance is an important part of experiencing life in India, one only need to watch a film for 10 minutes to learn this fact. In film, dance is the ultimate symbol for the lovers union (both in reference to passionate physical union between lovers and as a metaphor for union with the divine love of God). Instead of graphic love scenes in films, directors of Indian cinema found elaborate ways to express the union of lovers through passionate dance sequences. Love is bountiful on the silver screen and dance sequences can often take more than half of the screen time. Since cultural identity is most potently expressed through its traditional dance, you will see traces of folk dance from literally every corner of India in Bollywood depending on where the story takes place. Since Bollywood’s beginning, poplar dance trends from the West seeped in and offered their influence such as go-go dancing, Michal Jackson’s style of the 80’s, hip hop, etc.

One characteristic of Bollywood is the endearing qualities of the character who sings the song as she dances out its meaning. When Bollywood dance is performed, the words of the song are mouthed so to highlight the poetry in the words. Bollywood dance is the modern medium for conveying the stories of the timeless Indian heroine (nayika) and all the qualities she imbibes. Full of energy and surprises, Bollywood dance is the most eclectic and playful dance out of India today.

*‘Queenz’* is a complete experience of what you never knew could happen in Indian dance… Bollywood and Belly Dance, Rajasthani ‘Gypsy’ and classical Indian dance!
Never has anyone created such an eclectic show of traditional and fusion. Both Queen Harish and Colleena use their own unusual experiences as dancers to create a vocabulary that is totally alive. Carefully crafting classical technique and the spontaneity of Rajasthani ‘Gypsy’ dance, you will smile at the witty shine of their dance.