Through the struggles of questioning her existence in her early years, Colleena found visual art expressed the confusing and isolating emotions of life. Searching for her place in the world took her down both dark and illuminated paths. The times of chaos and hardship she has survived, became valuable lessons which deepened her soul. Exploring truths fearlessly is a motto in her life and in her art.
“The depth of our art reflects the work which we have done within our selves.”
Colleena’s dance life began with exploring dance as a child and deepened as she began Belly Dancing in 1997. Belly Dance captured her spirit with its freedom in movement, passionate music and the way it connected her with other women whom she was learning with. 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.
After learning about Odissi classical Indian dance, it took 2 years of searching to finally find a teacher. 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. In Odissi sacred dance Colleena has found deep connection to God through the art of dance. Her work in all dance forms centers around this principle in her life as a devotee. 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.
“Guru ji’s life IS dance and music. There is not one moment he is not thinking of his art. He holds his own Gurus and craft in such high respect as a sacred art, that his heart has remained as pure as a child’s. The discipline he has for his practice is unlike anything I have ever known, he can dance and drum for 15 hours of the day and never grow weary or bored.”
It was a long awaited dream for Colleena to come to Rajasthan and saturate herself in its rich artistic culture. Upon arrival in Rajasthan in early 2002, Colleena meet a tribe of Khalbelia ‘Gypsies’ who agreed to teach her their dance. Immediately attracted to their wild ways and natural manner of functioning in a tribal society, she began a friendship which has grown to be an important part of her life. 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. Thus, it was a long process which took years to finally know the truths which lay behind the stories of these people. 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.
Colleena was the first outsider to go so deeply into the Khalbelia culture to find the origins and symbolism in their dance and lifestyle. Pioneering a way to convey this tribal dance, Colleen drew from her experiences in daily life with the Khalbelia as well as techniques from other Indian folk and classical dances to create a vocabulary that is easy to share with those who are not born into the dance tradition. Countless students from around the world have taken her workshops in various styles of dance to experience her thorough manner of teaching both the movements and cultural context from which they come.
In 2004, with great love and support of local people, Colleena founded Shakti School of Dance within a historical Vishnu temple in the holy town of Pushkar, Rajasthan. She has invited her Guru, Padma Cheran Dehury to come and teach Odissi and classical music during the school season (November- April). 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.
It has been a great reward for her to be welcomed with open arms by fellow artists and audiences in India. Newspapers and television reviews rave about her delicate mastery of Rajasthani style and her use of Abinaya in both folk dances and Odissi classical dance. Colleena has had the honor of having her dances showcased in India at such prestigious stages as: Jaipur Virasat Festival, Jagmandir Lake Palace, Udaipur City Palace, Mewar Festival, Pushkar Fair, Bundi Mela as well as countless private events and television appearances. She has shared the stage with the most sought after artists of Rajasthan such as Queen Harish of Jaislemer, Gulabo and Theirry Robin, Kalu Nath Kalbelia Party and with members of Musafir. In 2007 Colleena and Party was asked to perform for the Vice Presidant of India and Governer of Rajasthan as a presentation of Rajasthani culture. She was honored for her dedicated work in preserving Rajasthan’s rich heritage and artistic traditions.
In February 2007, Colleena and Shakti School of Dance presented: The Pushkar Temple Dance Festival; a full length Odissi Classical music and dance concert in the Old Rangji Temple. The evening concert highlighted both abinaya (dramatic storytelling dance) and nritta (purely dance) pieces with 15 dancers and 8 top level classical musicians, bringing the holy town of Pushkar their first classical arts event of this devotional nature.
For more about Colleen Shakti please visit her at her website http://www.colleenashakti.com
Colleen Shakti can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org