Kolor Your Perspective | Karen Barbee

Intro to Chemistry and Grad Students

“Living free is gaining on me. Can’t keep ahead of my dreams. My relief turned out a thief – smooth as rocks in the stream.”, Tom Petty, This Old Town, 2006


Southwest Texas State University

Sometime in the fall of 1978, Mom, Dad, and I toured the campus of Texas State University – except at that time it was called “Southwest Texas State University (SWTSU)”.

We were taking a stroll around the campus with my cousin (we called him “Jay”) who was a chemistry professor there.  It had been decided that I would attend SWTSU since it was only 50 miles from home and I would have just turned seventeen when the Fall semester started.  My brother had graduated from there.  Jay and his wife were both professors there. In spite of it’s reputation for being “the party school of the southwest”, it seemed like a good place for a kid like me.


I can’t believe that I was paying much attention to the conversation between my professor cousin and my parents, but one thing Jay said has stuck with me for my whole life.  I still don’t understand why I retained it.  But now I understand what he meant.  Daddy asked Jay what classes he most enjoyed teaching. Jay said that his favorite classes to teach were “Introduction to Chemistry” to freshman and anything for graduate students.

Four years ago, after the two-week break that always follows our annual “Give Belly Dance a Chance” (GBDAC) showcase, I walked into my Wednesday morning Beginner class to start a new semester.  One of the students in that class had been a volunteer at our show.  “How can you stand to teach these Beginner classes?”, she asked.  She went on to explain that, after watching the end result of soloists improvising to live Arabic music, she felt that the level of detail and the elementary nature of a Beginner class must be boring to me. That’s when I remembered Jay’s comment.

I assured her she was wrong.  Beginner classes – the way they have evolved at Karavan – aren’t boring to me.  At all!  They are my second favorite thing to Project Band.

There is something very satisfying, grounding, validating, inspiring, thought-provoking, humbling, and rewarding to continually consider and restructure the physical and mental links from basic to complex, from theory to practice, from memorized to instinctual, from the letters of the alphabet to poetry.

It’s like being a part of a secret society to know that the simple little hip sway that my Beginners are doing right now can be done at an infinite number of speeds and textures, that it can reflect the sounds of a qanun or an accordion, that it can be done alone or layered with other movements that they have not yet learned, that there are a few things that are going to have to change about the way they are doing it for any of that to happen, that I know exactly what those things are, and that I can see the entire path.

And it’s a little like being a drug pusher, (I’m assuming – I swear I don’t know even though I attended the party school!), to know that many of the Beginner students will start pondering that gap and it’s navigability just by witnessing the music being performed LIVE – with enthusiastic, confident dancers that used to be Beginners just like them.


Give Belly Dance A Chance GBDAC2020


There’s another GBDAC coming up in a few weeks – my 24th.  Universal forces seem to be trying to thwart it, but I’m pressing forward with intentional social and economic oblivion.  The press forward, as is the case every year, seems easy compared to figuring out what’s on the other side.  For the last several years, the planning of GBDAC and the start of a new school year makes me consider retirement.  COVID-19 contributed nothing to my seasonal confusion and introspection.  Since 2014, I just get confused and introspective every year.

But it IS interesting to check in with yourself as you re-start activities that had been put on hold, isn’t it?  That part is new for me this year.  Whatcha feeling as you start up again?  Excitement?  Dread?  Something in between?  Of course, very little was put on hold at my studio (LOL – see previous blog posts); but my ability to contextualize it and plan certainly was – and, to some extent, still is.

In Project Band, we talk about creating some space, some movement “silence” around an action that you want emphasized or remembered.  The inverse is also true.  Whether you want a movement emphasized or not, it WILL BE if it has space around it.  I’m noticing that the space created by the COVID-19 Lockdown seems to emphasize how I feel about every aspect of my studio as I recontextualize.

For example:

“Woo hoo!!  A new Project Band topic!  A Project Band rehearsal!  A Project Band anything!”

“Woo hoo to the one-millionth power!  We’re going to Houston to rehearse with the band and the nightclub is open again!!”

“Woo hoo for private lessons of any kind! Giving individual attention requires much more thought.”

“Yay, I have Beginner class today.”

“Yay, that was a challenging Project Band Drills class and my brain hurts as much as my legs.”

“Meh…. Tonight is choreography rehearsal.”

“Shit.  Do I have to teach a choreography in the fall?  I MIGHT be able to get through one if I can tie it to Project Band and use a Tom Petty song.  I sure hope some other people want to teach choreography.”


Beginners and Project Band.  They are my Intro to Chemistry and Grad School.  It’s so clear to me right now.  Their connection is complicated, indirect, and multi-faceted.  Their connection keeps me focused, thinking, growing, and challenged in EXACTLY the way my brain and body needs to be challenged right now.

Any dance instructor’s methods for connecting the basics to the end game is what gives them their unique style.  For decades, my end game was a polished choreography.  Now, my end game is beyond that.  Choreography is just a stop along the way.  My end game is Project Band which – because it’s basis is improvisation – truly has no end.



I’ve thought a lot about what I’ve learned, how I’ve learned, what I teach, how I teach, and why.  But any musings, written or not, are loosely connected (if connected at all) to other concepts that I have developed over forty years of teaching.

But now I’m in assimilation mode.

In my next several blog posts, I’ll be attempting to make more connections and tell a fuller story – a story that I’ve never tried to organize and tell.

Bring on GBDAC2020, the new school year, and a more Komprehensive version of Karen Barbee’s Dance Philosophy.  It’s a lot.  Wish me luck.


Internationally renowned professional belly dance instructor, Karen Barbee Adkisson is the founder of Karavan Online and Karavan Studio in San Antonio, Texas. She is the creator of the Karavan Online Masterclass and believes in the power of technical precision, soulful innovation and cultural respect for the art of belly dance. Find out more about her online belly dance classes — available wherever you are, whenever you want — at karavansa.com.



Give Belly Dance A Chance GBDAC2020


Live music and belly dancing will come alive this summer!

Join us for the first major belly dance event to live music in the U.S. in 2020!

Over the last several months, Karavan has found ways to innovate and serve the belly dance community throughout the coronavirus pandemic and we are celebrating the re-emergence of dancing to live music!

Karavan’s 24th annual belly dance recital and performance weekend will be held July 31st through August 2nd, 2020 at the Radius Center (106 Auditorium Circle in San Antonio TX) and you can also watch us virtually for the entire weekend.

Rest assured, we are conforming within the constraints issued by the City of San Antonio, Bexar County, and the State of Texas. At this point in time, we are approved to have 75 people in our live audience and while we may have more availability closer to that weekend, you will want to be sure to get your tickets now.

Tickets are now available for purchase online for both LIVE and VIRTUAL packages. They will NOT be available at the studio — thus allowing us to monitor sales and seat availability closely.

Learn more and get your tickets today at https://gbdac2020.karavansa.com/