Baba Mama

I first heard this song at a show in Saint John New Brunswick in late 2000.

I was sitting in the audience, having finished both of my performances, all settled in and enjoying the show when this fabulously energetic music boomed out of the speakers, and in bounced this little dance troupe from Maine.  They were 4 or 5 young women wearing yoga pants with matching fringe skirts and choli tops, and I was completely mesmerized.  So mesmerized, in fact, that I actually still remember it, 13 years later! 🙂 They were beginner dancers, their choreography was simple and teetered on being over their heads, and yet they outshone many of the performances that I saw that night in sheer joy and enthusiasm. What they lacked in crispness and accuracy was more than made up for in the energy and excitement that they shared both amongst each other and with us in the audience. I no longer remember their choreography, with the exception of two movements: a cute little chest drop while pulling the hands down the front of the body, followed by pelvic drops with the same hand movement, which I changed around a bit and incorporated into my own repertoire.

Fast forward to 2010. I bought a CD at a workshop I was attending in Calgary, and just about fell off my chair when I heard that song start to play!  According to the CD, the song was called Baba Mama. I was so excited that started to choreograph it right in that very moment.

Here it is, performed by Saba Middle Eastern Dance Ensemble. Choreography by yours truly. Watch for that little chest and pelvic drop with the pinch pull-down: I incorporated it into the choreography as little tribute to those lovely young dancers from Maine.


The Icing on the Cake: Kelly Collins wins the Yukon Order of Polaris

…a thick layer of frosting on an already rich and delicious cake.

Congratulations to my wonderful husband on being awarded the Order of Polaris and inducted into the Yukon Transportation Hall of Fame!



By Max Leighton, What’s Up Yukon
Photo by Michael Collins

Local flight instructor Kelly Collins has spent nearly three decades helping Yukoners earn their wings.

This month he was given the Order of Polaris, one of the Yukon Government’s top honours, awarded to Yukon aviators (and the odd Outsider) for service to the territory, its people and its unique culture.

Collins, who is retiring this year, has spent 27-years training more than 300 pilots from various schools in Whitehorse as well as satellite programs in Atlin, Ross River, Faro and Dawson City.

Until recently he had trained the majority of all private and commercial fixed wing pilots in the territory.

Collins has spent the last twelve years as chief flight instructor with Whitehorse Air Services — the last flight-training school in Canada’s North.

He’s taught everyone from the young to the retired the secrets of flight.

“It’s a pretty wide spectrum,” he says. “For some people it’s just a personal challenge, it’s a goal that’s not that easy to do. A lot of our students are folks who have always had a dream to fly.”

Collins is known for his hands-on approach to training, sitting fearlessly alongside would-be pilots attempting everything from basic aircraft control to emergency maneuvers, falls, spins, takeoffs and landings.

“I call it ‘knowledge through a fire hose,’” he says. “It comes fast and furious… and it’s hands-on from day one.”

After a while the training becomes reflexive — and marginally less terrifying.

“The better you get at the machinery, the farther out your awareness goes from all around you, to in the aircraft and outside,” he says.

Collins doesn’t just teach his students to fly, he teaches them to think like pilots.

“Learning how to fly is one thing — learning when to fly and when not to fly and what not to do and how to stay out of trouble, that all comes under the heading of pilot decision making and that’s probably the big variable in keeping people safe,” he says.

Getting a pilot’s license is hard work, and it’s not cheap —about $9,500 for a recreational pilot, $14,000 for a private license — but it’s probably more likely to lead to a job than your undergrad degree, and you’re guaranteed a good office view.

Sixty-one year-old Neal Letang became a licensed pilot this year. Letang had a lifelong ambition to fly, but says it was Collins’ mentorship and focus on safety that gave him the confidence to finally become a pilot.

“It does do something for your confidence,” he says. “You’re doing something that, for me anyway, was a little extraordinary and [Collins] helped me do it.

“At times when I was discouraged, or dissatisfied with my performance, or whatever I was doing and he’d work me through it,” he says.

As a recipient of the Order of Polaris, Collins joins the ranks of Canadian icons like WWII fighter pilot Ian Willoughby Bazalgette, and pioneering Canadian engineers Ronald John Baker and Alexander Graham Bell.

“Every student is different, every day is different, it’s all a challenge, it’s all rewarding,” Collins says. “Helping people reach that goal of flight for whatever reason they started out on, every day is its own reward. So to be awarded the Order of Polaris is a huge, thick layer of frosting on an already rich and delicious cake. I feel very humbled.”

This year John Van Every, a Dawson City trucker and transportation company owner, was also honoured as the Transportation Person of the Year award, and the late Frank Steele, an early Alaska Highway lodge operator, was named Transportation Pioneer of the Year.


Classes this fall?

I’ve been wondering if you’ve been wondering about classes and troupe now that we are into the month of October!

I’ve been giving it a lot of thought. In fact, I’ve thought of almost nothing else.

I’ve decided to retire from teaching and from the dance troupe for awhile while I recharge my batteries and nurture some of my other interests. Teachers and artists are just like good gardeners: they know that they must occasionally rotate crops and/or let the soil lie fallow in order to rejuvenate and replenish for a new growing season. It’s like I always told you in class: “ya gotta know where your center of gravity is. Ya gotta have balance!”

So, what other interests am I nurturing? Well, if you’ve been following this blog, you’ll all be chiming out in unison right about now: “quilting!” LOL, yes. Creativity comes in all forms, and I’ve been spending time getting reacquainted with an old love. But that’s not all! I am also taking a class through Yukon College and the University of the Arctic called Introduction to the Circumpolar North. I may post a homework assignment on the blog now and again, just because the material is so darned interesting (to me, anyway!)

Anyway, back to the topic of my dance life!

Regarding Saba: while I am very sad to let the dance troupe go, I also have a wonderful feeling of joy and accomplishment at what we were able to do together. When I originally created the troupe it was to give my students a vehicle to perform in professional venues – to take their dancing beyond the classroom and beyond student-level performances and into the realm of true performance art. I believed that setting the bar high (and holding to it!) would not only bring the art of Middle Eastern dance to the Yukon stage as a beautiful art form to be respected and admired, but would also bring great personal reward to all of us. I am certain that we succeeded! Not only that, but we had a blast doing it, and we formed some great friendships! I hope that Saba will either stay together as they are or else find a new vision and re-form into something just as wonderful. I wish them all my best from the bottom of my heart. I feel like a momma…I gave them all I could and now it is time for them to go out on their own without me.

As far as classroom teaching goes, you may have heard that Kelly and I have managed to swing an early retirement, and will be moving to Salmon Arm at the end of 2013. This means that my time with the Whitehorse dance school will be coming to an inevitable end anyway.

I know that I will teach again. It is too much in my blood to retire forever! I just can’t see it, can you? LOL! However, I think that teaching will probably be a “retirement” job. I can definitely see myself offering a class or two in Salmon Arm some day with a brand new batch of newbies. For sure!

I’d like to say thank you to all of the students who crossed the studio floor over the 10+ years that I taught in Whitehorse. I figure over 600 different sets of feet stood in the classroom and learned to trace a hip circle in front of me over the years. That’s an awful lot of joy!

Thank you all so much for following my dream and sticking with me through thick and thin. I truly admire, respect and love each and every one of you, and I am so darn proud of you all.

I’m still available for private lessons & performance coaching. I’d like to offer workshops or go out on the workshop circuit a bit.  I’m not leaving dance, I’m just…taking a huge chunk of it off of my plate.And on the performance end…well, that will never change. I love to perform. I love interacting with the audience. It’s magical! I plan to continue my personal development as an Egyptian Oriental dance artist. I have a reputation to keep up, after all! So keep your ears and eyes open and you may see me on the stage or on the workshop circuit now and again. 

For me, the last show we did, Rockin’ the Casbah in 2011 was the highlight of my career. I can’t think of a better note to go out on than that.