My Reaction to Carolena’s “ATS Old School, ATS New Style”

September 26, 2010 § 3 Comments

I feel like I should comment on Carolena Nericcio’s recent announcement on her blog about the way we can now define ATS.  It has caused quite the stir in the ATS community.  In a nutshell, she announced that she no longer wants to police the dance and that new additions to the dance would be accepted.  The basic moves in ATS (as seen on Volumes 1-4 of the Fat Chance Belly Dance DVD series) will be considered the base for ATS and everything on the newer DVDs and whatever people add in their own troupes will be considered new ATS.

It seems like some ATS dancers were upset about the announcement.  They feel like the dance form will become diluted and it will become harder to dance with ATS dancers from other areas.  I also got the sense that some dancers who have been through Fat Chance’s certification program felt that their certification will mean less now.  There were also some people who took offense to Carolena’s use of the term “old school.”

First let me address the latter.  I feel like this is a silly thing to focus on, and not really the point, but it seems many people did, so I want to comment.  I know Carolena has already said she didn’t mean “old school” as a term of disrespect.  I have to say that I don’t get a negative feeling from the term.  Old School is the roots.  It’s where the Masters come from.  Old school doesn’t mean something’s out, it’s more like it’s so far out, it’s back in again.  Okay, just had to get that out of the way.

Now, let me say that I am excited about the announcement.  This is how it was when I began learning ATS nine years ago (at least as far as I was aware).  My teacher did a great job of staying true to the style, while adding clarity to cues and transitions where our troupe needed them to be a tighter, more together group.  We also created a few of our own combos within the ATS language of movements so we could do fancier things with our dance. Some changes didn’t happen on purpose.  Some parts of movements became slightly emphasized or de-emphasized as part of the natural reaction to trying to be uniform with each other.  Change happens in art.

At that time, you did see many variations on the ATS idea at Tribal Festivals.  There was also a lot of move sharing at the festivals back then.  This was before the festivals were completely dominated by the newer fusion styles. ATS was in a major place of growth.  So as far as whether or not the dance form will become diluted, well, I imagine not any more than it already has.

I agree that some troupes who call themselves ATS are so far from the style and language of Fat Chance that it really is something different.  Improvisational does not mean it’s ATS.  ATS is based on a very stylized set of moves and a particular format.  It has a particular timing and way of transitioning between moves.  The arms, the posture, the formations, and the timing make ATS very distinct.  If you vary from this by a wide margin, it is no longer ATS (in my humble opinion).  However, I think if you are consistent with the style, add a cue that is consistent with the format and add something fancy such as a turn, I still categorize that as ATS.  As long as you don’t lose the things that are fundamental to ATS.  This way, the language can be added to and be allowed to grow, without compromising the style. Some people will do this more artfully than others, but that is true with anything.

There are also some troupes who have a beautiful dance style, who call themselves ATS, but are completely different from Fat Chance.  Most prominently in my mind is Gypsy Caravan.  I hear they are no longer together, but they have a whole series of DVDs that is a completely different language of movements, but they have used the name American Tribal Style for so long, it would be hard to tell them to change it now.  Gypsy Caravan was awesome to watch perform, but it was entirely different.  Paulette Rees-Denis, the director of Gypsy Caravan, was an original member of Fat Chance, and when she branched off she really did just take the concept and change the moves entirely.  I refer to their style as “Gypsy Caravan style” or “Gypsy Caravan technique.”

Let me also say that I am not certified with Fat Chance.  I would love to be, but it will be quite some time before I could even picture myself in a financial position to do so.  But I still have a lot of experience with ATS.  My teacher had a lot of integrity in the dance and was pretty consistent with the DVDs.  We used to bring in Carolena for a series of workshops every year, and what we were doing was not that different from what she was doing.   I would also like to say that it doesn’t change anything for those who are certified.  They are still certified with Fat Chance.  It still says a lot.  They still have credentials where many do not.

I did feel a little bad when reading Carolena’s blog post.  I felt bad that she seemed to feel like the dance community did not listen to her when she asked that you do it like her or call it something else.  It was never my intention to disobey the dance creator’s wishes.  As soon as I learned of them, I would scrutinize and worry and try to make sure everything I was teaching my students was consistent with Fat Chance, because I had an excellent teacher, but did not learn it all directly from Carolena.  And there were some things that I felt were consistent with the style, a fancier combo, or an arm variation option, or a clarified cue to make my dancers more together, that I didn’t want to completely give up, so I made it very clear in my class when something was not 100% exactly like Fat Chance (or “traditional ATS”), so my students would know.  Also, I will never stop dancing on both the right and the left, for the health and balance of my body and my students’ bodies.  I feel very strongly about it. I know that some ATS dancers would probably say that this alone means I was not doing ATS, but ITS–Improvised Tribal Style.

I am very grateful for Carolena’s recent decision. I can stop doubting myself.   I can stop scrutinizing.  I can stop worrying about whether or not I am teaching ATS, or ATS based on Fat Chance ATS, or ITS, or ITS with some ATS,  or ATS with a little ITS.  I think Carolena has done a wonderful job of clarifying the standards and boundaries for the category of ATS.  We know what our fundamental moves, cues and transitions are.  They are everything the dance is built on.  They are the foundation and we should stay consistent with the style and format, but are now free to create.

Thank you Carolena, for setting us free and allowing us to grow.  I will do my best to represent the dance form with integrity and beauty.

***Update: It has been brought to my attention that Gypsy Caravan does not identify themselves as American Tribal Style, but simply as “Tribal.”   Black Sheep Belly Dance is another well-known troupe who has a unique language, but used similar ideas as ATS.  As I understand it, they used to call themselves American Tribal Style, but dropped the “American” part and settled on just “Tribal Style” as per Carolena’s request.  I actually can’t think of any other extremely well-known troupes who use a completely different language of movements who refer to themselves as ATS.***

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§ 3 Responses to My Reaction to Carolena’s “ATS Old School, ATS New Style”

  • Shay says:

    Excellent post, thanks for sharing.

    One clarification: Paulette did not call herself ATS. She was my mentor, and made it VERY clear from the beginning that she felt her group was doing “tribal” and that ATS referred to specifically FatChance style. That’s why I was completely unfazed when Carolena made her first announcement reigning in the term ATS, because I was already trained to understand that fact. So no effect to Gypsy Caravan at all–they were tribal and continue to be tribal, but never ATS.

  • Jade says:

    Ah! You are absolutely right! For some reason, I was thinking the DVDs had American Tribal Style in the title, but it is actually “Tribal Technique.” Thank you for clarifying that. It’s probably because *I* thought of their dancing as their own version of ATS.

    I lived in Portland a few years ago and took some of their Tribal classes, but most regularly attended Severina’s Tribaret class. Perhaps we met.

  • Shay says:

    Perhaps at some time we did. I am in Seattle, but was down there quite a lot from 2000-2005 or so.

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