American Tribal Style?

November 19, 2009 § 7 Comments

A few months back, I had to do some belly dance teacher soul searching. I teach American Tribal Style Belly Dance. Recently, the creator of this amazing dance form, Carolena Nericcio, has become increasingly vocal that all ATS dancers should do the dance the way she does, or it shouldn’t be called ATS. Now, I teach a form of ATS that is very closely based on the Fat Chance dance vocabulary with a few stylistic decisions made here and there, some by me, some by my first teacher. Carolena has expressed that moves that haven’t been approved by her should not be considered ATS.

I understand where she’s coming from. I have seen a lot of ATS over the last 8 years. Some has been really good, some mediocre, and some really not true to the ATS style.   ATS has spawned a whole movement of growing and changing (and sometimes difficult to define) genres of belly dance. There is a great article on this at What a lovely movement this has been. Art giving birth to art.

So a couple months ago, after a few discussions and after reading the above article, I had to do some soul searching. If everything I’m performing and teaching is not exactly as Fat Chance would do it, am I really doing American Tribal Style?

I let this marinate in my mind for a bit and kept teaching the style as I learned it with some occasional stylistic choices and decisions made amongst my dancers to clarify cues and transitions to make our dancing cleaner.

I thought about how some of the stylistic decisions had been made by my first teach, Myra Krien, and thought of her decades of belly dance experience and decade of ATS experience. I trust her judgment.

I also thought about the incredibly strong technique and stylistic base she instilled in me in my several years of training with her.

I still had some doubt in my mind, until my two best ATS students went to TribOriginal last month. One of the workshops they took was with a couple of lovely ladies who perform ATS and study directly under Carolena.

First of all, my students expressed how confident they felt in this workshop and how they felt like their arms were in the correct places, their posture was correct and they had a pretty easy time following along and picking up the new moves they learned.  Other students asked for tips when they were getting something easily or their way of executing the movement looked correct. This made me feel very proud; proud of them for their dedication to classes and how much they’ve learned, proud of me for teaching them so well, and proud to be part of such a massive global dance movement.

This along with this next tidbit restored my confidence in my right to call myself an American Tribal Style dancer. They learned in this workshop that even the Fat Chance language is still evolving.  Even the base dance form is evolving. In beautiful ways. And we evolve with it.

And I feel confident enough in my ATS training and experience to make some technical, artistic or stylistic choices and still keep the integrity of the ATS language and style in tact.  As with any language, there may be slightly different dialects from place to place. Language is fluid, more about what you’re communicating than the exact words you are speaking. The sentence, more powerful than an individual word.  Art communicates in an organic way, with a life of its own.

I can honestly say I think we are representing American Tribal Style well.

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§ 7 Responses to American Tribal Style?

  • threewinds says:

    My wife is also a certified ATS instructor.

    She teaches the vocabulary, all the way to Level III.

    A couple of things to keep in mind, in my opinion, are that you want to be sure the basic vocabulary and movements are taught in your classes in the same way, and to the same standard, that they are taught in all ATS classes. The reason is simple. So that any of your students can dance with any student from any other class.

    Now, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have your own specialize movements and new additions to the ATS vocabulary. My understanding is that such things are encouraged. For example, my wife has created new movements, shared them with Carolena, and had them brought into the overall ATS vocabulary.

    I think that the overall ATS community, and Carolena, are more worried about people teaching variations (or even worse, incorrect movements, vocabulary and posture) and passing it off as ATS to kind of cash in on what is becoming a very global dance form.

    This would lead to confusion among students, frustration and annoyance. No one wants to see two students (or teachers!) arguing over who has the “correct” form.

    Add to the vocabulary, but make sure the basics are there.

    And, above all, have fun!

  • Jade says:

    Thanks for the feedback. I completely agree. I have seen some “ATS” that hardly resembles ATS. I too think it’s important to keep consistency through the dance form. And what’s more fun than being able to meet any ATS dancers from anywhere and be able to dance together?

  • Jade says:

    Actually, threewinds, I’d like to thank you again for your comment. it was very useful. The more I’ve let it sink in, the more it’s helped me clarify some things in my mind. That is pretty much what we’ve been doing anyway, but we hadn’t clearly thought of it that way. I think it’s a great way to look at it.

  • Michaele says:

    I’m just now catching up on my Google Reader, so I’m a little late to the conversation. I just wanted to add that the reason I love ATS so much is because of it’s organic nature. Our tribe uses basic Fat Chance moves as well, but as our skills improve, we can always add more challenging movements to our vocabulary. It is important to preserve the fundamental nature of ATS in that it should be easy for anyone who studies ATS to pick up the cues and vocabulary from any other troupe, but I for one love the unique differences in each group’s style. It’s what allows us to establish creative bonds with the women in our tribe.

  • Jade says:

    You’re right. It is fun to come up with new things. It’s fun see new things from other troupes as well. This reminds me of the way the tribal festivals used to be. At the first Tribal Fest I went to, many ATS troupes performed back to back and each one was a little different. It was very interesting. You don’t get that at the festivals anymore as tribal fusion, currently heavy on the belly burlesque, is what’s really in. But I agree with how wonderful the organic nature is. We’ve decided the best thing for our troupe is also what your tribe has been doing, preserving the “universal” (Fat Chance) language and working in additions in a clear and well-cued way.

  • Shay says:

    Read this as a linkback from your most recent ATS post, and this totally already foreshadowed Carolena’s announcement. The fact that when people have a core ATS experience, they are recognizable, can “flow” with other ATS dancers, etc. You were practically a psychic with this post! 🙂

  • Jade says:

    Thank you! This was a huge struggle for me. I really felt that we were doing ATS since the bulk of our vocabulary was the same as Fat Chance and anything that was added was, in my opinion, consistent with the style. I wanted to be ATS, but wasn’t sure I was allowed to use the name since there were a few additions I really didn’t want to give up.

    I hadn’t completely gotten over my confusion until Carolena’s announcement, and I’m sure I wasn’t alone. I feel happy and relieved!

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