Belly Nouveau: A Tribal Spectacular!

February 27, 2013 § 3 Comments

My troupe produced our first full-length show a couple weeks ago. It was really our troupe director, Sadie Calderon and another local dancer, Lauren Martinez Burr who did most of the work with booking a location, inviting guest dancers and creating the lineup, finding tech people, making tickets and programs… The rest of us assisted with opinions, ticket sales, costume making, and choreographies. It was a lot of fun and quite successful! We sold out! It wasn’t a ginormous theater, but it is still exciting to sell out your first show!

It was a busy, busy month leading up to the show! It’s a lot of hard work, but it was totally worth it and I’d like to put on another one sometime. However, now that we’re done, I’m looking forward to a little more down time.

Here are the two dances I had the most to do with creating. The first is my solo, which is my own tribaret choreography, and the second is a tribal sword duet that I co-choreographed with the other dancer, Ally Lowry.

If you feel so inclined, you can watch the entire show (or just parts) here.  Desert Darlings performed several numbers and the guest dancers were all wonderful!  There is a lot of great talent here in Albuquerque!

New Troupe and Oriental Potpourri!

March 14, 2012 § 3 Comments

I have re-immersed myself in dancing. It was really easy. I love how it seems no matter where I go, there is a flourishing and welcoming belly dance community. I went to a Farfesha student show and started taking classes at their studio shortly after. I signed up for an eight-week course with some American Tribal Style dancers who got their start at the same Santa Fe studio I did. I introduced myself after the first class and we talked a bit. After the second class, they invited me to join their troupe, The Desert Darlings! So how about that; I thought I would be stepping back from the tribal community, something I have thought before, yet it always seems to find a place for me. I guess it’s meant to be.  And the Desert Darlings are, well, darling!  I am still pursuing Oriental belly dance in my self-practice and will soon be seeking a weekly class.

Last month, I attended Oriental Potpourri, an annual event put on by Amaya. It was wonderful! The guest teacher was Karim Nagi of Turbo Tabla who is amazing! I took a Drum Solo and a Raks Assaya (cane) workshop. It was educational and inspiring! If you ever have the chance to take workshops with Karim, do it! If I had the means, I might travel all over the world taking his workshops. I would learn so much! He has published some DVDs and sells them at a discount to his workshop students. I haven’t gotten to watch mine yet, but I will post about them when I do.

Karim’s workshops got me thinking about some things. First of all, I now realize how important it is to call the traditional dances by their proper names to credit the Egyptians. Going forward, when doing these styles I will do my best to honor them with their true names. I will still call tribal style “belly dance” because it is so Americanized, and I will use “belly dance” as a catchall phrase since I don’t strictly do classical styles.

Second, I now know that I love Raks Assaya! I had never danced with a cane before, and it was so much fun!  I already knew that the women’s style of dance came from playfully teasing the men who do Tahtib (an ancient martial art form using a large stick, an assaya), but hearing Karim’s description made it so much more fun!  I want to buy a cane, but I have to do some research first because I don’t yet know what I’m looking for in this prop.  If anyone has any pointers, they would be much appreciated!

I also learned some very valuable tips for drum solos, like separating the location of accents in the body to reflect different sounds on the drum, and I performed in a show for friends and family of Oriental Potpourri participants.  I did my first ever, completely choreographed, non-Tribal solo.  It was really fun and a great experience.  I will post a video soon.

TribalCon VII, 2011

August 24, 2011 § Leave a comment

This year at TribalCon, I took workshops from Zoe Jakes, Al Confrin, John Compton, and Myra Krien. There was an interesting sounding lecture given by August Hoerr, but I really needed a break for lunch, so I did not attend. This year, there was a Friday night, live music only performance before the hafla. My troupe performed in that one. Saturday night was an all-recorded music show which I had the pleasure of relaxing in the audience during and just getting to enjoy.

The Friday night show was a lot of fun.  the small stage was crowded with very talented musicians.  The energy of a show that  uses live music is infectious.  It is very entertaining to watch the dancers and musicians play off each other.  Live music is so much more dynamic than canned music.  The show went very smoothly.  My troupe closed the show, following John Compton, which was quite a lot of pressure, let me tell you!  John Compton is amazingly mesmerizing on stage.  His playfulness and stage presence is captivating.  It was a lot of fun to get to hang out with him and bond backstage.  He informed me that if you fart before a performance it’s good luck!  That’s right, real life tips from a pro!

This was one of the enjoyable performances from the show.  I like it because, not only do I think Jaylee is a lovely dancer, I think this one also showcases the musical talent nicely as well.

My troupe did an American Tribal Style piece under my direction.  We honored both classical ATS and modern ATS styles. I think it went really well and we got enthusiastic feedback from the crowd afterward.  One woman told me that she was excited because she had never seen American Tribal Style performed before, but loved it.  She said she thought it was beautiful and is now interested in learning it.  I think that is one of the best compliments I’ve ever received after a show!

The hafla was fun.  There were a lot more hoopers this year.  The only downside of having a show on Friday before the hafla was the hafla started later, so you got in less free dancing if you like to go to bed on the earlier side.  I don’t however think this bothered much of the TribalCon crowd, as they will party into the wee hours.

In the morning, my first class was with Zoe Jakes.  It was a good class, a bit intense.  She had us do a lot of strengthening yoga exercises.  My abs were tired before the bulk of the class began.  The funniest thing that happened in that class was that she had us doing stretches where we lengthened our arms up and back slightly, elongating the torso and then folding from the hips stretching into a flat back, and then back into the original standing pose.  When we were first alternating between the two positions, we would hold for 4 counts each.  Then she had us double it to two counts and it was almost like standing sit ups with out stretched arms.  After a couple repetitions, I realized, it seemed oddly similar to bowing.  I began looking around.  It was an auditorium filled with women surrounding Zoe Jakes on 3 sides, bowing in unison.  I’m sure that probably wasn’t actually her goal, but it was quite hilarious.

For my next class, I got out my clarinet and switched to the music side with a class on Middle Eastern musical improvisation with Al Confrin.  It was an incredibly challenging, informative and fun class.  It was an intimate class, with only about a dozen people in the room.  We had the stringed instruments drone while we took turns individually improvising little melodies using the notes on specific middle eastern scales and attempting to incorporate rules and tips Al had given us.  By the end of the class, we were trying to match each others’ melodies and have musical conversations.  It was fun and a bit nerve racking since we played by ourselves.  I think I got an excellent compliment from Al.  After I played one of my improvised melodies he commented, “I just love the sound of the clarinet.”  !!!!  I was flattered!  Middle eastern musical improvisation is a huge subject as far as I can tell with many rules and subtleties to remember. I’m sure a person could work on new things in this area their entire career and still have more to learn.  Being a classically trained musician, I have had very little experience with musical improvisation.  I tried improvisation a little when I had a brief intro to jazz years ago, but that was it.  Classical musicians don’t really improvise.  Orchestral music is read from sheet music, and that’s most of what I’ve done.  I feel like Al’s class was a great starting point and I have really been able to use some of the instructions he gave to have more structured and more musically appealing improvisations.

I switched back to the dance side to take a workshop on traditional Tribal steps and combos with John Compton.  He is a delight to learn from!  He is incredibly fun and funny and informative to.  He taught us many combos that were challenging and some of them very different than what I have learned in the past.  By the end of the class we had a mini choreography of John Compton combos.

The last class of the day was with my first teacher, Myra Krien.  She taught flamenco fusion moves in the ATS format.  I felt a little like I was cheating in the class because I had previously known all but two of the moves.  I had them down perfectly while everyone else was struggling to remember them.  It was a great refresher and I enjoyed learning the two new flamenco adaptions that I had not seen before.

The Saturday night show was great;  very inspiring.  It was nice to get to sit down and watch a whole belly dance show without having to worry about performing.  The Friday night show kept the Saturday night show from not being overly long, so it easily held the audience’s attention.  The only downside is that I was starving after a day full of activity and you could smell the buffet waiting for us in the next room for after the show! That was a bit distracting, but not too bad and the buffet was worth the wait.  It was quite delicious.

All in all I would say I had another great TribalCon experience!

Belly Dance Solo: My Experience with Solo Dance Versus Group Dance

April 4, 2011 § 1 Comment

I have been thinking about how my transition into soloing has been gradual, but quite graceful.

I used to get bad stage fright when I first began dancing.  I had a hard time smiling, my chin and bottom lip used to shake, I would even feel a little dizzy.  Over time, I have come to love performing and enjoy being on stage.  After I adjusted to being on stage in a group setting, I would still get nervous about performing solos.  I didn’t do it very often.  I had some American Tribal Style solos here and there, which are not like traditional solos as there is usually a chorus of dancers on stage with the soloist put in a position of focus.  Even with a chorus behind me, it was a little nerve-racking.

I have very much enjoyed being a troupe dancer.  I like the bonding that goes on between dancers on stage together.  I like being able to feel supported by my troupe mates and supporting them in return. I like the dynamics that can happen in group dances. I like that there is a safety in numbers kind of feeling.

For a long time, I was not very interested in doing true solos.  When I started performing them it was only when it was necessary to fill a time slot in a show. Back then, I did other people’s choreography, never my own, and certainly never improvisation.  I wanted to feel confident that my solo was going to be “good.”

It was a bit of an adjustment to go from group dances to performing solos.  My two biggest challenges were learning to use the stage differently and getting used to having Every. Eye. On. Me.  Sure, I know people are watching me in group dances, but they are also looking at the other dancers.  It is much more intense when they all focus on me at once.  I have found myself on stage thinking, “oh my god, why are they looking at me like that????….oh yeah, because I’m doing a solo…”  Haha. I think I have finally gotten used to it.  It only took doing a few solos over a few months.

As far as using the stage goes, with group dances, it’s easy to use the space.  The stage is filled just because there are multiple people on it.  Groups can create dynamics with static formations, moving formations such as lines of dancers moving through each other, shapes such as circles, entire group level changes, scaled level changes, some dancers facing different directions…there are many possibilities.  With a solo, there are similar options, but they are executed differently.  A soloist cannot create a formation, but can be static or in motion.  They can only create shapes across the floor by drawing them with their dance path.  When a soloist changes levels, it can only be interesting because of the contrast between the level they are on and the level they were on.  They can make directional changes, but can only face one direction at a time.  They are solely responsible for taking center stage, covering the whole stage, creating interesting lines, and creating variety in their movement, all while still dancing to the music.  It’s a bit a more pressure.

Another thing that is different between solos and group dances is the energy dynamic.  With group dances, you can play off the energy of your fellow dancers and project to them as well as the audience.  There is a collective energy on stage that infects you while you are contributing to it.  In a solo, it’s all you, baby!  You must commit, you must project.  I feel like I am exploding with energy when I am doing a solo.  I am also more aware of the music.  I am the only one expressing the music, so it is my dance partner when I am on stage alone.  I internalize the music and externalize the movement and energy.

When I first started performing solos, it was to fill show needs.  Then, I started doing them because I felt like I had reached a point in my dance journey where it was necessary for my continued growth as a dancer.  Now, finally, I perform them because I like to.

I did an improvisational veil solo at a performance over the weekend.  I also performed a couple solos at a birthday party gig last weekend.  I discovered I am not scared of all the eyes on me anymore.  I am no longer terrified by the pressure of keeping the audience’s attention all by myself.  I finally feel like I am using the stage properly and creating some variation in my movement that reflects the music and creates dynamic.

There is actually a wonderful sense of freedom in performing solos because I can just go with what the music is telling me to do.  I don’t have to worry about whether or not I am doing the “correct” thing.  I am not necessarily limited by the confines of a strict choreography.  I can just dance.

My Year in Belly Dance: Reflecting and Looking Forward

January 29, 2011 § Leave a comment

I feel like the past year has been a productive one for me on the dance front.  I attended some great workshops and events.  I moved forward in technique and experience.  I had a few breakthroughs that were quite amazing to me.

I had some major breakthroughs in the area of flexibility and usability of my muscles.  Throughout the year, I identified several problem areas in my body where the muscles were locked up and permanently engaged.  I was able to concentrate on and learn how to stretch and release my trapezius muscle (at the top of the shoulder), my hip flexors (at the top, front of the thighs), and my psoas muscles (in the hips).  These muscle groups were causing me some pain and minimizing movement.  After releasing them, I have less back pain, less neck pain and less hip pain.  My undulations have become bigger, my shoulder shimmies have become less tense, and my hip movements have gained depth and range of motion.

I also decided that this would be the year I would really solidify my continuous shimmies. Due in part to an old knee injury, continuous hip shimmies (that move alternately and repetitively between right and left hips) have been very challenging for me.  My left leg has been weaker and less consistent.  This year, I was putting that behind me.  For several months at the beginning of the year, I woke up early every morning to do shimmy drills.  It felt great.  And practicing every day made a world of difference.  I focused on my weaker side and built up the stamina.  After just a few weeks, I had a consistent, even shimmy.  After a few more weeks, I could vary size and intensity.  I eventually got to a point where the muscle memory was so ingrained in me, I would start my shimmying and I felt like my legs had a mind of their own.  The shimmy was automatic, almost like there was no stopping it.  I sometimes felt like the shimmy was in control and I was along for the ride.  It was amazing and I’m pretty sure it’s what everyone is talking about when they say “if you have to think about your shimmy, you haven’t done it enough.”

The most recent thing I discovered that made a huge difference for my body is a yoga technique called inner thigh spiraling.  One of my belly dance teachers brought it to her dance class after it was really helping her with her posture.  Essentially it’s where you stand in good posture and good alignment (keep those knees facing forward!), and engage your inner thighs and gently rotate them backward.  We did an exercise where you hold the yoga block with your thigh spiral and layered some belly dance drills on top of it (shoulder shimmies, chest circles, hip lifts, etc.)  I could feel my lower back and hips opening up.  I have been including this technique in my regular dance practice and it has greatly improved my alignment, posture, strength and is even keeping pressure off my injured knee.

I broke into performing solos.  I have always been more of a troupe dancer than a soloist.  I’m to a point where I actually want to do solos and feel like I need to in order to take my dancing to the next level.  This year, I did solos without props and with veil and sword, some to live music, some to recorded music.  It was great, actually.  I get more nervous before solos and the adrenaline rush is a bit more intense, but it is very rewarding and freeing.  Me and improv have started to get buddy, buddy as well and it has set my dancing free in so many ways.  I have learned to really trust my instincts and go with what the music tells me to do.  I mean, what’s so complicated about it really?  It’s just dancing.

I began playing clarinet again.  I was classically trained for 8 years, but had given it up for several years to focus more on dancing.  I am a little rusty, but the music reading, the embouchure, the technique all came back to me pretty quickly. I have actually joined the Lumani band, so I will be playing a lot more.

I attended TribalCon and Spirit of the Tribes which were both a ton of fun.  I took workshops with Mira Betz, Artemis Mourat, Myra Krien, Devyani, Asharah, Ariellah, Jahara Phoenix, Dalia Carella, Unmata, Kaya, Shadhavar, GypsyVille and even took a few hooping workshops.

As a teacher, I feel like my ATS students progressed so much this year.  I have a group of consistent students who have gotten the basics down quite well and are starting to move on to more challenging and more fun ATS moves and concepts.  I love that the class is picking up momentum!

Last year was a very good year, indeed!

Looking forward, joining the Lumani band is very exciting!  I’m enjoying exploring clarinet with Middle Eastern music and love being part of a musical ensemble again!  I have begun taking a Middle Eastern drumming classes, mostly to learn more about Middle Eastern rhythms to enhance my dancing, but  wouldn’t mind becoming a proficient drummer.  I am also taking a zill class and hope to become decent at more complex zilling.  I want to continue exploring solos and perhaps create some choreographies.  I’m going to TribalCon again and am trying to decided on another major event I’d like to attend.  I’ve never been to a convention for Oriental Style Belly Dance.  That might be fun.

The Joy of Teaching

December 1, 2010 § Leave a comment

I feel like my dance class is really flourishing.  I have enough regular students now, they can practice full formations in class, and I can watch, observe and offer help.  When we perform, I’m not the only one leading.  In fact, I can lead less and less, and let my students gain the experience and grow stronger.

As a teacher, there are moments that are so fulfilling:  The “aha” moments in my students.  The first time they really get a move.  Watching one of my students lead for the first time.  The first time one of them wants to lead in a performance.  The first time someone unexpectedly takes the lead (no really, you have no idea how exciting that is!).

I am glad I have been able to participate in this movement. I am grateful that I have gotten to continue being involved in ATS even as I have moved a couple times. I am extremely happy that I have been given the opportunity to teach this powerful and beautiful dance style to others, and through teaching, have fallen in love with American Tribal Style all over again. Yallah, Habibis!

Belly Dance Cross-Dressing

November 2, 2010 § Leave a comment

I’m sure there will be some disappointed people who find this post in their search results, but I’m not talking about that kind of cross-dressing.  I’m talking about Tribal ladies gone Cabaret!  And back again!  And vice versa!  While many people lean toward one belly dance genre or another, I am an equal-opportunity shimmyer.  An ATS girl with Cabaret in my heart.

And truth be told, I could use a little more Cabaret in my life.  I long for sparkly, sequined, hair-swinging, even sometimes down right cute, Oriental style.  That’s right!  Cute!  I said it.  (Just so you know, there’s no cute allowed in ATS!)  Sometimes I just want some big, lyrical freedom; to let my hair down, my arms relax and let out a big, sweeping, ooey-gooey, horizontal hip circle.  Maybe even complete with an adorable, feminine arm position; one hand to the head, one on the hip, accented with a hip-wiggling, psoas-engaging jewel.

I subbed for a couple of basic belly dance classes a couple weeks ago and I made the students do incredibly adorable things.  And I enjoyed it!  Some of my ATS students were in these classes and joked that the other teachers would come back from vacation and say, “what happened to Jade?!”

Well now everyone knows.  Your ATS teacher is a Cabaret lover.  This is also a huge motivator for me to do more solos.  I need an opportunity for feminine.  I need an avenue for cute.

Spirit of the Tribes 10!

October 3, 2010 § Leave a comment

(My belated Spirit of the Tribes post…)

I went to Spirit of the Tribes in Ft Lauderdale, FL for Memorial Day weekend. It’s quite a drive from North Alabama. 14-16 hours. The drive was good, though. I drove with some troupe mates so there was a lot of bonding time. And I saw a couple of amusing things such as this

These are so tacky they’re awesome!

and this

Someone has a thick accent…

It’s been awhile since I’ve been to Florida. It is very hot and humid, but very green and pretty. One thing I forgot though, Florida kind of smells. Not intolerably, but it has a very distinct smell. I think it’s all the swamps.

Anyway, we arrived at Spirit Monday morning after driving the whole previous day and only stopping for about 4 or 5 hours sleep the previous night at a friend’s farm. We arrived just in time for classes to start.

My very first class was with Unmata, who I love! Though I’ve seen them perform many times, this was the first time I actually got to take a workshop with them. It was fun and fast paced. We learned a high speed (of course!) combo that is very different from styles I have done previously. It was a good class, but it is very hard to keep up with Unmata when you’ve only had a few hours sleep! Somehow, I held on and made it through the whole workshop.

Next, I took a Belly Baile combos workshop with my first teacher, Myra Krien. It was really great to be back in her class and I still find it very easy to follow her. Her teaching style and body movements are still so familiar. Belly Baile is not what she taught when I took classes from her. This is her own unique fusion dance style that is a beautiful and artful combination of the various dance forms she has learned over many years. The combos have texture and are very beautiful. She sells a DVD on her website with the combos. I definitely recommend it.

The second day, I took a workshop from Devyani about favorite ATS combos. Their classes are always good. Megha is a very precise teacher. This is the third or fourth workshop I have taken from them. I got some cue subtleties cleared up. The difficult thing for me in ATS workshops at big events like these is there are always a lot of people who are not very familiar with ATS, and it’s a little hard for them to get the combos and ideas. Not that I would discourage beginners from taking the workshops. It’s just hard to work through the exercises when someone in the group doesn’t already know the basic concepts of ATS. I still always learn something, though.

After the Devyani workshop, I took a class in pops, locks, and layering with Kaya. I thought Sadie was supposed to be at the event as well, but for some reason it ended up just being Kaya. This was perhaps my favorite workshop of the event. It was challenging and a great workout. I have never gotten such a focused oblique workout. That night and the next day, my obliques were very sore.  Just the obliques, not all my abs. Not any other part of my body. Just the sides of my torso. So, the drills really isolated the obliques. Kaya told me twice during the workshop that I was doing a good job. It was one of the highlights of my trip!

The last day of the event, I took a workshop on Romani Gypsy style with Artemis Mourat. This was my second workshop with her. I love the Romani Style. It is actually not really intended to be performed, but is just the dance of the people. It’s less flashy than some other styles. Artemis said on a scale of intensity, if Oriental belly dance is a 10, Romani Gypsy style is a 6. She said she thinks people should be careful when saying they are doing a “Gypsy” belly dance piece if they’ve never actually learned anything about real Gypsy dance. She said, just because you have a big skirt doesn’t make it authentic. You could call it your Gypsy-inspired piece, but learn about the real style before you call it a Gypsy dance. I love Artemis and her workshops, but I still feel oh so white when I try to dance like her.

Finally, my last class was with Dalia Carella, who is just delightful. The class was an El Mundo fusion dance class. It was a very fun style with a lot of Latin influence. Lots of sassy skirt work. The dancing was flirty and spicy.  It brought me visions of life in the tropics and made me wish I lived in a culture that danced more.  It was a perfect end to my Spirit workshop experience.

There was a great vending area of course. I didn’t buy anything. The one costume piece I was looking for was a skirt to wear with my bedlah for Oriental belly dance. A fusion festival is apparently not the place to find a bunch of those.

There was a show every night. It was a showcase of various levels of skill and styles from all over. Some of my favorite performances were by Anasma, Beat Box Guitar, Danyavaad, Nanda Najla, and Shakra Dance Company. The shows were full and entertaining. They were also expensive. $35 per show. If I hadn’t been working at my dance teacher’s vending booth in exchange for tickets to the shows, I wouldn’t have gone to every one. I would rather spend more money on workshops, which were actually cheaper than the shows.

Lumani post-performance

My troupe performed Sunday night. We closed the show. The performance went well. The Sunday night audience was smaller than Friday and Saturday, but it was a good crowd. I didn’t like that there was no outside photography or video. So if you want pictures or video of your performance, you have to buy them from the professionals. I will not buy any, myself. I just disagree with the idea. I understand why you can’t just video tape the whole show, and requesting no flash photography, but no snapshots? Sure, if a professional photographer takes an absolutely beautiful picture and it’s a must have, I’d pay for it. But I disagree with being forced to buy them. Besides, I’m a performer. I have plenty of pictures of me performing, many of which have been for free or for trade.

On another note, when I read the description of the event and the hotel on the website, I was under the impression the hotel was within walking distance of the event hall. It was not. So, if you plan on attending Spirit, plan to carpool or rent a car.

The most fun I had at the event was hanging out with my troupe. There was a lot of bonding and a trip to the beach. It was great fun. And I was so happy to get to take a dip in an oil-free part of the ocean. I love beach frolicking!

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.***

ATS: If It’s Not Right, Is It Wrong?

May 27, 2010 § Leave a comment

American Tribal Style Belly Dance is a right side dominant dance form by design. The dancers are always turned slightly so their right side is more visible to the audience. Some moves, such as the Basic Egyptian, are very symmetrical so the two sides of the body are worked evenly. Other moves are not symmetrical such as the choo-choo, a hip bump that is always done with a weighted left leg and unweighted right leg and the right oblique working more than the left. Another is the Arabic Undulation, always done with the right foot in front. I am not sure that this is the healthiest thing for the body. I don’t know of any other dance form that works one side of the body more than the other. You wouldn’t go to the gym and lift weights with only your right arm, so why would we dance in a way that works out the right side more than the left?

I was lucky to begin my dancing with Myra Krien who is also an Oriental Style trained belly dancer and had thought it was not healthy to dance this way. She had designed a way to switch sides so we could also do ATS left side dominant. I still use this technique in my dancing today. Most students are right-handed so the right side is more comfortable for them, but it is important to get an even workout.

When I began ATS, my class would do what was easiest and dance on the right more. Later that year, I was injured while playing soccer in my high school P.E. class. I saw multiple doctors to help me through different stages of my healing. I saw an orthopedic doctor who said one of the problems was that my pelvis popped out of place and he sent me to physical therapy. Another doctor I saw was a cranial sacral specialist. He told me that the muscles in my sacrum were not equal in strength and it was causing my hips and pelvis to twist to one side. I told him about the style of belly dance I was studying and told him we end up dancing more on one side than the other. He told me I should work on building up the muscles on the other side, even if it was just during practice at home. After I told Myra about this, she was much more strict about making us practice both sides equally. Now that I am teaching ATS, I teach both the right and left side as it was taught to me and make my students practice evenly in class.

I believe the ATS community should adopt a more evenly strengthening approach to the dance. I have heard that Carolena Nerricio, who developed the dance form, is an avid gym visitor, so perhaps she builds her muscles evenly enough in other forms of exercise that it does not have adverse effects on her body like it did mine. A lot of people use dance as one of their main forms of exercise and do not have the time or motivation to get in as much gym time, so I think it is important that we workout evenly in dance class.

Adding left-sided ATS is actually quite easy and does not have to interrupt the improvisational choreography. What my teacher had come up with were a couple of moves based on the existing vocabulary that could cue a switch to the left. The transitions are really quite seamless. When dancing on the left, we use the same vocabulary and formations as on the right, only mirrored. This can be done when dancing to fast or slow music.

Here is a video of me and my students dancing at Panoply this year. The first song is performed by my ATS Basics students, with me leading them on the right (the traditional ATS way). The second, slower song is performed by two of my ATS Beyond Basics students on the right. I join them for the final, faster song and lead them into dancing on the left.  (The switch happens at 4:37.)

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