TribalCon VI, 2010

April 1, 2010 § Leave a comment

Once again, I had a great TribalCon experience.  This year, I only came to the Friday night hafla and Saturday workshops and show.

The hafla was fun.  I saw more ATS this year than I did last year.  There was less poi spinning and a bit of hooping.  Something new was African dancing, which I hadn’t seen at a hafla before.  That was really awesome.  Also, there were a few more male belly dancers participating in the convention.  Notably, the ATS troupe Shades of Araby was there.  They have a male troupe member and came all the way from Toronto.  They are a very fun troupe to watch.

My favorite workshops were Ariellah’s and Asharah’s.

Ariellah’s “The Artist’s Workshop: A primer for the well-rounded dancer”, was very interesting and thought-provoking.  We addressed many conceptual ideas about dancing, music interpretation, execution and expression.  We explored what moves us to dance, why we dance, how we envision ourselves sharing those things with an audience, and what qualities we want to possess when we dance.  During one really cool exercise, we listened to various songs and wrote down the temperature of each, the color and whether or not it evoked a memory.  Then, Ariellah taught us some combos, but insisted that we didn’t just go through the movements, that we actually danced the combos.  My favorite TribalCon quote was from after Ariellah had us do an arm movement as if we were touching velvet drapes with our finger tips.  A student in the class shared how much she was able to imagine that she could actually feel the drapes.  Ariellah told her, “That mental memory is going to become muscle memory, and it’s going to be beautiful.”

Asharah’s “Salimpour Legacy in Tribal” workshop was incredibly interesting.  She discussed the history of Tribal Belly Dance and how the dance morphed a little with each student becoming teacher. Jamila Salimpour is credited with establishing a common language in the dance.  Many of the names for movements we use today were coined by Jamila.  Jamila directed the first Tribal-like troupe, Bal Anat.  She was Masha Archer’s teacher, who was Carolena Nericcio’s teacher.  When Carolena began teaching, American Tribal Style was developed, somewhat unintentionally, to meet the needs of her and her dancers.  On the other side of Tribal, Rachel Brice was a member of Ultra Gypsy at the time she developed and named Tribal Fusion.  She was the first Tribal dancer to take the dance solo.  Ziah of Awalim was in the class and shared that she was at the Tribal Fest where Rachel Brice debuted her solo Tribal Fusion style.  Ziah said at the time they thought it was kind of funny and the general reaction was, “Hey, look! That Ultra Gypsy girl is dancing all by herself!”  We can thank Jamila’s daughter, Suhaila Salimpour, for refining the muscle technique to be more in line with other dance forms.  My favorite part of the workshop was when we danced through the moves as they were originally executed by Jamila and compared them to how they are executed today in American Tribal Style.  The moves are very similar, but the ATS versions have been modernized and altered to fit the music style and format of ATS.  One of the common changes occurs in the timing and where the downbeat and upbeat fall.  For example, Jamila’s Basic Egyptian was “step, twist, step, twist”, and the American Tribal Style version is “twist, step, twist, step.”

The Saturday show was beautiful.  It was a whopping 3 hours!  There was a lot of lyrical, modern-inspired pieces. Unfortunately, there were sound problems much of the night. It turns out a whole amp was turned off for the entire show.  The music didn’t fill the auditorium the way you’d expect during a dance show, and the mic levels for the live musicians were imbalanced, but it was still a pretty show.

My troupe is still waiting on our performance video, but here are two of my favorite performances of the evening.  The first is Jahara Phoenix and the second is their student troupe, Sherar.

American Belly Dance: Tribal Versus Cabaret

March 1, 2010 § Leave a comment

Recently I was at a hafla at my dance studio and someone asked if she could start coming to my ATS classes. I said of course she could and told her what to bring and what to expect about the class structure and dance style. I explained how it would be different from other styles of belly dance.

This got me thinking about the notorious battle between Tribal and Cabaret. I personally love all styles of belly dance and know many other dancers that do as well, but it’s still there and talked about often enough in the belly dance community. It occurred to me that in ways American Tribal Style really is the antithesis of American Cabaret.

For example, I was talking about how she should bring zills with her to class, but explained that the zill patterns are coupled with particular dance moves, not specifically what rhythm the drum is playing. We learn the moves specific to ATS, a particular way to execute them, and the cue for each. We learn to dance in synchronization without a choreography.

With Cabaret, the zills usually reflect or play off of the drum rhythms and may be layered over any dance move. There are endless variations for each move and group pieces are usually choreographed.

Tribal dances are often beat driven; Cabaret tends to spend more time on the melody.

Tribal is earthy; Cabaret is airy.

Tribal is dark; Cabaret is light.

Tribal: coins and cotton, Cabaret: sequins and chiffon.

Looking Forward to TribalCon!

February 11, 2010 § Leave a comment

I am really looking forward to attending TribalCon again this year. This will be my third year. The classes are diverse and educational, and my troupe has some really fun things planned for our performance.

I am especially looking forward to Asharah’s class on the legacy of Salimpour technique in Tribal Belly Dance. She will talk about how Tribal came to be and about the roots of the American Tribal Style dance moves. This should be very interesting. I enjoyed Asharah’s ticking class last year and am looking forward to seeing what else she has in her arsenal.

I am also looking forward to taking Megha’s dynamic fades workshop. I wonder if there will be new fade moves or just reviews and clarifications of the current ones. The class description specifically said we would be reviewing the ASWAT (Arabic Shimmy with Arms and Turn) which I learned in a TribalCon workshop two years ago. Whether there is new material or not, it is always interesting and valuable to take classes from other ATS instructors and see how they break things down.

I am sad I will not be attending the entire weekend because I will be missing the workshops taught by Donna Mejia. I loved her classes last year and think she is an absolutely amazing woman and beautiful dancer. Oh well, hopefully I will have an opportunity to take classes with her again one day.

As always, I am really looking forward to the Friday night hafla, which is such a blast!, and the never-disappointing Saturday night show!

This is the host troupe, Awalim, performing at the Saturday show in 2008:

Only two more weeks!

American Tribal Style!

January 13, 2010 § Leave a comment

I have been watching the Fat Chance Belly Dance DVDs. There are still a couple I don’t have access to (I am borrowing the ones I have right now) but plan on buying those soon. As I watch these, a couple thoughts come to mind.

First of all, my ATS training was far more accurate to the Fat Chance Style than I ever realized. I’m not really sure why I thought it wasn’t. I guess it was because I hadn’t watched the DVDs myself and as my class learned more, my teacher had us add in details.  It seemed like we were modifying things when we were usually just refining them.

Second, it’s interesting to me that I have been able to witness some of the more recent evolutions of the dance language. There are moves that were not in the Fat Chance language that I learned or saw from other troupes that have now made their way onto the most recent DVD, Tribal Basics, Vol. 7: Creative Steps & Combinations.

At Tribal Fest 3, my dance troupe learned a new move using a turning double hip bump that hit all four corners of a personal box. I believe the troupe we learned it from called it “The Spider.” The way they presented it, the arms were positioned out to the side when facing the front, and over head when facing the back. We adopted this move into our local ATS language. Several years later, I got a hold of Creative Steps and Combinations and discovered that a variation had found its way into the official dance language, but with different arms and the name “Chico Four Corners.” I really like the new arm positioning and now perform and teach it that way.

Another example is the Double Back. I had seen many other troupes perform versions of this move over the years, but had never done it myself until I watched Creative Steps and Combinations. Now it is one of my favorite moves.

The next thing I noticed when watching the DVDs is that the intention of how the dance information be used seems to have changed over time. On the revised Tribal Basics, Vol. 1, Dance Fundamentals, Fat Chance Belly Dance founder and director, Carolena Nericcio, says the moves included on the DVD are the “Tribal Basics according to Fat Chance Belly Dance.” I generally didn’t notice any implication that using different basic moves or variations of the basic moves would be considered incorrect or would not be true American Tribal Style. Perhaps this is a relatively new idea.

On Tribal Basics, Vol.6: Improvisational Choreography, Carolena talks about ATS.

“The concept of American Tribal Style Belly Dance is interpreted differently all over the world, but the idea that seems to repeat itself over and over is that of dancers enjoying each other, celebrating their bodies, and honoring the music with movement.”

Carolena used to annually teach workshops and guest star in a big show with my old troupe. It was in one of these workshops, around 2003, that I first heard her say that she thought the ATS language should be formalized. She said she thinks it should be like ballet and everyone should have the same form as her, but since it wasn’t that way, it was important that everyone in a single troupe at least use the same form as each other. Perhaps in the beginning, Carolena was not particularly direct about this because she could not have foreseen the explosion of variations her dance form would spawn.

This explosion has also led to the dance form having to be referred to more formally as “American Tribal Style” or “ATS” since the simple term “Tribal” has become all-encompassing to include any variations that have some similarities in stylization, costuming, or the feel or intention of ATS.

Watching these DVDs has been a very good experience for me. It has been a refresher on some of the finer details and I have learned a couple things I either didn’t know before or have forgotten from lack of use (such as a trio having the option of dancing in a diagonal line; I only recall regularly using a triangle).

Also, I can now tell my students what exactly is a classical ATS move and/or cue and what is an addition so they will know what to expect when they venture outside our local ATS community.  Dance is a universal language, and American Tribal Style is a fun conversation.

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.

Belly Dance Classes

August 16, 2009 § 5 Comments

At the beginning of the summer I started a new Beginning American Tribal Style class in a new, more popular time slot. I’ve gained a lot of new students. It’s been a lot of fun. I’ve designed it around the very basic ATS movements and the standard triplet zill pattern. It takes 6 weeks to cycle back through so everything gets reviewed every month and a half.

The students are great. Very excited, and very supportive of each other. I try to bestow upon them the little gems of knowledge I’ve collected and find the most useful. Planting seeds.

Starting in the fall, I will have an ATS Beginning II class following my Beginning class that will focus on beginning combo moves and specialty moves with a couple specialty zill patterns. I’m planning on also designing this class on a 6 week cycle.

I love having a bigger class and new students who I can really help develop a safe and strong technique. I feel newly inspired by my students each week. I always leave class rejuvenated and energized.

The only downside to the new class schedule is there’s no official time now for my Intermediate students from my troupe who have been dancing with me the last 2 years. The Intermediate class has been tacked onto the end of troupe rehearsal since we are the performance level dancers. Unfortunately, our time usually gets swallowed by other parts of rehearsal. Must find some way to remedy this….

Oh yeah, check out this short clip taken by an audience member of me and my Performance students performing some slow ATS at Panoply a couple months ago.

What Was My Worst Performance Experience?

December 3, 2008 § 2 Comments

Most of my performance experiences have been positive, but I think we’ve all had that embarrassing on-stage mishap, such as a runny nose (a huge fear of mine! Seriously, there are no good options!), costume malfunctions or having your show rudely interrupted by some cheek-sucking greyhound talking on her cell phone in the front row.

I don’t really get stage fright anymore.  Not much at all.  I used to really bad, so bad smiling was actually painful.  I’ve gotten over it through the years though.  Performing forces you to grow a thick skin at some point.  There’s really no other choice.

The worst performance experience I’ve had was with my first dance troupe.  We were invited to entertain at an auction for some good feminine cause like breast cancer awareness or something like that.  It was held in an absolutely gorgeous auditorium in a Masonic Temple with beautiful stain glass creations lining the walls, a feigned starry sky for a ceiling and an antique, multi-layered, forest-themed backdrop behind the stage.  All the seats were filled.

The auction was being held in the form of a fashion show with many wearable pieces donated by local artists.  We waited for over an hour in the dressing room watching the models prepare and come and go as the show went on.  The audience was loud with excitement. We were in for a good show.  Audience energy can give a huge boost.

Finally, the bidding stopped and we were going on to dance, which I believe was to be followed by some refreshments. We were introduced and our music started.  As we glided onto the stage, the crowd was rowdy.  We began dancing, they began walking around and in huge droves, exiting the theater!  There must have been at least a hundred and fifty women there, all leaving!  After a few minutes the only sound in the theater was our music.  There was only four audience members left.  If there’s ever a good time to run off stage and cry into your tassel belt, this was it.

We stayed of course.  We had agreed to do a twenty-minute set, and the four people who were watching actually did seem to enjoy themselves.

Looking back, I’m sure all the bidding just got the ladies riled up and they were ready to get their merchandise and have a drink.  But it feels pretty awful to have a whole theater walk out on you like that.

Students and Self Promotion

December 2, 2008 § 2 Comments

My dance class is shrinking slightly again.  I lose students periodically to such things as giving birth, foot surgery, personal lives and exhaustion.  I’m sure every class does.  It takes awhile to build a program.

I began fearing I wouldn’t make a profit on the class anymore, or worse, it would actually cost me money again.  I started considering canceling the class, but after teaching class tonight with a mere one student, and seeing her excitement for learning new moves and the feeling of accomplishment we both got from having made it through the whole vocabulary of movements I had put together for the class, I’ve decided that it’s absolutely worth it whether I have one student or twenty.

Babies get bigger and feet heal and obstacles pass.  Old students will come back.  New students will get interested.

I guess my biggest goal in teaching really is to share what I know; for a couple reasons.  First of all, it’s fun!  And I want people to dance with!  My greater goal is to pass on what I know and stabilize a good Tribal program that could continue on even if I was to move away.  It’s about passing the torch and sharing the love for the dance.  And even if I only get to do that with a few students, it will have been worthwhile.

And that brings me to the aspect of gaining students. Self promotion.  This isn’t my strength.  I usually just do my thing.  I’d have to make fliers and videos and advertise and make myself personally sellable as a teacher.  Ugh.  I work full time.  I’m tired a lot.  And I’m on the modest side.  I just don’t have the time and energy for all that.

So, I guess I need to reasearch some easy yet effective ways to promote.  Wish me luck.

A Shimmy Progressive

September 19, 2008 § 2 Comments

Dance classes are going really well finally.  I feel like I’ve really improved as a teacher, just in the fact that I’m now comfortable teaching. I actually have several students who come to class regularly.  This is a major improvement. And we are set to have our next performance at the end of October.

The dilemma I’m still facing, however, is time management.  How do you fit everything into an hour long class?  I still haven’t figured it out.  I’ve finally just succumb to the fact that I have to sacrifice something every week and prioritize what is really necessary to ensure we are in the best position to progress.

This week, I had to sacrifice the entire slow section to give a major zill break down intensive.  I hate to do it.  I feel like the slow family of movements already gets neglected as it is, but I really felt like the zill thing had to be done now before we got too far without them and then have to re-learn everything with them.  I promised to pay extra attention to the slow family of moves next week to make up for it.

So my class plan from now on, warm-up (always with shimmy practice, because you always need shimmy practice), one fast move breakdown and drilling, fast move vocabulary practice (revisiting things we’ve already covered) now with zills, one slow move breakdown and drilling, slow move vocabulary practice, and cool-down and stretching.  As soon as the zills come together more, the vocabulary practice sections of the class will also become leading and following practice sections.

So I will keep sacrificing things when it’s necessary to break something down in more detail and then keep building a more complexly structured dance class. Which makes sense because American Tribal Style is a complex dance form.  Like my teacher used to say, it’s like learning to drive a standard while talking on the phone, drinking a soda, putting on mascara and changing the radio.

Only prettier.

Dance Class Jibber Jabber

July 28, 2008 § 2 Comments

Since I relaunched my American Tribal Style dance class, interest is growing and I’ve gotten some new students.  The class is still not paying its own rent, but this is only the second month in.  What the class needs is stability.  When I get a more regular student body, it will be much easier to make progress.  Everyone interested and participating so far is a member of the performance troupe, which makes sense since all of our dedicated students end up in the troupe eventually anyway.  Learning American Tribal Style is like learning a particular dialect within the belly dance language so it takes a little effort.  The benefit about troupe members participating in my class is it will mean performance opportunities.  Getting us to a performance level is the challenge.

For the next two weeks, I have been asked to teach some American Tribal Style for part of our performance class.  I think I’m going to be emphasizing leading and following so they can get a feel for what Tribal is really all about.  I will not be focusing on breaking down perfect arm positions and detailed technique or widely expanding our dance vocabulary as much as I do in my weekly classes.  Instead, I will teach a couple of combinations to show how to transition from one move to another and how to lead and follow the cues for the movements.  I will break down the class into trios or quartets and have them take turns leading the combos and encourage them to change the order of the movements once they feel confident. Very Carolena Nericcio-workshop inspired.  I think this will be fun and give the ones who haven’t tried Tribal a good feel for it.

What I’m working on now for my weekly class is developing a really good standard warm-up.  I am going to focus on overall stretching and focus my warm up exercises on building strength, control and muscle memory specifically for moves commonly used in Tribal Style, and not put time into anything not used in the Tribal family.  For example, instead of doing alternating shoulder shimmy warm-ups, we will focus on three-quarter shoulder shimmies only since we will never use an alternating shoulder shimmy when dancing together.

I have been changing the class every week depending on the students present that day and where they need to start from and I’ve been changing the warm-up to correspond with what I’ll be teaching them that day. I will continue to adjust the class focus according to student skill level, but I really think a standard well-rounded warm-up will work better in the long run.  That way we get in a little practice with all the muscle groups every class even if it’s not the focus that day.

I’d eventually like to start filming the classes and video-blogging a condensed version every week.  That will come a little later.

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