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!

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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.)

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.

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