In Remembrance of Viktoriya

January 24, 2011 § 1 Comment

I didn’t really know Viktoriya.  I had the pleasure of taking a workshop and participating in a performance with her in 2007.  I only spent several hours with her, but it was an incredibly inspiring few hours.  It was actually a pivotal  moment in my dance direction.

I came into belly dancing with American Tribal Style and began taking some Oriental classes within a couple years.  While I had always been interested in Oriental Belly Dance, most of my performance opportunities and main focus had been on the Tribal side of things.  I had taken many technique classes in Oriental style and learned a couple of choreographies, but it was never really developed in my repertoire.  After being blown away by Viktoriya’s magical stage presence and delightful dancing style, I decided to put more focus into Oriental Belly Dance.

The workshop I took from Viktoriya was on Classical Egyptian Belly Dance.  I loved the flowing, feminine movements.  She told us in her exotic Russian accent that when she performed free style Classical Egyptian she felt like she was melting.  She talked to us about being expressive.  She said a permanent smile on a dancer was American Belly Dance; when you do Egyptian dance, you have to also be an actress.

She talked to me specifically about my shimmies.  I have shared here in the past that I had a difficult time with continuous hip shimmies.  Viktoryia noticed some of the problems I was having and shared some pointers with me.  She discussed technique. She pointed out the two things I was doing wrong (basically, I was not allowing enough movement and my right leg was dominating so I was not alternating my hips evenly).  She told me how she shimmied constantly when she was learning.  She shimmied during every day activities such as doing dishes or brushing her teeth.  I worked a lot with her suggestions, and it took time, but my shimmies are a million times better now because of that discussion.

Rest in peace, Viktoriya.  You will be missed by the dance community, but will certainly live on in the memories of those you inspired.

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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 Culture Shock

November 21, 2010 § Leave a comment

One of the roughest times for me in my belly dance journey was leaving my first teacher.  I danced with her for about 3 1/2 years.  Her dancing style, her teaching style, and my time in her student troupe was my entire gateway to belly dance.  I stopped dancing at her studio because I moved with my family to Portland, OR.   My sister (who was in the troupe with me) and I looked up dance studios as soon as we got to Portland.  We attended open houses, we tried various classes, and what I found was Belly Dance Culture Shock.

I wanted to keep dancing, but I wanted to keep dancing how I had been dancing.  I liked my first teacher’s American Tribal Style (quite consistent with the Fat Chance Style).  I liked my teacher’s West Coast Cabaret Oriental Style.  Everything in Oregon was…different.

The Tribal Styles in Portland were strange, grunge fusion-hybrids.  The first cabaret dancers I saw seemed akin to drill teams–peppy smiling princesses.  Or they were too Modern.  Or too Egyptian.  Or too–NOT WHAT I WAS USED TO!   There were new techniques, new explanations, new step-combos, new tribal combos, new costuming styles!, new people, new payment systems!

Okay, okay.  Maybe I was unprepared.  A lovely dancer who came from the same studio in Santa Fe also moved to Portland (and would later become our roommate and troupe mate).  She told me she came to the new belly dance scene with the idea that she would just forget everything she knew. (Not literally, but you know, she was ready to embrace the new).  I was horrified!  I didn’t want to forget anything!  I was going to remember it all and dance like that forever!  Ofcourse, I did eventually warm up to the new styles and found many that I liked.

It was strange going from a small belly dance scene to a massive one.  There are definite benefits with large scenes…more workshops, more classes, more styles, more shows, more performance venues, more costume shops…but a small dance scene is intimate and comfortable and can feel close and supportive because everyone knows everyone else.  Now that I’ve experienced both, I don’t have a particular preference.  Huntsville has a small dance scene.  At the same time, there is a sense of connection and participation within the larger south east belly dance scene, so we get to really embrace the small scene within a bigger scene.

Once I got over my initial culture shock, I was able to really grow as a dancer, and I haven’t experienced the same kind of  shock since.  It was tough at first, but it has been beneficial in many ways to step outside of my comfort zone and explore.  I have been able to play different roles in different groups and try a lot of new things.

I love that there are so many belly dancers in the world!  It seems that no matter where you go, there will be belly dancing there.  That’s comforting.

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.

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.

TribalCon V, 2009

March 19, 2009 § Leave a comment

My TribalCon experience this year was absolutely amazing! This was my second year attending, and I think this year’s was even better than last year’s.

The venue was the same: Holiday Inn in downtown Decatur, Georgia. Decatur is a darling little town with beautiful old buildings and funky little shops and cafes. However, it’s also a bit confusing. Both years I’ve gone, me and my carpool buddies have gotten lost as soon as we get to Decatur. This year we were lost for about an hour and a half. It was both hilarious and frustrating! At least I was in the car with a couple of very fun girls. It turned out we were very near the hotel several times but somehow kept passing it in large circles.  I really have no idea how this happened.  We had directions from multiple sources and still got lost.

Once we (finally) arrived, we got ready for the hafla, which is great fun. The musicians attending the event for the music workshops play and the dancers dance. This year, the music had a much more Balkan, gypsy feel. Last year, I believe it was more folkloric.  One big difference I noticed was while last year, the dancing was mostly dominated by American Tribal Style Dance and some Tribal Fusion, this year there was a Balkan line dance, lots of poi and even some hooping. I want to say it was actually less crowded, but it could also be that this time I knew what to expect and felt less overwhelmed, so I just perceived it as less crowded.

The workshops were of course amazing! Ariellah’s yoga workshop was energizing and challenging. She’s a lovely teacher and dancer and recommends taking yoga on a regular basis to open up the muscles we use in belly dance thus allowing for more movement.

Donna Mejia is an amazing woman! I didn’t know who she was before the workshops, but I certainly do now! She’s one of the most inspiring women I’ve ever met. She’s strong, yet feminine. If I’ve ever met a woman who embodies the poem Phenomenal Woman by Maya Angelou, it’s definitely this woman. She taught interesting combos and a lot of useful info on posture.  My favorite quote from TribalCon was something she said in her class. We were doing dance combos across the floor in lines and she responded to many dancers looking timid. She told us, “Now is not the time to hold back, ladies. When you’re looking back on your life, you’re not going to say ‘gee, I’m so glad I held back at that TribalCon workshop on Feb. 21, 2009.  I really benefitted from that…” Good point.

Asharah taught a workshop about ticking (the repetitive momentary stalling of a movement often seen in Tribal Fusion usually in response to really quick beats in music or mechanical sounds in electronic music). She broke down the theory and muscular aspects of the movements and gave us exercises to practice to master the movement. These types of moves are difficult for me. I have limited experience with that style of Fusion so I really appreciated the practice techniques I learned in her class.

Mira’s class is always challenging and provokes thought about doing the unexpected. She is well-known for her very impressive and difficult layering. She also takes typical belly dance combos and changes something to make them more interesting. For example, if a combo traditionally involves grapevines and hip lifts, she’ll make you do grapevines and hip drops instead. Her class is fun and will make you sore!

One of my very favorite classes was with Onca and August of the Mezmer Society. It was The. Most. Hilarious! workshop I’ve ever taken. It was about narrative belly dance, which is essentially belly dancing and dramatic, theatrical acting. We were making faces at eachother, interacting with eachother and dramatically dancing our way through emotions and characters such as drunken wench, passion, etherealness, and innocence. At one point, we were put in two lines facing each other and were each assigned contradicting emotions. We were to dance toward each other, interact and cross to the other side/other emotion. It was hysterical. Such a great workshop.

There were also a couple lecture styles classes this year that taught us about the anatomy of our bodies and how to dance in a safe and healthy way.

The All-Star Show was beautiful as always. My troupe’s performance went very well. We did a World Tribal Fusion piece, and at the end the dancers and musicians traded places. We played for them and they did a spoon dance.

The show’s after party was possibly the most fun thing that weekend. It was like the hafla, only catered, and everyone was ready to really let loose and dance the night away with lots o’ wine, good-spirited wildness and old-fashioned debauchery. I got to play with my poi in a large open space for the first time in a very, very long time, but unfortunately got carried away (which I realized when I showed up to the workshops the next day and it hurt to lift my arms! Oops!)

Overall, it was an incredibly inspiring, educational and fun weekend! I can’t wait until next year!

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