“You have a sisterhood of other dancers out there”

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Andrea at Studio Iqaat

 “You already have a shared experience, you already have a shared language and it doesn’t matter where you come from or how long you’ve been dancing.  If you understand the vocabulary you can dance together.  I love that.  I think that it’s the tribal aspect of dancing: the fact that you have a sisterhood of other dancers out there that you don’t even know and you can come together for the very first time and dance together, and share the experience.”
Andrea on American Tribal Style (ATS) dance
American Tribal Style and Tribal Fusion Bellydance

American Tribal Style is a form of bellydance developed in the San Francisco bay area in the 1970s and 80s by Jamila Salimpour, Masha Archer and most notably Carolena Nericcio.  It was Carolena Nericcio with her troupe Fat Chance Belly Dance who combined Middle Eastern, Indian and North African movement and costuming in an improvisational format that allows dancers to create unique, on the spot choreography from their shared ‘vocabulary’ of movements.  It is a beautiful dance form that is now taught around the world, both unofficially and by certified instructors of Fat Chance Belly Dance.

Fusion or Tribal Fusion evolved from dancers who studied at Fat Chance Belly Dance, Gypsy Caravan or similar Tribal style troupes.  Fusion/Tribal Fusion dancers often combine the muscular isolation of Tribal bellydance with hip hop, Modern, West African, Indian, Flamenco, and/or Polynesian music, costuming and movements.

Although many Tribal Fusion dancers have learned from “traditional” bellydance or Tribal Bellydance teachers, its’ unrestricted format along with accessible internet videos has lent to both unprecedented originality and vague dance technique.  As an anthropologist, I find intriguing that as the dances and dancers under the “Tribal Bellydance” umbrella has grown, so has an exceptional and beautiful subculture of people.  These ATS, ITS, Tribal Fusion, Tribal Bellydance and World Fusion dancers and musicians (myself included) find support, encouragement and friendship whether or not they are “classically” or YouTube trained, professional or amateur.

Last March I interviewed several dancers at the Ojai Bellydance Festival.  The Ojai Bellydance Festival is not only a great show and bazaar where you can buy imported and locally designed bellydance costumes and jewelry, but it is also a perfect example of the beautiful, supportive environment of the Tribal Bellydance culture.

Andrea and Victoria train with Sooz at her Fat Chance Belly Dance ‘Sister Studio’ in Orange County.
We discussed misconceptions of bellydancers, the practice of bellydancers to use an Arabic name and the appeal of learning the “pure” technique of ATS.


Victoria dancing ATS

Andrea and Victoria
Interview from Ojai Bellydance Festival March 2011

Alia: Andrea and Victoria, lovely.  So you guys do ATS, do you do other dance forms as well?

Victoria: I do classical Japanese dance

Alia: oh wow…

Victoria: I’ve been doing that for 5 years.

Alia: Do you do any fusion?

Victoria: I started doing fusion but I decided that I just wanna stick with ATS.

Alia: Why is that?

Victoria: Because it’s “quote unquote”, a more pure form.  I mean there’s a very set technique.  If you learn that, you can use it with anything else, rather than…

Alia:  How many years have you been doing ATS?

Victoria: About 5 or 6, off and on.  Not as consistently as Japanese dance.

Alia: I know, I’m finding that I just re-did a choreography which fuses the Indian, fuses Hip-Hop and Bellydance.  But, because it’s so new as well, I looked at my hand gestures and they’re here, they’re there, the arms aren’t clean.  So there’s such an appeal aesthetically as well, I think psychologically even to know when your arm is in the right place, and you have a certain curve in your arm…

Victoria: Yeah, exactly.

Alia: Not as much with the feet, in ATS.

Victoria: I think because I love fusion, and I love watching fusion…but I felt like I wanted to learn ATS before I hopped into fusion again.

Alia: Right.

Andrea: I think my favorite thing about ATS, is that once you learn the language and you come to pass with other people who know the language as well that it’s something you automatically have in common with that person.  You already have a shared experience, you already have a shared language and it doesn’t matter where you come from or how long you’ve been dancing. If you understand the vocabulary you can dance together.  I love that. I think that it’s the tribal aspect of dancing: the fact that you have a sisterhood of other dancers out there that you don’t even know and you can come together for the very first time and dance together, and share the experience.  And I just, I love that, that’s why I, that’s why ATS appeals to me, more than fusion.  I think fusion is great but I’ve met so many ATS dancers for the very first time…

Alia: a lot of camaraderie…

Andrea:…and within minutes we’re dancing together.

Alia: Yeah exactly, we’re very blessed in this greater bellydance community.

(On the practice of having a new Bellydance and/or stage name)

Alia: OK, you guys just mentioned you both had a lot of bellydance names.

Victoria/Andrea: LOL

Alia: What’s that about?  What was your first name, or why did you name yourself in the beginning,
or somebody name you?

Andrea dancing ATS (Victoria in Background)

Andrea: You know, I actually wanted to keep my own street name, but I was told adamantly that I had to have a stage name.  So I went online and looked up a bunch of Indian names and Arabic names.  I wanted something that had meaning, and I picked ‘Leyla’.  You know, to this day I don’t remember why I picked that name.  I think it had something to do with a happy dancer.  I found out that it’s one of the most used bellydance names (LOL). So I didn’t even know, everyone has the same idea as me…I always wanted to try to have a name as close to my own name, and I just finally…becoming an ATS ,because it’s a group dance, there’s no need to have a (stage name) so I got to come back to my street name.

Alia: Now was it a teacher that said you need an Arabic name?

Andrea: It was my fellow dancers, that we were dancing with that were just adamant that we had to have..

Alia:  There’s this tradition of, and I don’t know, I’m going to research how often this happens.  When I danced Hawaiian dance, (my teacher) gave me a Hawaiian name as well.  But in my South Indian dance, I don’t have an Indian name.  (My teacher) hasn’t had that many non-Indian students, either.  But that wasn’t something that she ever…

Andrea:  I think the trend is to try to stay close to the cultures. I know that it’s usually Arabic, Egyptian, Indian names that are looked at and used.  You know I thought when I picked Leyla, that I’d really have something unique. (LOL)

Alia: It’s like Mary…

Andrea: Yeah, really…Jane

Alia: …Sara

Andrea: Yeah, I picked the Jane of Bellydance names.

Alia: Yeah exactly, Jane Doe.  Oh, that’s a good one: Jane Doe, I like that.

Andrea (to Victoria): So what were your stage names?

Victoria: Well I never really used mine that much.  But I used them online.  My first one was “Odoriko” which is a Japanese name, and because I’m not Japanese…

Andrea: So you had to explain that a lot.

Victoria: …and it’s not easy to pronounce (LOL) I ditched that.  And then I picked Suzume, which I liked better, but it still just doesn’t work for bellydance ‘cause it’s
Japanese (LOL), which means “sparrow”.


Alia: Your first bellydance was ATS, though.

Victoria: Well, Fusion.

Alia: So in Fusion, the community that you were a part of at that time wanted to have a bellydance name.

Victoria: No I did.

Alia: OK

Victoria: You know, I actually think it’s a really good idea just because it kind of…bellydance attracts some weird attention and it’s really good to have a name that’s separate from your actual name.  And that’s why I really like the idea of having a stage name.

Alia: What is this, it’s like something we’re so proud of, and proud to be a part of.  And yet, I
still worry about inviting my coworkers to be my Facebook friends because I don’t want them seeing…

Andrea: I have a really corporate job, and I’m very careful the people that I tell…that I’m a bellydancer, because they don’t know.  I mean, Victoria and I were just talking about that today.  Most people when they hear that I’m a bellydancer, they think that a bellydancer is maybe a tier or two above a stripper.  And so I’m always like, no, think about the cabaret bellydancers that you see in a restaurant, I don’t do that.  So yeah, the dollar bills in the bra and the belt…no one touches me when I dance.  I’m not shaking body parts in peoples’ faces.  But because I have such a corporate job, I’m very careful about who I let into that.





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