The “Ballet” of the Bellydance World

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I had the pleasure of interviewing Jenn and Sooz on March 19th, 2011 at the Ojai Bellydance Festival.

We talked about what they love about ATS (American Tribal Style), Tribal Bellydance community, and their own history in bellydance.  I can’t wait to see these beautiful ladies again, on or off the stage.

  Sooz and Jenn with Azuluna and Bella Luna Dance

Alia: How long have you been doing ATS (American Tribal Style)?

Sooz: I’ve been doing ATS since 2002, I know Jen has been doing this..

Jenn: Probably about ‘08

Sooz: 2008

Alia: And did you both do bellydance before that, a different style?

Sooz:  I started in cabaret, but I knew that I wanted to do something other than that.  And then when I finally went online, I saw
Fat Chance BellyDance, that’s when I went ‘That’s what I want to do!’  I’m more Tom Boyish, so it’s more of a TomBoy Bellydance, I think.

Alia:  So was it more girly, you felt for the…

Sooz: It wasn’t, the girliness wasn’t more pronounced..

Jenn: very subtle girly

Sooz: subtle, yeah, more earthy, more grounded, more sensual to me.  It really spoke to me.  It’s also kinda like punk rock to me.  ‘Cuase I grew up in the 70s, when punk was
burgeoning.   And I just kind of went ‘eh it’s kinda like punk rock, I got an all girl band!’

Alia: Right! Right!
And how does that inform your music selection?  Or do you pretty much have standard ATS…

Sooz: Yeah, with Fat Chance Belly Dance, we have what’s called Sister Studios.  So that Carolena Nericcio, who created the dance, she’s gone around the country and the world
teaching people how to teach this format correctly.  Because it was being taught kinda watered down versions, and people were expanding on it but not really knowing where it came from.  And so now she’s certifying people to teach it, and if you’re a Sister Studio, you’re saying that I wanna just teach this dance, and perform it.  And so she has music that we use, we all use the same music, we all kinda dress the same. Yeah, it’s all right there for us.  She’s open to music and other suggestions, new moves, but we like playing inside the box.

Alia: Yes, and what you can do with those limitations.

Sooz: Yeah, I don’t see it as limitations, I feel like I have a set of rules and I’m good to go.

Jenn:  Pretty much, the “ballet” of the bellydance world.

Alia: Are you able to use those same 16 counts, or whatever, with people you just met?

Sooz: They know the language. Yeah, there’s some people that kindof know the language, but they’ll put in their own moves that they’ve created with their troupes.  Then you
kindof go…what?  Especially if they’re turning in different directions.

Alia:…and the cues

Sooz:  Yeah, but if I know someone from Japan or Russia that is a Sister Studio, we should be able to dance together.  And I’ve experience that, and it’s pretty powerful.

Alia:  Yeah.  So I see that so much has come out of ATS, with our community, here in America or in L.A.
But now you have this community that’s gone across the world, that’s really fabulous.

Sooz: And me, I’m the only one in Orange County that teaches it, and is certified to teach it.  And its really hard to get people turned on to it.
If I go to a non-bellydance event, some people, but not a lot of people, will be (awed facial expression) like me, when I was just turned on to it.  The Renaissance Faires is a little bit easier.   They really love it.

Jenn:  Which is where I started, was at a Renaissance Faire doing more of a fusion ITS, or Improve Tribal Style dance.  And then I liked the fusion, but I love the discipline that is ATS.  I like having those rules, I like having, a posture, a real carriage when you dance.

Alia: Right, a specific way to hold yourself, where to put the arms.

Jenn: I love that about this dance.

Alia: So you were putting a parallel with ballet…that it’s the ballet of the belly dance world.  In the sense where you have rules and…

Jenn: positions, postures, yes.  And that’s what really brought me to this dance.

Alia: Why do you think that, and certainly there’s the improv with ATS, but why do you think that there’s not ballet dance communities, or
other dance communities like we have with bellydance?

Jenn: I think because ballet is a lot more competitive.  There’s a definite, almost like a sisterhood in the bellydance community.  It’s a very giving, it’s a very supportive..I mean ever since I’ve been in this community, since 2008, I mean I’ve made so many friends and made so many connections as far as musicians and other dancers.  And that doesn’t seem to happen in the ballet world.  I mean, there really is no competition here, we’re all going for the same goal, which is uplifting a woman
and making a woman feel beautiful no matter what her shape, her size, her background.  That’s another thing that I absolutely love about this dance, it’s very supportive.

Sooz: I think with ballet, you grow up with it.  You start when you’re young, and it’s a very short lifespan.  You actually stop when you should be starting this dance.  I
started when I was 40.  So now I’m 47 and I feel like I’m still just getting the wisdom to bring to the dance.  And Jen you’re turning 30…and I have 16 year
olds, you know.  But we don’t really grow up with this dance, I wish I had this dance when I was younger….man.


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