FAQ - Tribal Bellydance

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Tribal Style Bellydance FAQ
Note: This FAQ is currently incomplete.
My apologies, but my archived data is currently lost, and I had to take information from a very old FAQ of mine and try to reconstruct it. Watch this space for an updated Tribal Bellydance FAQ coming soon. Hopefully this will at least answer a few questions while I try to recompile the data.

How is Tribal belly dance different from other forms of belly dance?

The quick answer is threefold:

Group Improvisation - Tribal appears to be choreographed, but, using a common vocabulary of moves and non-verbal communication, the dancers are actually making it up on the spot! This creates a unique energy between the dancers that is tangible to both the performers and the audience.

Costuming - The costumes are an eclectic mix of influences from all along the Romany Trail. The overall look is more "ethnic-flavored", tending to incorporate lots of layers of bold colors, rich fabrics, detailed embroidery, and heavy jewelry.

Attitude - Also called "mood and 'tude" by yours truly, there is a way of carrying oneself as we dance which is widely recognized as the "Tribal posture". Regal and proud, with an even, penetrating gaze or a smile of inward joy and playfulness. Overall, a queenly posture emoting an air of confidence and power.

Tribal is just as serious and technique oriented as any other form of belly dance, or dance for that matter. It takes dedication and time to improve, but the learning process is unique in that it always involves others. True Tribal is NOT a solo dance, though there can be solo portions to a performance. Think about it: TRIBAL. A tribe is a group that shares a common bond. Dancing Tribal is about connecting with other dancers as you express yourself. You may practice at home alone, but to perform Tribal dance involves working in harmony with other dancers.

Read More to see more in the Tribal Bellydance FAQ.

Kajira Djoumahna, author of "The Tribal Bible" has this to say about Tribal versus other belly dance forms:

"Tribal Style favors celebration of strength, mystery and power. Since we are always dancing with at least one other dancer, this style is also characterized by much more interaction between dancers than in other group styles that must rely on choreography, and less interaction with members of the audience than in traditional or solo forms. Because of these fundamental differences, the Tribal Style excels in development of self confidence, strength, camaraderie, awareness of self and others and being in the moment."

Here is copy of some flyers that Carolena Nericcio, the creator of American Tribal Style Bellydance, hands out at her studio, giving a brief history of the style.

What is ATS Part 1
What is ATS part 2

Isn't tribal the same moves as cabaret, just different presentation? I already know all these moves. Why do I need to learn them any certain way? Isn't a figure 8 just a figure 8?

Not really. The way moves are generated, and the very specific body and arm posture associated with each move, is really vital to the pursuit of tribal improv. In cabaret, for instance, when doing a taqsim (figure 8), you can move your arms anyplace you like. Whatever feels right. You face whatever direction you want and just dance it. In tribal, depending on the style you choose to pursue, you will have some very specific positioning and arm accompaniment. And to change the move, you may have other indicators you need to learn to express through the movement you are doing, such as when you want to do a level change, a tempo change, a stylistic variation.

For instance, in the Gypsy Caravan style, for an up figure 8 (called a "taqsim") dancers face straight forward, and the move is accompanied by a snake arm which mirrors the hipwork (when the hip is down, that elbow is down). If I want to indicate a maya (down figure 8) next, my arms resume the tabletop position, and is now accompanied by outward wrist circles. This is important to know, because if someone at the back of the group can't see my hips well, or can't determine what I am doing without looking down at them, they need these other physical cues to indicate what we are doing. If they see me go from a snake arm to an outward wrist circle, then they have an idea that I am going to do a maya.

Similarly, if I switch my body position from straight forward to a 3/4 profile, and my upstage arm raises up into an "L" arm with my right extended palm down, then they know I am going into a hip bump. And in the inFusion style vocabulary, if that extended hand flips up, it is a cue for yet another variation on the move. If the wrist lifts briefly, then it is cueing an inside turn, which has a specific arm movement accompanying it. If it curls at the elbow and my palms rotate out, then it is an outside turn.

And these are only a tiny number of countless examples. Basic Egyptians are different across styles, and various arm and hand variations can indicate turns, travels, or signal combos. So if you just do the Egyptian how you were taught in your cabaret style classes, you may not be able to lead or follow anyone else who studied another style. Getting the idea yet?

I know it can feel frustrating to start back at "square one" when moving to a new style of belly dance, but ultimately, to be able to pursue tribal style, you do need to start from the beginning and get all the moves down very specifically at each level--especially the basic level. It may seem like it will be boring and repetitive, but I can't tell you how many "advanced" belly dance students walked into a Level I class, and afterward remarked how different it was, and how difficult even the simplest moves became when they changed to fit the tribal format. I can't emphasize enough how important it is that you study the nuance of what you are doing at every level, basics through advanced, and learn how those subtleties affect your tribal lead/follow experience.

Do you teach authentic, traditional, or period belly dance?

Depends on what you mean by "traditional" dancing. There is really no such thing, in the literal sense. Even the most "authentic" of belly dance we do today is all based on speculation, piecing together of scattered facts, and the watering down of oral traditions long since adapted and altered through geo-political and religious upheaval over centuries. While much can be traced some distance back, "period dancing" (if by that you mean SCA period of 600-1600) is not something that one can really study or teach with any authority. The best I could suggest is find a teacher and a class you enjoy, with a style that resonates with you. Then take that dancing, add costuming you have researched to your satisfaction as appropriate for your period and geographical area, and you will be as close to period as one can truly be. Read below for more information on the historical authenticity of Tribal.

Is tribal belly dance a historical dance? I have heard that tribal is more authentic than other forms of belly dance. Is this true, and if so, how?

Tribal belly dance traces itself back through the same roots as many of the traditional dances found today in the Middle East, Spain, North Africa, Turkey, and India. These are also the same roots that modern cabaret belly dancers can trace their "lineage" through; only the chosen moves, styling, presentation and implementation is very different. Both Tribal and Raks Sharki are the product of fused cultural elements combined through shifts in borders, political and religious leadership, and migration over time; though I admit fully that Tribal relies heavily on the modern, purposeful fusion of these elements, while Raks Sharki's blendings are more deeply entrenched in historical changes we today have no control over. But I digress! Bottom line: No, Tribal belly dance, from a strictly scholarly angle, is no more authentic or tied to history than any other modern form of belly dance. That's the very short answer. If that is all you want to know, then you can stop reading here or {back to top} and find other questions you might be interested in. Those who want to read my ramblings, read on!

All the above said, I find that the *spirit and focus* behind Tribal belly dance is somewhat more closely tied to history than some other forms you may find in modern day. For an extreme example, from my studies, when Shakira 'shakes it' on stage, this is about as far removed from the original intent and presentation of the dance the further back you follow belly dance through history (please see my full article with more detail on this topic, coming soon). That is not to say that this dancing is wrong, lesser, or does not have its place. I am a strong believer in moving forward and adapting art to feed new audiences--I am a fusion artist myself, after all, and very much enjoy belly dance in all its beautiful forms. But from a strictly historical standpoint, this presentation doesn't quite accurately portray the dance in it's native historical setting.

A common thread found when one researches belly dance origins is the fact that dances such as these were more often private displays, performed only in the company of family or tribe, and was rarely viewed by the eyes of outsiders. In many examples, the dance was only performed and shared among the women, sequestered from the men. The focus of the dance was therefore turned inward, on one another, for one another. The dances were not choreographed or planned--it was a spontaneous expression of the dancer's feelings in the moment. They did, however, know a common vocabulary of movement among their family or tribe, and sometimes would come together in larger displays of synchronicity, while at other times they would just dance alone with abandon. An audience was not a consideration, as there really wasn't one. It was one big gathering of women to share, to heal, to laugh, to celebrate, to mourn...to dance.

I find this to be the same focus of Tribal belly dance today. Dancers are finding a connectedness with other dancers--their "sisters"--through the dance. The format of the dance demands a focus on one another that performing solo or a choreography does not. Many women seek out Tribal because they do not have aspirations to perform publicly or dance solo, but instead want to find a level of joy and fulfillment in sharing the dance among trusted friends. Many people are seeking a sense of community that the world of fast cars, "im-personal" computers, and MTV doesn't seem to afford them. Coming to class is joining their tribe for an hour or more a week, and encourages them to simply share of themselves on a different level than the rest of their life might allow. "Come on, it's just a dance class," you might say. And this is true. One should always remember that ultimately, we are in a class, learning a dance. But the side-benefits of studying Tribal belly dance are numerous and rewarding, and, I believe, links this dance to a long thread of history in a unique way.

This has already gotten much longer than I had planned (this is how it usually works with me, be warned! ;), but the long answer made short comes down to this: while the dance itself is no more historically relevant than other forms of belly dance, the spirit of the gathering of Tribal belly dancers draws on a long line of traditional gatherings going back through centuries of dance. This doesn't make it better or more accurate than other forms of belly dance, but it does make it unique.

I heard that Tribal belly dancers really just dance for each other, and don't worry about whether the audience likes it or not. Is this true?

This is a common misconception about Tribal as a performance art; which differs from Tribal as a personal expression, in my opinion. Both of which are perfectly valid pursuits!

While the overall effect of Tribal is to connect the dancers and turn their attention inward, when performing Tribal belly dance for the public, the focus and intent of the dance MUST shift. As a performer, one has a responsibility to their audience that differs from what is demanded casually in class or at parties. So while the spirit of connectedness and energy projected inward to your "tribe" is vital to maintaining the unique energy and presentation of Tribal, one must learn to divide their attention and energy to share with the audience. Much effort must be made to project yourselves outward to those who have come to watch, honoring their presence while still maintaining the synergy of the group on stage. This skill is one that only develops over much time and concentrated study of this art. And learning some other forms of dance, belly dance or otherwise, on the side helps a lot in developing stage presence, as well as having the side benefit of cross-training your body and providing you new inspiration to incorporate into your dancing!

Where can I learn more about tribal belly dance?

Coming to class and giving it a try is the best way to learn more about Tribal. It is really something to be experienced in order to best understand it. Your first class is free, so it's no risk to check it out.

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