|Volume 3, Issue 1, November'09
Why I Did It
Recently I googled a few keywords that pertain to my work in dance, something I do now and then
just to see where I’m standing with the search engines. This time I found a surprise; an article
I had published in my dance newsletter was linked to a website I hadn’t heard of before, because
the site owner found it good. It gave me pause, because the essay was about workshops and
certification, and the gist of it was to caution dancers against taking everything coming down
the pike, or rushing to certification.
Yes, I wrote that.
I also just took my full and final certifications in the Fat Chance Belly Dance format, and
became a Sister Studio.
So I feel I had better explain myself.
Here’s a premise: despite our understanding of our own central importance in the dance and
culture scene- admit it, you know you feel that way- the American dance audience at large is only
just barely aware of us, and that sometimes in an unfortunate way. We get equated with strippers
and pole dancers- I know, I know, how can they be unaware of how geeky we really are, right? We
make jokes about the Bellydance Police, but in fact quite a few of us tend a bit that way,
snarking at each other about ‘authenticity’ and who owns the dance. We are our own spangled and
rather mean enforcers. This is just silly: we only hurt ourselves, and the public is mostly just
watching Dancing With the Stars, or marveling over Shakira.
So, given: the public doesn’t ‘get’ us.
The obvious call to action arising from this premise is that they should, and it’s the job of all
of us to put the dance across in a good light, in a semi-educational way, at least in an
attractive and intriguing and non-sleazy way.
I’ve notice a lot of discussion, heartfelt blogging, and out-and-out rants on the spate of
‘bellydance-and’ offerings being presented out there (bellydance /West African dance,
bellydance/hip-hop, bellydance/burlesque and more). Some dancers are happily tossing new
ingredients into the stew; some are trying womanfully to hold the line to what they find to be
real, authentic, or simply inspired, the best. What everyone has in common is a deep feeling
about the dance itself. You don’t fight over what you don’t care about.
Because I’m not the young hothead I once was, I can take in everybody’s points. A wise dancer
once told me that splits within troupes can always, at bottom, be laid down to artistic
differences. She was on to something; I left my troupe of origin for reasons that fit that
description. I then set out on a quest to figure it out for myself. What I had understood to be
American Tribal Style was actually fusion work that had sprouted from ATS roots, morphing like
the rumor in the telephone game.
Many of us have the urge to put our own stamp on the dance, build our own combinations, work out
our own rules. This is fine. It’s also not ATS, which is a tem that originated with Fat Chance.
Because Fat Chance has become venerable, because it is still headed by Carolena, because it is
artistically very much a force, it is hard to argue with its claim to the name “American Tribal
Style”, and I do not. But there is a lot of confusion out there.
I spent a couple of years as a teacher exploring the scene and cooking up my own steps, keeping
them as faithful in philosophy and fit to ATS (as I knew it) as I could manage. I used (with
credit) other people’s work as well. This is how I learned how hard it is, and how easy to get
wrong. I am not Carolena, that’s for sure.
I do have a few babies who’ve escaped being tossed out with the bathwater, and when they are a
bit older I intend to present them to Fat Chance for critique.
This, friends, is the nut of my decision: 1.) I am not Carolena, and 2.) I would love to have her
advice and mentoring. When you sign on as a Sister Studio, you have access to her as a mentor.
Worth all the hours and every penny, to have that criticism, from the very inventor of the style
Mind you, I am not making a claim for the superiority of my chosen subculture of a tiny
subculture over other styles and flavors of bellydance, not at all. It’s what works for me.
Carolena refers to it as finding freedom in the boundaries, an idea I completely get.
Those of you who’ve attended my events know that I respect and enjoy nearly everything that is
happening now in bellydance. But my heart, my work, my fascination, my loyalty, all that is with
ATS for the foreseeable future. To me it seems the best way to help bellydance grow and outgrow
its sleaze problem. Everything about it, from the feminism to the group dynamic, feels right to
Ask me anything about American Tribal Style. If I don’t know, I’ll ask Carolena... how cool is
I’ve been asked if this commitment of mine means the end of Smoke. No, it does not. Smoke is my
laboratory, where my own work can be developed and critiqued; really, it’s been a lab, doing
fusion, all along. The new thing I have added (with Pam Hrynko) is Daughters of Ganesh, and it is
I would like to join with all of you, my fellow dancers, and friends of the dance, to make a
community effort, to be a community. We have lots of educating to do, so what-say we live and let
live, and get on with it?
If you check the archives of this newsletter, you will find links to resources that are still
good, so don't rely on any one edition for what's worthwhile!
I have one word for excellence in tribal and other bellydance wear (ready to wear, not custom) in
this area: Magda. Do yourselves a favor and check out her website for all manner of gorgeous
imported textile to wear: http://www.gypsymagda.com/
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Love and Propers:
I would like, right here, to let my Chicago dance friends and co-conspirators know how much I
appreciate, love and admire them. The All Hallows Hafla was a terrific event, maybe the best
one yet, and it's not about me... it's about US, and WE are wonderful! Thank you so much for
your gorgeous and inspired work!
Resources- the good stuff