It´s not easy to define Tribal Fusion Bellydance. Two dancers, who at first sight have nothing in common besides some basic moves, can both be considered Tribal Fusion dancers. This may generate some confusion, especially to those who know less of this art, but that freedom is what makes this style so unique and fascinating.
To understand this style we have to look at both the elements that compose it: the Tribal and the Fusion.
On one hand we have Tribal Style, born in the 60´s with Jamila Salimpour, the founder of Bal Anat, the first troupe to unite several styles of bellydance. The dancers performed in group, without breaking the dynamics, and each dancer would make a small solo in different styles, kind of like a variety show. Jamila taught Masha Archer, who in turn influenced the development of Tribal Style by unifying the Troupe, especially their look, and strengthened their spirit of union. She also taught Carolena
Nericcio, the founder of American Tribal Style (ATS). I do not intend to explain a lot about this style (that would make for another article) however, as a basis for Tribal Fusion, one has to point out some of its characteristics. It can already be thought of as a fusion with traditional Oriental dance. As the name suggests, it is a style created in America, non Egyptian, and although it borrows some of Egypt´s folk dance
vocabulary, it also includes dances from Northern Africa, the Flamenco from Spain, etc.
The key element is a method of improvisational group choreography where
communication between the group´s elements stands out and strengthens their union, using specific movements connected to the earth and the spirit of the tribe. Clothing is vastly rich and includes large cicle skirts, cholis, coin bras and ethnic jewelry (a lot different from cabaret bellydance). Music is mostly folkloric with constant rhythm, although it varies in some cases.
On the other hand we have the Fusion Style, begun by Jill Parker, who was part of the original Fat Chance Belly Dance™ (ATS Troupe created by Carolena Nericcio), and that mingles the ATS vocabulary with other dance styles and even some theatrical elements. In 2001 Jill Parker creates the first Tribal Fusion company, Ultra Gypsy, of which several of today´s know reference dancers were once a part of – like Rachel Brice and Sharon Kihara.
Diverging from ATS, Tribal Fusion is mostly choreographed, including some more complex movements, and danced more in solo format than in group.
The development of Tribal Fusion in compared to a tree were each branch (teacher) gives new stems (students) who in turn grow up and develop and originate new leaves or other stems. So, there is a common dance base that supports everything that develops up, and simultaneously there are multiple ramifications with different orientations.
We can find, therefore, in Tribal Fusion a different kind of music, new moves and very different clothing. The element that is chosen to make the fusion varies quite a lot – Gothic inspirations, Steampunk, Art Nouveau, Vaudeville, Vintage Burlesque, Flamenco, Hip-Hop, Contemporary, etc.
As a Tribal Fusion icon Rachel Brice and the Bellydance Superstars stand out, followed by The Indigo (Rachel Brice, Mardi Love and Zoe Jakes) and more recently Zoe Jakes with the band Beats Antique.
Clothing has also changed immensely, like for example the Urban Tribal Dance Company by Heather Stants that lives from minimalism and drops all ethnic jewelry, compared to The Indigo who play with some Vaudeville influences. All this variety and openness leads to the greater importance of knowing the origins and basis of this dance, creating a foundation for the dancer to evolve as a unique individual in his/her interpretation of fusion.
There are multiple dancers of this style, amongst we select some names for future reference: Ariellah, Ashley Lopez, Elizabeth Strong, Heather Stants, Illan Riviere, Jill Parker, Kami Liddle, Mardi Love, Mira Betz, Morgana, Moria Chappell, Rachel Brice, Samantha Emanuel, Amy Sigil Unmata, Sharon Kihara, Zoe Jakes, and many others.
Being a relatively young style, it is in itself an art that is now at a stage of great development and exploring. There are more and more Tribal Fusion shows, workshops happen almost every week all around the world and even international festival occur frequently.
Text written by Silvia Orchidaceae co-organizer of TribaLX (2014) translated by Sofia Franco
What is American Tribal Style ®?
Communion, sharing and joy, in the heart of a dance
group of men/women of all shapes and ages, celebrating the Earth, Nature and Dance in it’s best.
This modern style within Oriental Dance was created by Carolena Nericcio-Bohlman, founder of Fat Chance Belly Dance™, fruit of the development of her dance work and intense personal research. In 1974 Carolena began bellydancing with Masha Archer and the San Francisco Dance Troupe. Masha had an eclectic and very creative style that truly inspired her students. Carolena began teaching in 1987, with the purpose of training future dance partners, and being surrounded with other people who led an alternative lifestyle, tattooed and dance lovers, the desire to dance together came
naturally. In time, new movements emerged, concepts developed and ATS® was presented to the world.
From basic bellydance movements fused with other influences like Flamenco or North African folk and traditional dances, ATS® is a dance style that doesn´t require a choreography but lives from improvisation. One can of course, choreograph, but in its essence, ATS® is essentially a dance of communion between a leader and a group that follows him/her. Each movement originates from a cue, promoting artistic liberty within the existing vocabulary, and a strong attention to the song you’re dancing.
Organizing in duets, trios or quartets, framed by a chorus (the rest of the dancers from the group), dancers follow the cues of the commander, and at any moment the leader may change, switching positions or, in a two front stage, inverting the formation.
To the audience it is a complete surprise. Many of them don’t even realize they are watching improvisation, since the dancers have such fun, and dance flows without worries. The big skirts, colorful and twirly, the beautiful cholis and belts, turbans, flowers, necklaces and bracelets, all invoke an aesthetic from Afghan, Rajasthan and other mystical lands, transporting the audience to a magical place and putting a smile on
But ATS® is more than a dance style. Around it grew a huge community of dancers in a spirit of share, who can dance with people from all over the world, with no need for choreographies or previous rehearsals, thanks to an imaginary and common vocabulary Carolena gave us.
Text written by Sofia Franco co-organizer of TribaLX (2014)