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Renee’s look at ATS

Today I stumbled across a tribal discussion on Bhuz from back in June which I missed (I was on vacation for my anniversary around that time), in which my co-director Renee was making some observations about tribal bellydance in the context of a discussion where another dancer asked about the difference between cabaret and tribal. I really enjoyed her perspective, and she is such an eloquent writer, I thought I would share.

The full discussion can be found HERE (must be a member to read, but Bhuz is a great resource–you SHOULD be a member and participate!).

From a technical perspective, everything done is tribal is geared towards enhancing and facilitating the group dynamic. Arms have fixed positions (frequently uplifted and away from the body) in relation to the corresponding hip and body movements because they are the primary cue mechanism. Formations are placed so that everyone can see the lead as well as be seen by the audience. There is not often a great deal of footwork or lateral traveling movements because you can’t count on having the space to move an entire formation. Movements are kept simple and uncluttered to best emphasize the unsion of the dancers.

I think what’s also missing here is the focus on the group. Many times when I see cabaret troupes perform, it looks like there are just multiple soloists all doing the same choreography, and no matter how much the choreography may have them “interact” they are not really connected or breathing the same breath. The connection required for good tribal group improv is palpable. It’s a different skill set–being able to draw in the moment on a broad vocabulary and effectively communicate it to your fellow dancers in time for all to start the new movement at the proper point of the phrase; being able to follow smoothly and make all of the minute adjustments that keep you in the same angle, posture, movement and timing as the lead; the constant communication–it’s all very different from cabaret group work.

For the benefit of friends who are cab soloists I have likened dancing group improv to the difference between dancing a choreographed solo to taped music and dancing an improvised solo to your favorite live band. You have an idea of what they’re going to play, but you’re not sure exactly what’s going to happen from moment to moment and they keep their eyes on you and you turn to them, looks are exchanged and you vibe with each other and have this amazing conversation right there on stage. I mean, it’s fun to nail a choreography, but it’s *nothing* like a really connected improv piece.

Tribal just has a different spirit. It is about the joy and support and strength of the group, not about the personal emotional expression of the soloist. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that, it’s just different.) While we never would claim to be traditional ethnic dance, we’ve had many people from the middle east come and tell us after a performance that it *felt* like what they experience at home, and I think they are talking about what they see in the home, at family events and such, as opposed to on a stage. While we do perform tribal on stage, I think at it’s heart it is more of a folk art and less of a fine art.

I particularly love that last line. That resonates with me.

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Shay Moore is the director and primary instructor at Deep Roots Dance in Seattle, WA. She loves writing, movies, costuming, knitting, cooking, and bellydance to the moon and back again; and loves her amazing husband and doggies even more than that.

2 Responses

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    Love it Sharon, agree completely, its a really thoughtful description

  2. Avatar
    Seattle Yogini
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    What an interesting question, and one that I feel is applicable to teaching, as well:

    Is it the performer’s (teacher’s) responsibility to offer work in a way that is likely to resonate with people? Perhaps pushing some buttons along the way, but overall leading the audience (students) to a place of “Oh, I see. Nice!”, and *then* pushing the boundaries of comprehension/experience.


    Is it the audience’s (student’s) responsibility to try harder to “get” what is being presented? To open up the mind and heart and connect with the performer (teacher) in a way that helps them meet – hopefully, at least halfway?

    I think that in either situation both parties would do well to seek connection. Find the places where they can meet, and from that “safe space” broaden the experience. That way, there is less potential for shutting down before reaching the fullness of the experience. Less shock value, but more relationship value.

    Thanks for sharing this!

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